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Greener Pastures

New Orleanian David Bourgeois creates an elegant Georgian retreat north of Lake Pontchartrain

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New Orleans resident David Bourgeois had been looking for a piece of Northshore property for two years when — as often happens — the right place found him. Driving along the highway on a crisp, fall day Bourgeois followed a bend in the road and saw a lovely stretch of green pasture peppered with grazing cattle. "I got to where the driveway is now, and there was a 'For Sale' sign," says Bourgeois, a computer systems developer. He quickly inquired about the parcel of land and found that half of its 11 acres were already sold. The good news was that the piece that remained was precisely the one he wanted.

Today, the view from the highway has changed dramatically. Rising from the grassy promontory where cows once fed is now a three-story Georgian house painted in a petit four shade of pink and surrounded by manicured gardens. There also are a lake stocked with Canadian geese, a roomy barn that serves as a workshop and garden storage area, and a garden/guest house/studio so surprisingly whimsical that it's tempting to call it a garden folly, yet so cleverly functional that it's anything but.

Seventeen years in the making and still a work in progress, the estate now known as North House is a testament to the incredible patience and do-it-yourself lifestyle of its owner, who somehow also manages to indulge his passion for sharing the house and grounds with friends and family.

Originally, Bourgeois built a barn, a conservatory and a small country cottage called Hilltop. Next, he added to the barn and conservatory, then in 1996 built the 650-square-foot garden house, which he used as a cozy pied a terre during the two years it took to replace Hilltop with a new, larger house marked by classic Georgian architectural features such as axial entrances, a hipped roof, double-hung windows, a two-story portico and broken pediments.

"The game plan was to lay out the gardens and ancillary buildings and build a little house and see if I like living here," says Bourgeois. "If I did, all the gardens and ancillary buildings would be in place, and I'd build a larger, formal home."

As with the original residence, integration of the gardens was key to the design of the new house, which follows the same footprint (volume was added largely by building upward rather than outward) and overlooks the same views. The owner's affinity for symmetry ("it quiets the mind," says Bourgeois), English antiques and collecting salvaged architectural elements and hardware from period houses in New Orleans, North America and Europe also drove the design. Initial plans were drawn up to specifically accommodate the dimensions of reclaimed items like doors and mantles. New Orleans architect Pat Melancon then finalized the drawings, and master carpenter James Martin added to the custom quality of the house by skillfully crafting elegant cabinetry and millwork inside and out. A mix of timeworn antiques, warm Oriental rugs and sumptuous fabrics keep the interior in sync with its traditional, historic framework. Yet the owner's penchant for using outdoor garden ornaments like urns, finials, statuary and obelisks inside the house and his trained artist's eye for lively color give the house a fresh twist that is never staid. "There's something cool about using outside stuff inside," says Bourgeois.

Aesthetics were not the only things carefully considered during the planning stages, however. Creating a home that would function well and could be adapted to technological advancements also was an important part of the process. Nearly 3 miles of wiring — including fiber optic — were used in the house so that every room will be equipped to handle the future arrival of holographic telephone communication.

Likewise, the gardens, most of which preceded the current house, were laid out only after thorough research and investigation. That meant consulting garden experts and taking trips to such renowned gardens as Longue Vue House & Gardens in New Orleans, Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and the stunning Butchart Gardens in Victoria, Canada, in order to study not only what had been done perfectly in each of those places but also what might have been overlooked. Named Chart House, Bourgeois' garden house is a two-story structure reminiscent of a garconniere. It's located at the end of an azalea- and crepe myrtle-lined corridor known as the "main garden" (there are seven "garden rooms" in all) and was inspired by a trip to Williamsburg, Va., home to some of the nation's most noteworthy examples of Georgian architecture.

An avid gardener as well as a student of painting at The New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts for the last decade, Bourgeois regularly uses his days at North House to practice both talents. Both his realist still lifes and impressionistic landscapes depicting the evolution of the gardens are displayed inside the house, while his trompe l'oeil murals adorn the walls of the garden house, which he also uses as an art studio.

