Levee Living

Karen and Mark Gundlach struck a compromise the first time the couple started a house-hunt.

“Mark had very strict parameters about where he wanted to live,” says Karen. “The duplex we were in had zero privacy. I told him if he didn’t loosen up on his location requirement, finding something we both wanted wasn’t happening anytime soon.”

He did, and by 2013, the two had finally settled into a home on Audubon Boulevard they purchased and renovated a few years earlier. She never dreamed his parameters would later expand to include their current location in the Riverbend. They weren’t shopping for real estate.

“I was riding my bike on the levee path when I ran into Danny Keiffer, an old friend from high school days,” says Mark. “He gave me a tour of his contemporary home with amazing river views.”

“Then, Danny told Mark he might know a property in the neighborhood that wasn’t on the market yet,” says Karen.

Three years after closing on that property, the couple and their beloved Clumber Spaniel, Otto, enjoy their own river view from the third floor balcony of a precise, efficient, elegant home designed by Architect Lee Ledbetter. Known for his contemporary residential designs, the

Gundlach commission gave Ledbetter further opportunity to bring modern architecture to a city famously resistant to change. Edifice Builders signed on as contractor and top area artisans handcrafted the defining details.

The property’s existing structure, a 900-square-foot building facing the street, was home to the previous owner.

“We weren’t sure what to do with it,” says Karen.

Ledbetter’s first design solution was to leave it in place. Not only would it conform to Historic District Landmarks Commission guidelines, it also informed the design of the new building.

“Rather than presenting a challenge, the existing barge-board cottage offered a great opportunity to hide the house from the street by wrapping the new construction around and behind it and to create a courtyard linking the old and new,” says Ledbetter. “This helped achieve what Mark and Karen wanted, which was a ‘secret’ house, one that wasn’t visible from the street.

“There’s a great New Orleans tradition, particularly in the more urban French Quarter, of getting a glimpse of life behind walls or through carriageways. The attitude behind wanting this — the utter lack of pretense or ostentation — appeals to me.”     

Renovated as a two-bedroom, one-bath guesthouse, the cottage includes a spacious sitting area, kitchen and dining room, and sometimes serves as Karen’s extended pottery studio. Sliding glass doors showcase the flow between interior and exterior living spaces.

“On the new construction, the surface treatment of horizontal banding is established as soon as you enter the driveway gate,” says Ledbetter. “The raised bands lead your eye up the sidewalk to the front door, and the treatment becomes less dense as you go. The bands become louvers on top of glass and finally, once inside, the material changes from painted wood to stained walnut and embellishes a partial height room divider and also a screen membrane that defines the stairway.”

Ledbetter, widely respected for his integration of architecture and interiors, led the couple through the design process in his signature hands-on style. The placement of the elegant walnut partition, prominent glass doors and windows, fireplace and built-in furnishings are examples of the minimalist aesthetic and become a distinguished part of the architecture.

Karen called on Grace Kaynor and Lise Kuhn to help fine tune the décor. “It was a group effort,” she says.

The couple’s new home illustrates an aspirational collaboration between designer, builder and client.

“Lee and his team were great to work with, and their construction management skills were fantastic,” says Mark.

“We always agreed with Lee,” adds Karen. “It was a great fit.”


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