It hasn’t been quick or easy for Rick Duplantier and Rob Clemenz, whose Lakeview residence took on 7 feet of water as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The couple evacuated to Houston for a month and then lived in Mandeville until March 2006. Heartbroken upon their return to the city, they nevertheless knew that they wanted to rebuild right on the exact same spot.
“Our neighbors were a big part of why we wanted so strongly to come back,” Duplantier, a partner at Galloway, Johnson, Tompkins, Burr and Smith, says. “We all rallied around each other and supported each other. But it was also a matter of principle: We were not going to let the storm chase us away.”
Although they were some of the first Lakeview residents to get started with the rebuilding process by drawing up plans, demolishing their old home and signing a contract to begin construction, the process did not go as smoothly as planned.
Struggles with contractors and suppliers held up the project, but despite the hassle, they stayed positive. Duplantier started a blog,returntogeneraldiaz.blogspot.com, to chronicle the rebuilding adventure. In March 2007, while he and Clemenz were living in Mid-City, he wrote: “As most of you know, I am not normally a patient man. In the new world order here in New Orleans, we must learn the art of patience, as the pace of recovery is much slower than we like. We understand that this thing that happened was unprecedented and the recovery is an endurance test. Intuitively we know, however, that our persistence will pay off … eventually. For now, like Dorothy, we dream of going home. The ruby slippers have been delivered, they simply are not ready for us to put on just yet.”
Because they had chosen to demolish and rebuild, Duplantier and Clemenz had a lot of choices to make about their new home. They wanted something unique but also felt a responsibility to preserve the architectural traditions of Lakeview.
To help them meet this goal, they enlisted L. Katherine Harmon of LK Harmon Architects. “They didn’t want anything that looked just like the next-door neighbor’s home,” she says. “It was refreshing to not have that as a design goal. They wanted to embrace New Orleans traditions and keep some elements of Lakeview but not necessarily what they had before.”
They also chose to use structural insulated panels, or SIPs, which offer much greater energy-efficiency but limit architectural options because they are prefabricated.
“We’d originally wanted exposed rafters, but that wasn’t possible because of the SIPs,” says Harmon. “But oh, well. You can’t have everything in post-Katrina New Orleans.”
On a smaller scale, the couple knew they wanted a spacious kitchen and an open floor plan. Clemenz, a lawyer who is taking a break to pursue a job hand-painting saints medals and writing contemporary stories to accompany them, adds, “Our prior home was a split level, and we wanted a simpler setup with higher ceilings.”
The finished home is certainly striking from the street. “Our neighbor says it is a ‘big red barn,’ and that irked me at first,” Clemenz says. “But then I realized she had made a cute, apt description of our home. It’s a big red barn with modern amenities –– it might be the only big red barn that has a steam shower, a warmer tray and a six-burner stove.”
When it came time to design the interior, the couple wanted outside opinions because they have very different senses of style. “I like simple, functional design –– clean lines but with a rustic feel,” says Duplantier. “Think Frank Lloyd Wright in the woods. But Rob’s style is clutter-messy and only functional to him.”
Acting on a recommendation from one of Duplantier’s coworkers, they hired Jimmy Clay of Jimmy Clay Design. “I helped them select hard surfaces: flooring, cabinets, windows, doors and other interior architecture,” Clay says. “The kitchen is what I’m proudest of. I think it’s great: porcelain floors reminiscent of slate and the rustic character-maple cabinets.”
Duplantier agrees with Clay about the kitchen. “It’s my favorite room in the house,” he says. “I never imagined I would have this much space to prepare meals. It has been a delight inviting friends over to create meals together in the kitchen.”
Clemenz doesn’t have a favorite room but loves the added space of the new home. “I like that the house is large enough that you can get away for quiet time if desired,” he says.
Duplantier and Clemenz moved into their new home three days before Christmas in 2007, and they have no regrets whatsoever about rebuilding.
“Our favorite thing about the house is that it’s in New Orleans,” Duplantier says. “New Orleans has a big-city feel with small-town charm, a little bit of everything with a lazy feel about it. I think the Talking Heads said it best in their song ‘This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)’: ‘Home is where I want to be, but I guess I am already there.’”