Calais Waring opens the front door of her home to a first-time visitor with the smile of someone who knows their surprise. The once red brick mansion — a blending of 1920s Arts and Crafts and Mediterranean villa architectural influences, is no longer a faded remnant of the early 20th century. Calais, a PR and brand strategy consultant, and her husband, pain specialist Dr. Patrick Waring, reimagined the exterior of the house with horizontal Wrightian lines, a white palette and zen landscaping, and turned the interior into a sleek showplace of contemporary design.

“We wanted to tell the story that the juxtaposition between historic and contemporary can be graceful,” says Calais of the redesign. 

A blended family of five with one child at home (Calais’ 14-year-old son), the Warings resided in Old Metairie when they decided to look for a house Uptown. Sunday drives and MLS listings led them repeatedly to the once grand dame occupying an oak-shaded corner lot near Audubon Park. The house, empty and used as a rental for members of the film industry, was in need of structural work — it was sinking on one side — and the inside was a warren of rooms and disjointed styles. 

“There was nothing architectural you could pull a dialog from,” says Calais. 

Nevertheless, the couple fell in love with the spirit of the place. When the De La Salle High School marching band came down the street, “drums beating and horns blowing,” during the showing, the Warings decided to put in an offer the same day. 

“It was a sign,” says Calais.

Working with architect Dodie Smith (C. Spencer Smith AIA) and interior designer Dionne Coulon (Dionne Coulon Design) who happens to be stepmom to Calais’ son, the Warings remodeled the worn gem. Because the firebrick exterior could not be painted, they had every brick removed and replaced. The gated front door and tiled vestibule gave way to a widened porch. A pool house and an outdoor kitchen with flat roofs and horizontal emphasis were added to the property. The existing carriage house was updated as a guest house.

The footprint of the house remained largely the same with 10 feet added across the rear, but the interior was gutted and reconfigured. The new progression of rooms now transitions from elegant foyer, dining room and sculptural stairwell on one level to a sunken living room and kitchen, which in turn open on to an outdoor patio and pool area. 

“The home is raised over a basement which allowed for the step down into the family, kitchen area,” says Smith.  “This step down allowed a much better transition to the family’s exterior entertainment area — pool, cabana, and pool house and gardens which was a primary focus to the homeowner.”

Smith removed the exterior wall and created a loggia for better circulation between the kitchen/family area and exterior amenities. She also designed the new staircase, relocated from the front foyer to a room all its own, as a work of art and dramatic focal point resembling the helical interior of a seashell. The new location of the staircase was informed by the presence of the original one-story bay window which they extended to the second floor for a seamless design change between the historic beginnings of the house and its new modern iteration. The sunlit white space around the staircase, home to a 1970s acrylic sculpture displayed on a pedestal, has the feel of a gallery. 

While Patrick weighed in on function, Calais and Coulon created an interior with his-and-her masculine and feminine qualities that Coulon describes as a balance of “yin and yang”. Organic blonde wood floors and the kitchen’s island countertop and backsplash of petrified wood provide a foil to glamorous design elements, such as the “golden nugget” dining table and the James Bond-style custom bar with a hidden compartment that raises and lowers electronically. 

There are strong pops of color in fabrics and art. The powder room, with walls covered in custom glass tiles emblazoned with Warholian lips by Allison Eden, is an ebullient display of red and gold as well. There are vintage midcentury pieces, unexpected touches such as mesh metal drapes (Coulon’s response to Calais’ wish for window coverings inspired by Joan of Arc), and serpent motifs that relate to the sinuous shape of the staircase. Yet the overall design feels edited and minimal at the same time. 

“Calais wanted it to have a soul and a spirit that was unique; she wanted something different in every room,” says Coulon. “But she also wanted a very quiet space.”

Quiet and serene are perfected in the pool and patio zone, which includes an outdoor kitchen, cabana and green space that combine traditional New Orleans references with ideas that are modern and edgy. The kitchen and cabana have a “Southern slatted look” while the landscaping suggests Palm Springs. 

“The biggest compliment that I got on the pool house was from the designer who said that it looks like a piece of origami sitting in the garden,” says Smith.

The same effort at balance is also at work in the Warings’ art collection, which ranges from the monochromatic abstract expressionism of George Dunbar to the colorful pop art canvases of artist Ashley Longshore and is periodically shuffled around for a fresh viewpoint.

While the reconfiguration of the house’s first floor living spaces and second floor bedrooms were designed to eliminate wasted space, the renovation also incorporated the dark third-floor attic, turning it into a casual media room and guest quarters used regularly by Calais’ son and his friends, and by visiting guests. 

“We went into it with a lot of expectations and got lucky,” says Calais crediting designer, architect, subcontractors and even neighbors’ stories about the history of the house with propelling the project forward to its happy rebirth. “We love it. It has a beautiful, organic rhythm.”