“This lot was a catalyst for building a contemporary home,” Julie Wall said of the waterfront site where she and her husband, Steve Wall, started a new empty-nest chapter of life and became first-time builders. “We had a vision for modern in this location. And I’ve always had an attraction to contemporary homes.”
Steve Wall added: “We wanted the view of the Causeway and the water and the sunset.”
Having spent two decades in a plantation-style house occupying 2 acres on the north shore, where they raised their children, the Walls liked the Metairie lot next to the lakefront levee not only for its natural beauty, but also for its convenience to Steve Wall’s work and its smaller size.
They bought the property, sold nearly all of their furniture and began working on a house that would be a complete departure both in terms of its minimalist style and its relaxing amenities.
The couple researched ideas online and brought them to a team of design experts — builder Nelson Clayton, of Nelson Clayton Homes (who oversaw the project and brought the others on board); James Chauvin, of Olde Orleans Designs; and interior designer Wes Ulmo, of Wes Ulmo Interior Design, who’d all collaborated before.
“One of the things we started with was the wooden wall behind the stand-alone tub,” said Steve Wall, referring to the horizontal slats of engineered wood flooring that create a striking focal point in the master bath.
That idea served in turn as inspiration for the “oak longboard” used on the exterior of the L-shaped residence. The product is actually made of aluminum and comes in 24-foot lengths that fit together with tongue-in-groove ends.
While modern form was a must, the function of the house was also important. The Walls’ requirements included easy maintenance, indoor and outdoor spaces where they could relax and enjoy the Lakefront setting, a pool, hot tub and outdoor cooking area where they could entertain friends and family (their blended family includes three children and two grandchildren). They also wanted an elevator (for easy access because the living spaces would be raised to take in the scenery), a garage and a studio where Julie Wall, an artist, can paint.
The ground floor is home to the studio space, as well as the garage, a bathroom and storage. The second floor has three bedrooms and three and a half baths. The main living areas, however, are on the third floor, which faces north for expansive views of the water and sky. Located on the top floor are the living room, dining room, kitchen and another bathroom. A third-floor office doubles as an extra guest room.
Two of the most striking features of the vertically oriented house are the atriumlike foyer and the “pool in the sky” (built by Pools by Joe Crowton).
The foyer’s industrial steel staircase with open, stained-maple treads rises next to a wall of windows. A light fixture of etched crystal bars cascades from the ceiling above.
The pool, which evolved organically as the team tried to decide where to place it, is elevated 2½ stories (making it easily accessible to two levels and pleasing to look at from the third floor). It gets extra structural support from steel beams and extra pilings. Decked with porcelain tiles that have the look of travertine — but not the stainability — and surrounded by a stainless-steel railing, the pool area has a streamlined aesthetic.
A disappearing NanaWall (folding glass doors) leads from the living room and kitchen to a fully equipped outdoor kitchen, which has both electric roll-down shades and infrared heaters for comfort in both warm and cool weather. Uninterrupted views of the Causeway Bridge, waves rolling in at the edge of the lake and palm trees planted around the house imbue the pool and outdoor kitchen with the feel of a beach getaway.
Working with Ulmo, the homeowners opted for a simple, monochromatic interior with some touches of glamour. Matte and polished surfaces are contrasted for balance, while crystal lighting fixtures that reflect the changing light are the jewelry of the house.
Every decision, from using tape to outline dimensions of rooms and furniture to choosing kitchen appliances and cabinets early on so they could be included in the blueprints, was carefully considered.
“That way you don’t have to alter things later,” said Ulmo.
The combination of dramatic lighting and staircase in the foyer is just one example of many calculations that ensured the right outcome. Ulmo had the lighting manufacturer customize a mounting plate so five of the fixtures could be hung from the ceiling at different levels. He also made sure that the stairs were fabricated with enough clearance for the assemblage.
“I’d have an idea, and Wes would find a way to make it happen,” Julie Wall said.
Because the kitchen, dining and living areas are a single open-concept space, Ulmo suggested finishes that would make the kitchen appliances disappear. Slick Acrilux cabinets and paneling over the refrigerator and freezer, which eliminate visual interruptions of stainless steel, provide continuity of design. Sleek, linear, automatically controlled (like most of the amenities), and slightly textured with tile, the fireplace adheres to the same restraint.
One of the more subtle details is the use of rounded Sheetrock corners instead of cased openings.
“It’s a cleaner look than molding, and a square edge takes more abuse than a curve,” said Ulmo.
The way that natural light changes in the house throughout the day factored into a multitude of choices. The crystal fixtures, which Ulmo found at market, reflect the light, as do the silver-flecked cork wallpaper used in the foyer, faint metallic accents in the master bedroom’s charcoal wall color, and the artworks incorporating bits of glass that Julie Wall made for the house.
The lake was a source of inspiration as well. Accents of blue are woven into the decor, and the triptych that Julie Wall painted for the living room is marked by an undulating wavelike motion.
In building a house that relates to its environs, the Walls wanted a sense of community. At night, the impressive glow of the three-story foyer invites people running and walking along the levee path to stop and look.
“We sit on the sofa and watch TV and watch all the action,” says Steve. “We’re connected to the neighbors.”
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