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A Mother's Nature

Looking to the outdoors - and to her children - Pia Laborde finds inspiration for her art and her home.


Beauty comes in many forms. When you take into account the eye of a beholder who happens to be an artist and a doting mother - perhaps you too will begin to see true beauty in a sun-bleached animal skull discovered by two teenage boys on a four-wheeler ride in the country. "As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to paint it," says Pia Laborde of the nine-point buck skull her sons — John Peter, 17, and Grayson, 15 — found in a pasture at their father's family farm near Marksville two years ago. "Now it's one of my favorite things I have in my home. They knew that, and they love finding stuff like that for me." She says she's always "dragging around some gorgeous piece of driftwood" or other natural treasure she and her children uncover in the great outdoors. "But this one was especially good, because it had all nine points, which is rare." Pia — a New Orleans native who studied art, psychology and world religion in college — says it was only recently that she turned her longstanding appreciation for art into an actively creative endeavor. "I loved [doing] art as a child but had never exposed myself to the actual physical act of painting or drawing as an adult," she says. "Then I started taking classes at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts a few years ago, and I got hooked." Pia traces her aesthetic inclinations back to childhood — to summers spent roaming the mountains and streams in Colorado and to the environment her parents created for their family. "My father is an architect, so we were exposed to beautiful things early on," she explains. "There was always harmony and balance in our surroundings and perfect, well-thought-out lighting,"she says. Pia has an "innate sense of color" and gravitates toward earthy tones: "I don't like loud, garish colors. I like things that replicate the subtle nuances in nature." The soft, golden glow that emanates from her personal retreat — commonly referred to as her bedroom — is certainly a reflection of her tastes. But the fact that it is essentially an indoor/outdoor room is what gives Mother Nature a real place of prominence. "I love it that one wall is just windows and glass doors that open up onto the patio," says Pia, whose favorite feature of her outdoor sanctuary is the "baby waterfall" she had installed by Tammany Baumgarten of Baumgardens Landscape and Design. "When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is open all the doors," she says. "I love to sit out there and read." Newly single, and with a renewed sense of independence, Pia says the house represented a fresh start when she bought it last year. "I used to jog by [the house] and watched it being renovated for two years before I bought it. I always wondered what it was like on the inside," she says. "So, as soon as it came on the market, I knew I wanted to be in this neighborhood. I grew up just a few blocks away, on the other side of Audubon Park." Being near the park fits in with her active lifestyle, which frequently includes running and biking. But Pia says she finds herself in her exercise clothes more often than she'd like. She really prefers dresses. "They're so feminine," she explains. "I just like the way a dress hangs on me. And it's all one piece, so it's easy. Plus, guys want to see a girl in a cute, short dress more than anything, don't you think?" As for makeup, she is very low maintenance and rarely indulges in rigorous primping. "I never wear makeup unless I'm getting dressed up to go out at night," says Pia. "But when I do, it does make me feel polished." It's a duality she's starting to see in her daughter Sage, 13. "She's very much like I am: feminine yet tough," says Pia of the grit and grace it takes to grow up with brothers. "On one hand, she has to have the perfect outfit for the party. And 10 minutes later, she'll be in full camouflage baiting a hook with a duck heart to catch an alligator gar at the farm. She loves to confiscate my jewelry and makeup. She can't quite fit in my clothes yet, but she's got her eye on them." Pia's sons, on the other hand, are pretty much oblivious to the contents of her closet. But as she found out after inadvertently leaving her sweater behind after dinner at the New Orleans Country Club one evening, Grayson and John Peter are keenly aware of her signature scent — Chanel No. 19 — even though they probably couldn't name it. "The boys were out there the next day, and the maitre d' who found [the sweater] stopped them and said, 'Is this your mother's?' They grabbed it, smelled it and immediately said, 'Yep, that's hers.' They never even looked at it," says Pia. "I guess it's just the scent of your mother, you know? There's nothing stronger." Page 1 caption: Wearing an Alberta Ferretti dress recently purchased from Pied Nu, Pia lounges with her dog, Stella, on the patio just outside her bedroom. Page 2 caption: "I love the vaulted ceiling and the exposed beams," says Pia of her bedroom. "It makes the room feel spacious and cozy at the same time." The bed is a Mario Villa design, and the mirror on the right was made from antique ceiling tins.

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