Four decades of family living in the Dimitri home rendered all of the delightfully predictable memories –– raising four children, watching them get married and have children of their own, holiday gatherings, big family dinners. What George and Dianne Dimitri created in more than 40 years was the stuff that American dreams are made of. Still, it took only one day and one giant storm in 2005 to wipe out their elegant 7,000-square-foot, five-bedroom Lakewood South home. Ever the optimists, the Dimitris quickly assessed their loss and started planning the rebirth of the home, which is an exact replica of a historic French Quarter mansion.
“There was never any thought of not coming back to this house,” says Dianne. “This was and always will be our home.”
The Dimitris managed to get back to their once-pristine neighborhood just a month after Katrina, while things were still either underwater or waterlogged. An animal-rescue team helped them get in. “Your heart fell; you felt so empty,” Dianne says.
But they didn’t stay sad for long. Luckily for the Dimitris, their neighbor across the street, Richard Keeney, is a contractor and the owner of Lifetime Construction Co. After having someone else gut and clean the house, the Dimitris hired Keeney to bring their home back to life.
Although they were displaced for a full 15 months, their long journey back was worth the wait. Today, the Dimitri home is better than ever and full of surprises for a first-time visitor. Just inside the front entrance is the dining room, featuring an oversize mirrored round table, built to accommodate the large extended Dimitri clan. “This table was exactly what we needed,” says Dianne, “but the problem was getting it in here. There was no opening large enough to bring it in.”
For New Orleanians who survived the ravages of a hurricane, that was a minor challenge. The contractor had an entire wall by the front door removed just to bring the table in. “We had it timed so the carpenters would take the facing around the front door off just before they delivered the table, and then the carpenters would come back in and put the front wall back in,” Dianne says. “We knew we could do it somehow.”
According to the interior designers who worked with the couple, that sentiment is typical of the Dimitris’ outlook. “They always had a good attitude,” says Sandy Millet of Motter & Millet Interior Décor, who along with her partner, Paige Motter, conceived the redesign of the interior spaces. “You talk to some people who still cannot move on from the storm but not these people. Their whole approach to this project was all about a total silver lining.”
One could say the silver lining had a red secret, behind closed doors. The biggest change from the former Dimitri home to the current abode has to do with the living distinctively converted into a 40-by-29-foot theater, accessed through an room: This time there is no living room. The ample space it once occupied has been inconspicuous door off of the family room and modeled after New Orleans’ famed Saenger Theatre. Do not call it a media room, George says. It is definitely a theater, all done in movie-theater red, with 12 comfy, reclining chairs; a curtain that opens to reveal a huge screen; and state-of-the-art audio and video equipment. There is even a small stage. A collection of hundreds of DVDs makes this space a magnet for kids and a place for joyful family gatherings.
“We have four children and 11 grandchildren, ranging in age from 20 years to 3 months,” says Dianne. “They love to come here and play in the theater; they even get on stage and perform.”
The Dimitri house is by design both an elegant, sprawling living space and a kid-friendly home. The details are stunning. Local decorative artists Bekye Fargason and Ann Adair Reeves created the copper-leaf ceiling in the massive dining room and other artful finishes throughout the home. A beautiful trumeau the Dimitris bought locally graces one full wall. The spacious kitchen features high-efficiency appliances, including a mahogany-cased Sub-Zero refrigerator and a Wolf stove and even a steamer built into the marble countertop. The limestone overhang above the stove, weighing in at about a ton, was imported from Mexico. Flooring on the first level is antique red gum that was taken from an old barn. The light color contrasts nicely with the dark-wood custom cabinetry in the kitchen, where a large island occupies the entire center of the room.
The kitchen windows overlook the pool area, where the Dimitris installed a waterfall just around the corner from a large-screen television situated on an outside wall under an overhang. Behind that is a big playroom for the grandkids, complete with video games.
The Dimitris wanted their house back, much as it was. What they got was something even better, fully updated and ready for the next several decades. Some things on the wish list did not make the cut: Dianne wanted a candy counter in the theater, but there wasn’t space, and George wanted a tankless water heater.
But with their trademark good spirits, they don’t dwell on that. “All that really matters is that we’re back,” says Dianne.