When President Barack Obama arrived in New Orleans on August 29 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of hurricane Katrina, the first place he visited was the historic Bayou St. John neighborhood. He stood in line for a shrimp po-boy at the modest Parkway Bakery and Tavern, a century-old restaurant that reopened 88 days after the levees broke. “Barack, your order is ready,” resounded throughout the popular eatery, to the delight of surprised diners.
The picturesque Bayou St. John neighborhood is filled with historic homes, bungalows, colonial-style residences, and iconic New Orleans restaurants. Located near City Park, the neighborhood’s prominent architectural landmark is the towering European dome of Our Lady of the Rosary Church, which faces Esplanade Avenue. Views of the bayou and its close proximity to City Park and the French Quarter are among the many amenities that attract young executives and families to the neighborhood.
Enamored with the possibility of living in Bayou St. John, advertising executive and artist Eric Hess of Hess Marketing decided to purchase a home in the neighborhood 11 years ago. He selected a pre-Civil War building on Moss Street that had undergone various incarnations through the years.
“The original structure of the pre-Civil War building was the first floor,” Hess explains. “It was a house that was situated near a bridge which was used to cross over the bayou from our home to Bell Street,” he continues. “In later years, the property became a shipyard and the second floor was added.” In the 1960s, the modest building housed two families.
“The home was full of wood paneling and there were many small rooms,” Hess says. “We decided to take out several walls to open up the space.”
Two years prior to hurricane Katrina, Hess and his partner, Judge Frank Thaxton, embarked on the renovation, starting with the pre-Civil War side of the historic structure. “We decided to totally redirect the design and punch in large windows to take advantage of the bayou and backyard. The only thing in the backyard was a lone pecan tree, so there was much work to be done.”
“We removed most of the front of the home and placed infinity windows across the façade,” Hess adds. A central fireplace was removed along with the warped floors and ceilings.
“Once we finished this side of the home, Katrina hit and half of the home flooded. When we came back, we decided to make it even better than what we had planned. We removed the second floor of the addition and added a floating staircase with a glass walkway leading to the master bedroom.” A large master bath with a walk-in closet was also added, along with a two-car garage.
The historic building (now 5,200 square feet with four bedrooms) has been transformed into an open and airy contemporary showcase for art, complemented by large glass windows throughout.
A 20-foot pond, a stream, and waterfalls were added in the backyard. “We brought in many plants that were indigenous to Louisiana,” Hess says. A deck was also added to provide outdoor space for entertaining.
During the renovation, Hess and Thaxton hired interior designer Chet Pourciau, ASID, of Chet Pourciau Design, LLC, to oversee the interior. A columnist and television personality, Pourciau launches his new PBS television show about interior design in October (Chet Chat, will air on Thursday and Saturday evenings to benefit local charities).
“When I met up with the homeowners on Moss Street, I discovered a beautiful home with a lot of history and a home that had gone through an incredible transition,” says interior designer Chet Pourciau.
“Working with Chet, we were able to find furniture that complemented the design and did not overpower the art collection,” Hess says. The homeowners’ objective was to showcase their extensive southern art collection while capitalizing on the views. The fabrics that were selected for most of the furniture were meant to blend in with the surrounding colors and architecture, according to Pourciau. “Imported Italian tile, which is very close to the color of the walls, created another special texture for this home without drawing your eyes away from the magnificent views of Bayou St. John and the ponds, waterfall, and gardens in the back of the home.”
In the new sunroom, Pourciau felt it was important to use a light taupe palette, while allowing textures to define the space. “We utilized stacked stone on the fireplace, and this texture allowed the viewer to have a focal point in the room without it being the main feature,” he reflects.
“The Ida Kohlmeyer above the fireplace was a perfect piece for the sunroom, since it brought in a touch of color and still had a contemporary feel.” An all-white Dawn Chatoney sculpture resides on the coffee table.
The living and dining areas are brightened by a whimsical chandelier designed by Hess and artist Viorel Hoidre. Vaguely reminiscent of the three-dimensional art glass chandeliers by Dale Chihuly (whose architectural glass sculptures can be found in museums, homes, and public spaces worldwide), the chandelier’s amber-hued luminescence evokes the illusion of large petals opening above the dining table, tying into the verdant, lush scenery outside the large windows. A spherical multicolored vase by Hess adorns the dining room table.
A painting titled Hunter by R.R. Lyon makes a bold statement in the living area. Its dominant sea-foam color is picked up in the accent pillows on the sofa and chairs.
Adding a dramatic touch to the top of the free-floating staircase, which was designed by the homeowners, is a landscape painting by Adrian Deckbar. The glass walkway at the top of the stairs allows light to flow into the entry hall. “The staircase is a piece of art unto itself,” asserts Pourciau.
The stairwell opens onto the light-filled, large master bedroom, which is appointed with a fired clay cream-colored sculpture by Dawn Chatoney on top of a chest and two colorful abstract paintings by Doyle Gertjejansen on either side of the chest. “We wanted the bedroom to reflect the colors used throughout the home,” says Pourciau. “Brown was utilized as a highlight color to add warmth. The padded headboard gives the room an air of warmth and sophistication.”
Two stunning pieces of art distinguish the master bath: Raine Bedsole’s Blue Figure painting and a large metal sculpture by David Borgerding. “We used smaller stacked stone to highlight the walls above the sinks with marble countertops and vessel bowls,” Pourciau remarks. Adding to the contemporary feel are the Hans Grohe stainless steel fixtures. “The fabric chandelier gives the room a soft, romantic feel,” he notes.
“This home is all about the views,” Hess says. “From the front, you have the bayou and dome of Our Lady of the Rosary Church. When you look out the back of the home, there are now beautiful gardens and a pool.” While assessing his interior design efforts, Pourciau concludes, “We wanted it to feel more like a gallery, but still have the warm feeling of a home.”