Between the endless parade of projects that go hand in hand with a 4,000-square-foot house surrounded by a series of meticulously tended gardens, Bourgeois entertains about 1,000 people a year at North House. Among the events attended by friends and family are a Christmas open house and an Easter Egg party that entails four months of preparation, a full day of activities, 3,000 tissue-wrapped eggs and 500 guests. "When I first built the property, I thought it would be a weekend place where I'd putter around, but it's gotten much bigger than that," says Bourgeois, who not only thrives on the full roster of tasks at North House, but also finds them the perfect way to escape the hectic pace of city life. "I like to get here and not have to leave," he says. "It's like being on vacation every weekend.

"Being here is the most cathartic thing in my entire life. When you come here, it's like pulling your finger out of a dike — all of the pressure is released. It's the most peaceful, relaxing place you can come to."

American Idyll  Symmetry, a double portico, double- - hung windows and broken pediments  all hallmarks of - Georgian architecture  imbue North House with the - kind of stately nobility found in the historic 18th century - buildings of Virginia. The balustrades on either side of - the facade are modeled after those used in both New - York's Central Park and New Orleans' Audubon Park. The - house overlooks a series of formal gardens, which are at - their most colorful in the spring. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • American Idyll Symmetry, a double portico, double- hung windows and broken pediments all hallmarks of Georgian architecture imbue North House with the kind of stately nobility found in the historic 18th century buildings of Virginia. The balustrades on either side of the facade are modeled after those used in both New York's Central Park and New Orleans' Audubon Park. The house overlooks a series of formal gardens, which are at their most colorful in the spring.
East of Eden  The garden house is located east of the - main house and is reached via the main garden. Unique - features, such as a two-part storable staircase, which - leads to the loft bedroom, and adjustable doors, which - partition the space in a variety of configurations, enable - the house to function as an entertaining space, a guest - house and an art studio for Bourgeois. The garden - statuary of a figure that's half woman, half sphinx was an - 18th century device designed to advertise marriageable - daughters of well-to-do families. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • East of Eden The garden house is located east of the main house and is reached via the main garden. Unique features, such as a two-part storable staircase, which leads to the loft bedroom, and adjustable doors, which partition the space in a variety of configurations, enable the house to function as an entertaining space, a guest house and an art studio for Bourgeois. The garden statuary of a figure that's half woman, half sphinx was an 18th century device designed to advertise marriageable daughters of well-to-do families.
Counter Culture  Bourgeois wanted the island in the - center of the kitchen, which is topped with amber - fantasy granite, to be as large as possible to - accommodate entertaining. Like much of the house, the - room is painted with historic Williamsburg colors: the - walls with Ralph Lauren Suede in Jasper and the island - with Bluebell Tavern. The glass pendant fixtures above - the island are from Lighting Inc. The cabinetry was made - by James Martin and is finished with an acanthus leaf - border from Enkebol. Behind the stove, antique European - tiles depicting fish, fowl and rabbit represent the three - sources of food: land, sea and air. The statue of St. - Joseph  visible outside the kitchen  was a Christmas - gift from a friend who collects Catholic statuary. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • Counter Culture Bourgeois wanted the island in the center of the kitchen, which is topped with amber fantasy granite, to be as large as possible to accommodate entertaining. Like much of the house, the room is painted with historic Williamsburg colors: the walls with Ralph Lauren Suede in Jasper and the island with Bluebell Tavern. The glass pendant fixtures above the island are from Lighting Inc. The cabinetry was made by James Martin and is finished with an acanthus leaf border from Enkebol. Behind the stove, antique European tiles depicting fish, fowl and rabbit represent the three sources of food: land, sea and air. The statue of St. Joseph visible outside the kitchen was a Christmas gift from a friend who collects Catholic statuary.
