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Prized Proportions

A new Uptown construction goes from spec house to special home


Photos by Eugenia Uhl

Three years ago, when architect and real estate developer Lisa Pulitzer began building a new 2,700-square-foot, four-bedroom home of her own design, it originally was conceived as a spec house. Having previously renovated four residences, she was used to the routine of flipping the houses: enjoy it for a while, then move on to the next. But this time, things played out a little differently. Not only did she grow fond of the house, she soon had a new husband, Gary Zoller, and a baby on the way. From the beginning, the house had been a fortuitous undertaking. While driving to a potential location for her next project, Pulitzer was diverted by a maze of one-way streets and ended up finding a run-down corner cottage with a for sale sign. After making an offer the same day, she bought and renovated the house, subdivided the property and began working on plans for what was then a vacant lot next door.

"It was going to be a spec house, but I fell in love with it as it was being built," says the native New Orleanian, who broke ground in the summer of 2004 and moved in six months later. Though she designed the house to appeal to a broad range of potential buyers, her approach to architecture and her respect for the house's environs ran counter to the kind of generic characteristics sometimes associated with spec houses.

"I'm a proportionalist," she says. "I think you can do any style well if your proportions are correct. The lot was very narrow, and the houses on either side are over 100 years old. Building in a city that's so old is a delicate process. I think you do that by using authentic materials and traditional proportions."

Among the authentic materials used are stucco, plaster, slate and real wood soffets instead of vinyl. "Plastic and vinyl materials on exteriors of houses are one of my biggest pet peeves," says Pulitzer. And though she didn't want the house to be a rehash of a particular period or style, she did draw on the classic proportions and details typically found in older houses. Twelve-foot ceilings, crown molding, French doors and tall windows lend a timeless feel inside and out, as does the incorporation of antique finds like the stained-glass window in the living room and the 18th century hand-forged iron balcony rail on the facade of the house. Because the palette of her last house, featured in 2006 on HGTV's Homes Across America, was warm, this time she chose cool tones and materials. Cement floors and marble counters are paired with a monochromatic mix of tans used on the walls, ceilings and trim, and with simple, neutral window treatments. To give the house a continuity that extends from the ground floor to the second floor, she used the same five paint colors throughout and switched them around depending on the light and function of the room. She also used the same Venetino marble and silvery gray cabinets in both the kitchen and master bath.

"The paints are void of color; they're earthy and muddy," she says of the background canvas. "I let my objects bring the color out. A little color goes a long way."

Husband and wife Gary Zoller and Lisa Pulitzer and their dog Chilly in front of their uptown home, which Pulitzer designed. The house started out as a spec house but with a baby on the way, the couple, who develops real estate together, has made it a comfortable abode for three.

Much of the vibrant color found in the house comes from Pulitzer's collection of paintings — many by her late grandfather, artist Leonard Flettrich, and from the extensive collection of Murano glass that Zoller, by trade an importer of spiritual art from India, has collected over the past six years. When the two merged households, Pulitzer highlighted their respective pieces by displaying them together in vignettes. "I like to group things in colors. I love the juxtaposition of silver and crystal against beautiful old wood, and I like clean, uncluttered surfaces," says the homeowner, who modestly dismisses the organized method behind her artistic sensibility as haphazard. But few if any elements of the house's design were left to chance. All of the electrical outlets were placed lower than usual so they don't compete with the paintings. While other custom features — such as the living room's sleek, contemporary fireplace, which provides scale and balance to the cathedral ceiling, and the clerestory windows, which allow both a source of light and wall space for art — have become signature touches. "I wanted something simple and monolithic," she says of the imposing slate hearth. "It's become a trait of mine that the fireplaces in the houses I do are not terribly traditional."

Two years after its completion, the house feels comfortable and lived-in. Pulitzer and Zoller, both of whom cook, have friends over for impromptu dinners as often as once a week and spend a good portion of their at-home time in the kitchen. Designed for both cooking and entertaining, the sunny space is centrally located, with views of the dining room, living room and an outdoor patio lush with ginger, camellias and boxwood. With an island at its center, it's divided into what Pulitzer calls private and public sides.

"The idea was that I should be able to cook a meal and have guests be able to sit in the kitchen and enjoy a glass of wine but be out of my way," she says. "Whether we have 15 people or 50, everyone is always in the kitchen."

Though Pulitzer used to enjoy combing through antique stores, flea markets and junk shops for the kinds of finds that form the house's final layer, today she prefers instead to upgrade her home's furnishings with fine antiques. And with their daughter expected to arrive this spring, the couple is pleased not only with the way the finished house reflects their individual tastes and interests, but also the user-friendly way it accommodates their lifestyle.

"It's an amazing house," says Zoller. "The fact that Lisa was the architect and the designer makes it unique. I appreciate that every day."


Vibrant reds embolden the neutral shell of the dining room next to the kitchen. The portrait of Pulitzer's great-grandfather was painted by her grandfather, Leonard Flettrich. The empire dining table and leather-upholstered chairs were a gift from her father. She found the chandelier at Shades of Light more than a decade ago and takes it with her from house to house.

Pulitzer chose "Coastal Fog," a Benjamin Moore color, for the walls in the kitchen and combined it with gray cabinets from Cabinetworks, cool slab countertops in white, Venetino marble, white subway tiles from Stafford Tile & Stone, and stainless- steel appliances. "It adopts the palette of the colors it's surrounded by," she says.
Living Large An Oriental rug and a variety of warm woods soften the cool gray background and slick cement floors of the spacious living room. The coffee table is from Shanghai; the stained-glass window is from Ricca's. The leather chairs are part of Pulitzer's expandable dining set, and the floor lamp in the corner was picked up by her stepmother, Sandra Pulitzer, for a mere $5. Lisa Pulitzer had it repaired and refinished. "Sandra taught me a great deal about how to find a diamond in the rough," she says. Welcoming Committee A pair of figural, island- inspired lamps and a painting of an unknown woman by Pulitzer's grandfather bring life to an ebony-colored buffet in the entrance hall.

Artistic Heritage Lisa's grandfather Leonard Flettrich painted this large, three-panel work known simply as The Fish, as well as portraits of his daughter Patty Pulitzer and his wife Terry Flettrich, Lisa's mother and grandmother respectively.
Corner Details The pine chest occupying the corner next to the fireplace came from Lisa's great- grandfather's restaurant, and the mirror atop it is from Mexico. The David Harouni painting above the small Italian table flanked by a pair of chairs features some of the same saturated greens and reds found in the grouping of glass over the mantle.

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