A Mid-Century Modern dream house
For years, attorney Bernie Lee recalls admiring a Midcentury modern house on the corner of Canal Boulevard and Harrison Avenue.
“I always had a thing for houses like this,” she said. “But I never thought I’d actually own one.”
That house was torn down, but when an opportunity to buy another classic Mid-Century house at the Lakefront – along with all of its thoughtfully selected furnishings – presented itself two years ago, Lee soon found herself living the dream.
“I love the windows, the clean lines, the fireplace, the openness,” said Lee, who actually refers to the house as her “Barbie Dream House.”
Luckily, the house, which had two feet of water following Hurricane Katrina, had been well-renovated by previous owners after the storm. Several walls and doors were removed to open the layout, but the original architectural intent of the house is still very much intact. Designed by the architecture firm of Saputo and Rowe in 1960, it still features the pitched roof, sliding glass doors, galley-style kitchen, clerestory windows, corner windows, carport, terrazzo, steel and brick that together make it part of the midcentury modern vernacular. Also typical of the Mid-Century Modern style, a design movement that lasted from roughly 1945 to 1975, is its division of living zones, with bedrooms on one side of the house and living spaces on the other.
The original terrazzo floors were saved where possible and married with polished tile floors where necessary. Likewise, the original sand-colored brick walls were blended with new brick chosen to match the color and texture (the smaller size of the brick used for the fireplace façade and the wall at the entrance of the house indicates that both were redone at some point). The kitchen and baths were fully remodeled to be contemporary and yet blend naturally with the original architecture.
The subsequent post-renovation owner, gallery owner and art dealer Jack Adams, then brought in a minimalist mix of vintage and reproduction furnishings and lighting and added a pool to the back yard.
For Lee, who lived in the same block and knew Adams, the pairing of Mid-Century architecture and modernist furnishings ultimately made the house a no-brainer. The two struck a deal over dinner at The Blue Crab, Lee gifted her furniture to friends and family and moved three doors down.
“The furniture is half the house,” said Lee, who lost most of the furniture she’d acquired over the years when her own home flooded after Katrina.
Limited storage keeps her from accumulating new clutter and has helped her maintain the spare styling put in place by Adams.
Last summer, the house inspired her to host a ‘70s themed costume party where she served martinis and projected videos of songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s on an outdoor screen set up for the event. But she says it’s the lasting quality of the architecture and the peaceful nature of the indoor/outdoor living that mean the most to her.
“I grew up in ranch houses with terrazzo floors in Florida,” she said. “Everyone had terrazzo because it’s a cool surface for a hot environment. But those houses were nothing like this.”
Lee speculates that the currently white envelope of the house is probably a more recent take on the interior as many Mid-Century Modern houses featured unfinished, natural woods when originally built. In New Orleans’ warm climate, crisp white pairs well with the outdoor focused living that is an important part of Mid-Century Modern architecture.
Among the iconic designs that Adams used in the décor are a vintage George Nelson bubble fixture that hangs over the dining table and a reproduction Saarinen tulip table paired with vibrant blue chairs that pick up the color of an impressionist painting on the wall of the breakfast area.
Recently, Lee hired licensed landscape horticulturist/design build contractor Lisa Loup of AMK Landscape Services to redesign the landscaping and front walkway so that the home’s curb appeal lives up to its perfectly appointed interior.
“With a Mid-Century Modern house, it’s about clean, straight lines, mass plantings, pops of color and highlighting distinct features,” said Loup, who like the former renovators of the house itself, wanted to retain the original character of the greenspace. To that end, she updated several existing planters rather than getting rid of them, reused some of the mature greenery and took her cues from the house.
“We used things that are typical of that arid California look,” Loup said. “I wanted to play on the architecture and bring it all back to life.”
“The landscaping is the final jewel in the crown,” Lee said. “Everything seamlessly flows together.”