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Unconventional Wisdom

Beth and Keith DePass had been looking for the perfect house for years before finding the one that felt right. After living in the River Ridge house where Beth was raised, they bought a house in Old Metairie and planned to renovate but later scrapped that idea in Unconventional Wisdomfavor of tearing it down and building new. Then, a simple suggestion inspired them to do something unusual. “My friend Jamie asked, ‘What house do you really like?’” says Beth, whose top answer was a classic brick Georgian in Metairie Club Gardens, not far from where Keith had grown up. No matter that the DePasses, both former attorneys who now specialize in commercial real estate, had never been inside the house, which was built around 1950, or that it wasn’t on the market.

“Jamie pushed me to call, and I figured I had nothing to lose,” says Beth about the prospect of approaching the homeowner whom she didn’t know. “After all, the worst that can happen is they say no. The fact that you like their house is a compliment.”

Several phone calls and one tour though the house later, the deal was made. “I loved it Unconventional Wisdomthe minute I saw it, and we ended up buying it just like that,” she says. “I just felt at home when I walked in this house. I thought the setting was spectacular.

 And it’s not your typical floor plan. In so many houses today, you can close your eyes and walk around and know exactly where the rooms are going to be. In this house, you can’t do that.”

When the couple and their two sons, now 17 and 19, moved in, the initial plan was to keep the house as it was for a year before making any changes. “We wanted to enjoy it and figure out what we wanted,” says Beth. But that plan lasted only about two weeks. The DePasses soon called in architect George Hopkins of The Hopkins Co. and Beth’s lifelong friend, designer Trudy Hurley of Green Parrot Interior Designs, both of whom they’d hired before. On the plus side, the house’s previous renovations and additions had been well-done and were well-suited to its refined, elegant bones; the homeowners liked its footprint and its cozy feel; and with more than 6,000 square feet in the main house, a patio, a pool, a barbecue area, a guest house and a garage, there was ample living space inside and out. Rather than change the character of the house, they chose to Unconventional Wisdomfine-tune and update some key features such as floors, cabinets, appliances, mantels and doorways; to reconfigure a laundry and office area; and to decorate with the kinds of traditional pieces that they prefer. A thorough renovation also was done outside with a complete re-landscaping, a reconfigured pool, a new patio, a hot tub, an outdoor kitchen, an alfresco dining area and a fireplace that the family uses even into late spring. A month after the house was finished, however, Katrina took a ruinous toll, and it was suddenly time to do it all over again. This time, after saving whatever art and furnishings they could, the DePasses called in Hopkins and Hurley along with contractor Michael LaForte of Vintage Contracting, whom they had gotten to know while he built a neighbor’s new home next door. They stripped most of the first floor down to the studs and floor joists. Although most of the house was restored to its pre-Katrina look, the DePasses took the opportunity to make some changes in the kitchen and the den. Because all of the plantings (except two gardenias now aptly named Katrina and Rita and an enormous oak tree that canopies the house) were lost as a result of Katrina, the existing flower beds were re-landscaped, as well.

Unconventional WisdomMore than two years later, only a waterline on a painting in the dining room is left to tell the tale of Katrina. Formal living and dining areas; a dream kitchen (included as part of this year’s Junior League of New Orleans Kitchen Tour featured in the April issue of New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles); a comfortable, sunken den; a glass-enclosed sun porch; a refreshing pool and patio; five bedrooms; seven bathrooms; two half-baths; a warmly paneled room with a circular burled-wood bar; and an office offer venues for all of the family’s activities and every sort of social gathering –– casual and formal, indoor and outdoor, intimate and large-scale.

Unconventional WisdomNearly two decades earlier, the same friend who inspired the DePasses to inquire about their graceful Georgian had led them to Hopkins, who specializes in upscale residential architecture. Hopkins and architect Steve Quarls, also of The Hopkins Co., brought to the project an understanding not only of adhering to and enhancing the house’s architectural integrity but also of the way that today’s sophisticated homeowners enjoy their dwellings, whether a primary residence or a vacation home. Likewise, Hurley, who’s collaborated with Beth on several houses, including a vacation getaway on Florida’s east coast, is known for her grasp of blending traditional furnishings, particularly French antiques, with fashionable, contemporary concepts and distinctive art. “My style is traditional,” says Beth. “But I also like to have things that are a little funky and a little splashy.” The edgier notes in the house are found primarily in the art, much of which Hurley brought in from local galleries. “I always tell her, ‘You don’t tell me how to do my job; I don’t tell you how to do yours,’” says Beth. “She knows what I like, and the fact that she’s my close friend expedites the whole process. She has never steered us wrong. I know when to use professionals,” she says in her characteristically lighthearted manner.
“If left to my own devices, I would employ my ‘It’s not done ‘til it’s overdone’ motto.”
Although the family lived in a rented house for a time during the second renovation, not a moment went by that they didn’t want to be back in the home that feels so right. “We’re homebodies,” says Beth. “We spend a lot of time in this house. We didn’t want to be anywhere else. I don’t know that there’s anything that I would change.” 

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