Key elements of the living room include a French-style antique mirror, Italian lamps from Agora that were picked out by decorator Corinne Laborde, a Directoire walnut chest, a 1928 Lester baby grand piano and an Oushak rug from New Orleans Fine Rugs. Other furniture is from Sofas and Chairs.
You may have read this story—or a version of it—last fall in this magazine, had it not been for the biggest natural and man-made disaster in the history of the United States. Had wind and water not soaked the elegant rugs, warped the exquisite wood floors and wiped out the meticulous landscaping, it could have been a great story. A good writer will tell you every story needs a plot twist—like a Category 4 hurricane to engulf one of the country’s most beloved cities.
Lynette and Derek Walker had lived in their house on Audubon Boulevard for just two years when Katrina forced their evacuation. By any standards, the house is imaginatively conceived in its use of space, and singularly handsome in its décor. Partnering with decorator Corinne Laborde, the Walkers created this home from the ground up —twice. The first time was in old Metairie.
A view from the dining room through the entryway to the formal living room.
“We built this exact design in Old Metairie, but I grew up Uptown and I just wanted to come back,” says Lynette. “But there are differences this time. We wanted a porch, wanted it to be a little bigger on a bigger piece of property. Things other people may not notice are different: the stain on the floor, the width of the planks, things like that.”
What visitors who have seen both houses will remember is a rare 1928 Lester baby grand piano that is the focal point of the living room, and a painted French farm clock that subtly graces a dining room corner. The piano is of particular significance in this home since Lynette’s mother is a concert pianist and an artist, and one of her two sons also plays.
Also making the cut from Old Metairie to Uptown is a stunning 19th-century French walnut buffet, circa 1840. And strategically placed throughout the 5,000-square-foot, three-story home are large abstract acrylic paintings in muted and understated tones. The artist happens to have a degree in computer engineering, but painting is her passion. Her name: Lynette Walker, whose work is shown in Agora on Magazine Street. One could say Lynette paints in her own backyard, since after Katrina the Walkers built a charming wood frame cottage adjacent to the main house. The tiny sun-drenched space now serves as Lynette’s studio.
The elegant kitchen includes honed marble counters, a Viking stove, Sub-Zero refrigerator and a Bosch quiet dishwasher. Amber glass pendant lights from Lighting Inc. provide a soft glow in the kitchen. A butler’s pantry connects the kitchen to the dining room.
Everything in the Walker home is built for daily use, including the oversized rectangular cypress dining table in the den, big rooms designed to accommodate more seating for guests, and a huge open kitchen the Walkers partially enclosed after Katrina. Honed marble counters can take a lot of abuse from the frequent houseful of teenagers, while a Viking Stove, Sub-Zero refrigerator and Bosch quiet dishwasher are all built for volume. Much attention was paid to lighting in the kitchen, including the tortoise-amber glass pendant lights from Lighting, Inc.
Despite the heavy traffic the Walker house endures, the owners selected quality rugs from New Orleans Fine Rugs on Magazine Street. No one could possibly have predicted that the Oushak in the living room in tones of green and gold, or the Kalim rug in the den, or even the antique Heriz runner in the hall would all end up soaked under four inches of water for weeks. And, no one could picture the National Guard dragging the valuable rugs to the neutral ground, where they would sit until rescued by a craftsman who fully restored them. But that is exactly what happened.
area of the kitchen overlooks the pool. An iron chandelier illuminates the custom-made cypress table Corinne Laborde had made for the family.
“We were able to save almost all of our furnishings and rugs, even though if you look closely here and there you can still see the water lines,” Lynette Walker says.
Still, on the bleak November day the Walkers first saw the devastated family home there were tears all around. Even today, trying to describe the first walk into her flooded home, Lynette cannot hide her emotions. “It was very sad,” she says. “Very hard.”
Today, well over a year since the storm, there is not a trace of sadness in the Walker home. The three-tier Italian chandelier in the dining room bathes the front of the house in soft light, while the original plaid silk draperies have been replaced by exquisite copper colored drapes with sheer metallic accents at the top. The spacious pool area in back is now surrounded with a new cement terrace, while the landscaping has been recreated, even though the plants had to come all the way from Alexandria, due to the shortage of local selections.
The outdoor areas are bound for heavy use, since the Walkers have 31 nieces and nephews and six great nieces and nephews. “There is a lot
of family coming and going, not to mention my sons’ friends,” Lynette says. But when things become too hectic, the parents can always find sanctuary in their spacious second floor bedroom that features a generously proportioned walk-in closet. Their sons chose the décor for each of their rooms, and another room has recently been reclaimed as a guest room, since the art studio was moved to the new cottage.
If one family home can be a metaphor for the rebirth of the city that care forgot, surely the Walker home in Uptown New Orleans is that place.
Editor’s note: See Lynette Walker’s paintings at www.agora-nola.com.