Building a new home was a decision Megan and William Nelson considered carefully. As a real estate agent, Megan knows there is no such thing as a perfect house. The couple, who had renovated their previous home, also knows firsthand the challenges of construction. Nevertheless, they found a lot overlooking the Metairie Country Club Golf Course and took the plunge.
What ensued was an organic process, where one beautiful architectural find after another (such as the exquisite antique French doors at the front of the house) and many conversations with their architect, Stephen Chauvin of Chauvin Arkhitekton, led to an elegant house.
"It was like painting a picture where you start with an idea, step back and relook, add things and change others, step back again and again, reassessing and allowing the process to help the final product evolve," Megan says. "The beauty of using Stephen Chauvin is that he is both architect and contractor. You have the ability to let things evolve and be created as the process is going on."
The Nelsons had some ideas at the outset. They knew they wanted a stucco house with traditional features so the home would look as if it had been there for a long time. They also wanted a spectacular front door and salvaged architectural items with a sense of age, a motor-court entrance, a wide foyer providing a view of the scenery behind the house, contemporary touches (including a state-of-the-art kitchen) that would carry the house into the future, outdoor living areas, entertaining areas for the couple and their children (Callie, 20, and Connor, 19) and inviting spaces for entertaining guests. Callie (pictured on the cover of CUE) is making her debut this season and already has been honored with a debutante party at the Orpheum Theatre and a tea at the Windsor Court Hotel. With these things in mind, they worked closely with Chauvin, whose artistry they admired.
"Sometimes your thoughts change on what you want," Chauvin says of the house's evolution. "Design is a continuum that continues to reveal itself when experiencing the house as it is being built from within and without and when guided by certain choices of site, views and spaces, lifestyle and needs, architectural elements and furniture, and in this case the passion and creative participation of my clients."
One of the first architectural finds Chauvin brought to the project was an unusual double front door. The outside is rich oak, the inside a painted finish with classical features, indicating the door originally was used as an entrance. Chauvin placed four turn-of-the-century French doors he bought at an auction years earlier across the rear of the family room, overlooking the patio and golf course. He had other doors milled to match. He also found the reclaimed wood used for the flooring and the antique iron railing used to ornament the edge of the upstairs terrace, the wine room door and a side door.
"So many people think when your kids go away, it's time to downsize," Megan says. "But we knew that during our kids' college years, they'd have friends help fill the house, and we wanted to be able to comfortably entertain our friends as well."
During construction, Megan found herself studying the homes she showed as a realtor and even walking off room sizes and measuring the depth of friends' patios.
"An outdoor terrace was a huge priority on my list," she says. "I wanted a great outdoor living space large enough to entertain, maximizing the view we have."
The roomy dimensions of the patio, coupled with the fact that the sun is never directly in front or in back of the house, help protect the space from the elements. It's cool in summer, and ceiling fans and a gas fireplace provide additional temperature control for warm or cool weather.
Megan maintained the same change-as-you-go flexibility with the interior design, which seamlessly marries the efforts of her friend, interior designer Mignon Favrot, Trudy Hurley of Green Parrot Design and Callie, a college student who has formed her own design business. Many antiques the couple brought from their previous home were purchased from Favrot, who also helped them find a few new pieces. Hurley's close attention to detail proved invaluable to the fine tuning of the house.
"She's just such a wealth of knowledge in all areas, from the beginning of the build to the last details of choosing fabrics," Megan says. For her part, Callie brought a fresh eye to the project as well as experience obtained working under interior designers Gerrie Bremermann of Bremermann Designs and Melissa Rufty of Melissa Rufty Design Studio.
William, a mortgage banker and wine collector, researched and designed the wine
room under the stairs, which is lined with shelves and a row of custom drawers made from wine boxes. Years stamped on the box drawers signify the couple's anniversary and family members' birthdays.
Since the house was finished last year, the Nelsons have obliged requests to use it for fundraisers and other events as often as possible. Megan even finds herself using the word "perfect" when describing what the home has meant to her family and others.
"It's been the perfect house in that it's been a huge blessing," she says. "We decided if we were really going to build, we wanted to share this home. It's been enjoyed, which gives it life and makes it a happy place."