The grand residence of retired businessman Michael Thompson near Covington emulates the charm of a French country château. Its graceful design connects to the past while still looking forward.
The stunning 8,000-square-foot home is situated on a 62-acre horse farm with a 20-stable barn, tennis courts, two ponds, and a putting green. The dreamy, pastoral setting reflects the best of country living in Louisiana. “I really like the peace of the country,” says Thompson, who formerly resided in the Faubourg Marigny area of New Orleans.
A drive down the alley of ancient oaks on the property leads to the horse stables and then a half-acre pond centered by a lighted fountain near the stately house. A second tree-lined driveway leads to the rear of the home, which overlooks a circular garden, recently designed by Baton Rouge landscape designer and exterior decorator Pam Cavin, who has clients throughout south Louisiana.
“My wife loved horses. She collected them,” explains Thompson, who moved into the home with his late wife two months before hurricane Katrina hit. “We lost around 250 trees and some fences, but the house was fine except for one window,” he recalls. One of the massive old oaks that was lost in the storm was five feet in diameter, but the sturdy house remained virtually unscathed.
The Thompsons purchased the residence from a young couple that had completed the construction of their new house. “They didn’t have an architect. They put together the plans for the house on the internet,” Thompson remarks.
The home, situated approximately 300 yards from the highway, provides elegance and privacy in a serene, bucolic setting just an hour from New Orleans. “It is the best of both worlds,” says Thompson. “You can drive into New Orleans and have a nice lunch, but you also have the privacy of the country.”
Window boxes with cascading Mediterranean verbena accented with lime green potato vines add a romantic flourish to the front of the home. A pair of tall antique doors that were imported from France welcomes visitors to the main entrance in the front, which opens onto a foyer with marble floors. A walkway colonnade leads to the living room and dining room on the left, a library on the right, and a large keeping room with a fireplace that is adjoined to a breakfast room with classic brick flooring.
“That’s where we usually eat, in the breakfast room,” says Thompson. Centered with a French antique farm table that was in the owner’s former home and sturdy suede-covered dining chairs, the stately breakfast room has French doors that open onto a courtyard area. An oil on canvas by Covington artist Robert Cook, known for his contemporary landscapes, adds color to the space. The painting depicts a misty landscape, luminescent with the colors of dawn.
There is a splendid view of the back pasture from the spacious keeping room and kitchen. The open floor plan allows views of the pastures and garden from many vantage points throughout the home.
French doors at the rear of the residence open onto the grand garden designed by Cavin. To center the garden, Cavin selected an ethereal 19th-century English putto holding a bowl of flowing water above his head. Mounted on a pedestal of dolphins, the fountain is one of a pair of antique putti purchased at French Fountains in New Orleans.
“The concept started with the fountain,” Cavin explains. “I do a lot of European gardens, and saw that this garden had really good bones, but it needed something extra. I added a lot of height, color, and contrasting plants that set the garden off. I utilized lime green in my accents, including sedum, and placed sweet potato vines in urns. Topiaries accent the garden, while white angelonia surrounds the fountain, along with white junior caladiums.”
For the interior, Thompson selected Vikki Leftwich, a noted interior designer and owner of Villa Vici, a furniture and interior design store with locations in Covington and New Orleans. A former model and women’s retailer, Leftwich is known for her elegant sense of style and her fashion aesthetic. Much of the furniture in Thompson’s home is from her shop.
“There were a few pieces of furniture that I was able to incorporate with the new furniture,” says Leftwich. “Mike has a more traditional flair, so I had to encourage him to step outside the box,” she concludes. “We mixed new and old together, and used a soft French palette with blue, taupe, grey, and flesh colors throughout.”
“Since the house is kind of structured in a U-shape, everything looks into a center garden,” she continues. “I wanted the colors to be easy and soft to flow throughout the downstairs. At the same time, I tried to keep it masculine.”
The serene living room maximizes the light and lushness of the view. Leftwich combined a mix of modern and antique, selecting a pair of simply styled upholstered sofas by Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams that faces a sleek, contemporary coffee table with a gold and églomisé top. Incorporating a traditional touch, Leftwich added Thompson’s painted Italian chest, topped by a bust of Napoleon, near the fireplace. Thompson acquired the large portrait over the fireplace years ago in Arkansas, where he lived before moving to New Orleans. “We called it an instant ancestor,” he jests. (The portrait is of no relation to the owner.)
Leftwich had an acrylic coffee table custom made for a sitting area anchored with an upholstered daybed, above which hangs a dramatic oil painting by Lu Jian Jun, a masterful contemporary Chinese artist. The portrait of a woman reveals her formal aura, bold and provocative in her position. Thompson acquired the painting in San Francisco. “It’s from his empress series,” he notes. A pair of French antique chairs from Villa Vici adds a formal element to the space.
In the dining room, Leftwich placed chairs upholstered in a flesh-colored velvet by Lee Industries (from Villa Vici) and floor-length, custom silk taffeta draperies. She selected 18th-century wooden candlesticks gleaned from an old church in Italy for the dining table. “In Italy, these are really hard to find,” she points out. Similar candlesticks were used to adorn the coffee table in the living room.
Upstairs, the luxurious master bedroom has a wall of windows overlooking the beautiful garden, oak trees, and pastures. The hammered, aged gold leaf bed with an upholstered raffia headboard is from Villa Vici. The contemporary silk quilt and silk charmeuse bedding by Ann Gish adds a streamlined elegance to the room. A bench by Mitchell Gold, covered in cream-colored velvet, and a delicate crystal chandelier complement the room.
Two sunburst gold leaf mirrors and a pair of French antique chairs from Villa Vici are located on either side of the large French doors that define the rear entry of the house. From this opulent vantage point, there is a wonderful view of the garden and rows of oak trees.
“The house is perfect for entertaining during the fall and spring, because you can open all the French doors in the front and back. We’ve had parties and a wedding here,” says Thompson. “But I think what I really like the most about the house is the peace and quiet.”