All The Trimmings  Bourgeois filled a variety of vessels - with ornaments to create a sparkling vignette on top of a - reproduction Georgian chest. Behind the arrangement is - a display of his ongoing paintings capturing the - evolution of the North House gardens. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • All The Trimmings Bourgeois filled a variety of vessels with ornaments to create a sparkling vignette on top of a reproduction Georgian chest. Behind the arrangement is a display of his ongoing paintings capturing the evolution of the North House gardens.
Perfect Curves  A pair of arched windows illuminate the - end of the dining room, which is furnished with - Chippendale-style table and chairs and a bow-front - buffet thought to be an early piece by the late New - Orleans cabinetmaker Ruppert Kohlmaier Sr. The mantle - is American slate faux painted to look like European - marble and dates from the late 18th century/early 19th - century period when Thomas Jefferson began hiring - painters to use the then-novel technique in both - Monticello and The University of Virginia. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • Perfect Curves A pair of arched windows illuminate the end of the dining room, which is furnished with Chippendale-style table and chairs and a bow-front buffet thought to be an early piece by the late New Orleans cabinetmaker Ruppert Kohlmaier Sr. The mantle is American slate faux painted to look like European marble and dates from the late 18th century/early 19th century period when Thomas Jefferson began hiring painters to use the then-novel technique in both Monticello and The University of Virginia.
Gentleman's Quarters  Several paintings provide focal - points in the master bedroom: local artist Michelle - Kondos painted the copy of Murillos' Virgin of Seville - (above the bed); the painting above the Sheraton flip-top - console is the engagement portrait of Marie Tessier, a - River Road plantation heiress who was left standing at - the altar. The dresser to the left of the bed is an English - oyster-wood chest, and the mid-19th century dresser on - the right was purchased at a yard sale at Cabrini High - School in the 1970s. Bourgeois designed the silk curtains - and had them made by a local seamstress. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • Gentleman's Quarters Several paintings provide focal points in the master bedroom: local artist Michelle Kondos painted the copy of Murillos' Virgin of Seville (above the bed); the painting above the Sheraton flip-top console is the engagement portrait of Marie Tessier, a River Road plantation heiress who was left standing at the altar. The dresser to the left of the bed is an English oyster-wood chest, and the mid-19th century dresser on the right was purchased at a yard sale at Cabrini High School in the 1970s. Bourgeois designed the silk curtains and had them made by a local seamstress.
Anglo Files  The desk in the master bedroom is said to - be a copy of a partner desk used by Winston Churchill, - and the painting above the circa 1890 cast-metal - fireplace is a copy of a portrait of Edward VIII that hangs - in the Windsor Court Hotel. Bourgeois commissioned - Angola inmate and artist Jerald Wilson to produce the - work. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • Anglo Files The desk in the master bedroom is said to be a copy of a partner desk used by Winston Churchill, and the painting above the circa 1890 cast-metal fireplace is a copy of a portrait of Edward VIII that hangs in the Windsor Court Hotel. Bourgeois commissioned Angola inmate and artist Jerald Wilson to produce the work.
Greenhouse Effect  The Ayerst Conservatory, which - consists of two buildings separated by sliding glass - doors, was built in a memory of Dr. Robert Ayerst, a - close friend of the homeowner and an accomplished - grower of bromeliads. Bromeliads, palms, bamboo and - boxwood are among the plants on permanent exhibit. - Color is added with poinsettias in winter, mums in fall, - Easter lilies in spring and begonias in summer. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • Greenhouse Effect The Ayerst Conservatory, which consists of two buildings separated by sliding glass doors, was built in a memory of Dr. Robert Ayerst, a close friend of the homeowner and an accomplished grower of bromeliads. Bromeliads, palms, bamboo and boxwood are among the plants on permanent exhibit. Color is added with poinsettias in winter, mums in fall, Easter lilies in spring and begonias in summer.
The Visionary  Homeowner David Bourgeois with several - of his still-life paintings. A computer systems analyst, avid - gardener and student of painting, Bourgeois manages to - entertain about 1,000 people a year at his home. - SHERWOOD COX
  • Sherwood Cox
  • The Visionary Homeowner David Bourgeois with several of his still-life paintings. A computer systems analyst, avid gardener and student of painting, Bourgeois manages to entertain about 1,000 people a year at his home.

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