This house has a complex layering of styles that is clearly intentional. Can you explain how, and why, you created this change?
I am intrigued by the cultural and stylistic complexity of New Orleans architecture. You see continental French, French West Indies, and Louisiana Creole traditions; the earlier Spanish colonial architecture; and the later Anglo-influenced Federal style. It doesn’t seem possible to combine all these elements in a single house but when I walk down the streets of New Orleans, where you see so many different styles put together, I knew I could do it. In this house, the porches have the deep overhangs and sturdy Tuscan columns of French West Indies and Louisiana Creole plantations. I also drew inspiration from the exposed beams and purlins on the porch ceiling of the Pitot House [a residence built outside the city limits of New Orleans in 1799 for a Spanish government official]. In the living room, I used massive ceiling beams and Spanish arches to invoke the bold style of the Cabildo, the seat of Spanish colonial government. With the neoclassical door surround and fanlight above the front door, as well as the millwork details within, I referenced the Federal style. When Ann Holden [of the New Orleans-based interior design firm of Holden & Dupuy] decorated the interior, she skewed the aesthetic toward continental French style, injecting a refined, cosmopolitan European element.
When you first approach the house, it gives the impression of a central dwelling flanked by outbuildings. When you get closer, you realize that these outbuildings are actually attached. What inspired you to design the house this way, and how did you create this illusion?
I wanted this house to resemble an old West Indian plantation that had grown and changed over time. When you look at such plantations, you often find a series of outbuildings of varying shapes surrounding the main house. Often, the central dwelling is entirely wrapped by a porch supported by columns. To create that effect here, I designed a main house with the traditional hipped roof and porch, as well as two wings that look like they were once freestanding structures. The varying heights and materials of the two wings create the illusion that they may have been built at different times. When I designed the infill attaching the structures, I used dark shutters on the sections of wall that pass beneath the shadow of the porch. This helps to create the impression that the porch wraps all the way around the house.
As one walks around the property, there is a constant progression of styles that creates an element of surprise. Can you describe some of these shifts and explain how you married these different styles harmoniously?
While the tall, narrow windows and shutters on the front of the house recall French colonial style, the wide arches on the rear resemble Spanish colonial architecture. In keeping with that style, this facade overlooks a patio-like space. On the poolside facade of the guest wing, I combined these two influences. While the ground floor has a sturdy masonry arcade of Spanish arches, slender columns rise above it, supporting a French colonial-style hipped roof. Outbuildings like this offer a chance to do something a bit playful, so I enjoyed exaggerating the contrast between the styles. The columns seem impossibly thin in contrast to the masonry arches beneath. By keeping the palette of the house monochromatic, with white walls and dark gray-green shutters, it became possible to mix several styles and materialsâ€”stucco, lime-coated brick, and board siding.
This house has many engaging rooms, but the most architecturally intriguing is the living room. Tell me what you had in mind when you designed it?.
The living room is huge, spanning the whole width of the house’s main block, which measures about fifty feet. The ceiling is covered with a system of massive cross beams inspired by the Cabildo. Traditionally, you wouldn’t see a ceiling this bold in a residence. It is intentionally over-scaled. I also exaggerated the size of the arches opening onto the porch. The large scale of these elements visually reduces the size of the room, creating a sense of comfort and intimacy. There is a tension between the robust ceiling beams and the narrow moldings framing the interior doorways, which is intended to capture the excitement of the Cabildo’s public chambers while also creating a sense of refinement, as though this was a Spanish colonial governor’s drawing room. Ann Holdenâ€™s choice of continental French furniture adds another element. This room captures the contrast of primitive colonial styles and European elegance that characterizes New Orleans.
You always choose materials that seem to express the spirit of each house you design. Tell me about the materials in this house.
On the porch, I used stucco-over-brick columns similar to those of French colonial sugar plantations. While I used stucco-coated masonry for the main block of the house, lime-coated brick, another traditional colonial material covers the bedroom wing. There are a variety of woods in the interior, including finely milled Federal details, painted rough-cut beams, and unpainted heart pine. I used sinker cypress, a material indigenous to coastal Louisiana, in many of the family’s private rooms. Many of the floors are waxed heart pine, common in the finer houses of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century New Orleans. For the family wing, however, Ann Holden selected antique limestone salvaged from French chateaux. One might see bluestone or slate floors in colonial Louisiana, but not French limestone. This makes the rooms feel more European. Because of the materials, the interior keeps oscillating between European and local points of reference. This is just another example of the gumbo nature of this house. When you are trying to create a beautiful house, at a certain point, you have to say, To Hell with authenticity.
View images of the Gunther residence