Most people purchase or build a home, and then begin the process of orchestrating the furnishings. Acadiana residents Steve and Suzi Santillo took the opposite approach. They built and designed each room of their petite 1,800-square-foot house, which is situated on a four-acre lake in the midst of 10 acres of Santillo property, around specific pieces of furniture the couple had collected through the years. Even more interesting is how they arrived at living in this picturesque cottage on the lake serendipitously post-Katrina.
The proprietors of two popular Lafayette restaurants, Blue Dog Café and Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro, and co-owners of the Louisiana Ice Arena in Carencro, the Santillos were residing in Opelousas when they had a change of heart following a storm.
“We were living in a nice house in Opelousas when hurricane Katrina hit,” Steve says. “We had invited some friends and their families who had evacuated from New Orleans to stay in our house for as long as necessary. So to give them more room, we began staying at my rustic little camp in Carencro. It didn’t take us three days at the camp to figure out that we wanted to live out here,” he recalls.
Located near the crossroads of I-10 and I-49, Carencro is the northernmost city in Lafayette Parish, and is just minutes from the hustle and bustle of downtown Lafayette and the Santillos’ two restaurants.
“When our friends returned to New Orleans, we hired a contractor right away and began fixing it up to make it our family home. We gutted the camp, and then added on to the building, and created an outdoor living room and a deck overlooking the lake. We also built a separate guesthouse.”
The main house is designed to take in the splendid view of the four-acre lake on the property. The great room has several wide, custom milled French doors that extend the entire length of the house, with windows overlooking the loggia and the Santillos’ private lake. By bringing the outdoors in with their design, the house seems much larger than it is.
Prior to his marriage to Suzi, Steve had purchased a small building in Lafayette that was originally an old-fashioned barbershop. He moved the building to his property in Carencro, and turned it into a “rough and very rustic” camp on the water. “It was my little bachelor’s pad,” he notes. In 1999, the same year that Steve opened his first restaurant, Blue Dog Café, he became engaged to Suzi. They now have an 11-year-old daughter, Isabella (an award-winning ice skater, she practices at the family’s ice rink in Carencro).
“Once we began designing the house, we decided to build the rooms around specific pieces of furniture,” Steve says. From the antique French hutch in the kitchen to each of the unique beds in all three bedrooms in the main house, the Santillos created the room dimensions around their treasured items. Utilizing interesting architectural elements and quality materials were tantamount during the remodeling phase.
Aside from running two of Lafayette’s most popular dining establishments and the ice rink, Steve and Suzi are also devoted artisans. Suzi is a professional potter whose works have been widely exhibited, while Steve dabbles in stained glass work (he created the stained glass logo on the front door of Blue Dog Café, and a colorful window in the kitchen of the main house).
Their quaint country home reflects the couple’s collective artistry, which ultimately contributed to the transformation of a rugged old camp into a charming little jewel box in the heart of Acadiana. Among their many projects, Steve and Suzi designed and built by hand the mantel over the fireplace in the living room.
While adding on to and renovating the main house, the Santillos built a 1,000-square-foot guesthouse to create a separate area for relaxing with the family. It is reminiscent of a French country inn, and connects to the main house via a winding brick walkway.
“The one-bedroom guesthouse serves as our multipurpose family room,” Steve points out. “It includes exercise and computer equipment and an entertainment center. The headboard for the bed in the guesthouse was a North African gate we had purchased from an antique shop. We brought it to a metal ironworker to make it into a headboard. This is the best bedroom on the property because it has the best view of the lake.”
Aside from the various custom details and architectural salvage they incorporated into the home’s design, the real charm of the place is the outdoor living room that adjoins to the great room overlooking the lake. The house sits on a ridge, providing majestic views of the water and the woodlands.
“We put all cypress beams on the back porch, which we use as an extended living room,” Steve notes. “The ceiling is from the reclaimed pine floor of a little country church that was in Washington, Louisiana. It was taken up board by board. We turned it upside down, and didn’t do anything to it due to its natural patina.” Various sculptures by local artists, and several old rocking chairs add to the loggia’s country charm.
The entrance of the main house is graced with an antique sugar kettle, an antique brick and cypress custom door that was designed by the Santillos, and for added interest, a round ornamental piece from an antebellum plantation that they placed above the door.
“It was apparently a leftover architectural piece that sat unnoticed for over a century. They found it in the loft of a barn at a plantation on River Road,” Steve explains. “Someone put it on consignment at Circa 1857 in Baton Rouge. Suzi looked at this and said that we just had to have it, so we put it in storage for five years. The house we now have wasn’t even in the picture at the time.”
Since the Santillos own two restaurants, their kitchen was carefully designed. Adding to the French country look are various copper pots and a collection of ceramic pieces in the antique French hutch. “In the kitchen, we used the rough, back side of old school chalkboards for the countertops,” Steve notes.
“The copper pots in the kitchen were purchased by my parents who lived in Paris,” Suzi states. “They bought them in 1954 at the Iron Market next to the original Marché de Puce flea market.”
The master bedroom was designed around a bamboo bed that Suzi’s father gave her when she was a teen, while the heavy wooden antique bed in daughter Isabella’s room (which is adorned with a canopy designed by Suzi) came from a steamship; it originally served as a youth bed for a ship captain’s son during their maritime travels. “It’s called ‘petit bateau’,” Suzi adds.
“Although the house looks sort of Hays Town with the brick and wood elements, Suzi and I really enjoyed throwing in eclectic twists while designing the décor,” Steve says. “We both like animal prints, so we shopped for over a year online until we finally found a zebra rug we liked and we gave it to each other as a Christmas present. We put it in the living room.” Near the zebra rug, the Santillos placed a camel saddle from North Africa that they transformed into a stool.
A passionate foodie, Steve enjoys cooking with Suzi at home when he gets the chance, and he insists on using only locally grown produce at home and in his restaurants. He recently graduated from the master gardener program in Lafayette.
“I have a young orchard on the property and a raised bed garden,” he boasts. “At Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro, we do farm to table cooking, with locally grown produce. We use over 30 suppliers for everything from our goat cheese to our honey, and country eggs. Everything is local.”
“We really love living at our little house near the lake. It’s so quiet and peaceful,” Steve concludes. “I’m going to enjoy planting a garden and growing our own food out here near the orchard.