Glass decor creates a serene spot along Bayou St. John
By Judy Walker, The Times-Picayune NOLA.com
HOT AND COOL: A fire-and-ice fireplace faced in stacked travertine stone exemplifies the home of Eric Hess and Frank Thaxton. The fireplace is modern, muted, textured and fascinating, especially with the large Keith Perelli painting, “Wound,” mounted upon it. photo by Eliot Kamenitz, Times Picayune
Behind the painting is a hidden television. And the “ice” on the inner hearth is small pieces of aquatic glass, developed for use in fireplaces. The pale color of the glass turns an even more vivid ice-blue when the fireplace is lit, and flames flicker through the “ice.”
“We love glass,” Hess said, referring to the many glass pieces in the Southern art collection throughout the home. He also could have been speaking of the many windows that frame beautiful gardens and the views of Bayou St. John.
The entrance atrium and the sun room were created after Hurricane Katrina. This was originally two houses where two sisters lived side by side, on Moss Street on Bayou St. John.
One was a pre-Civil War home, as evidenced by the brick-between-posts wall left as-is above the bar. What used to be the front porch of that home is now the wall with a staircase on it in the atrium entryway.
The other home was built in the 1960s when one sister was displaced by Armstrong Park, Hess said. It was built on her sister’s lot next door using materials from the house that was torn down.
A VIEW OF THE BAYOU: Interior designer Chet Pourciau (maybe you’ve seen him on “Chet Chat” on WLAE-TV) was called in to help with colors and wound up working with the homeowners on the entire expansion.
Working in both walls and views was quite the challenge, Pourciau said.
THE HOUSE: Originally two homes, now a large, modern renovation facing Bayou St. John
THE RESIDENTS: Eric Hess and Frank Thaxton
THE SPACE: An entryway atrium and sun room
WHY THEY LOVE IT: ‘It’s very peaceful here. Just looking at the water calms you down. And the neighborhood is alive,’ Hess says.
“The Bayou St. John area is so beautiful, they wanted to be able to appreciate that,” Pourciau said.
As art collectors and avid gardeners, “they wanted to see the beautiful spaces, but also have wall space to show the art collection.”
The backyard has a waterfall flowing into a pond with water lilies, lots of fruit trees, herbs plugged in here and there, an Australian tree fern unfurled beneath the pecan tree, and much more.
Banana trees and other landscaping were planted to enhance the views. The frogs at night are loud, and a black-crowned night heron likes it so much she now brings her babies. Hess gardens in this space, and Thaxton is in charge of the front, or bayou side, of the house.
There’s a lot to look at in this space, including art works by Ida Kohlmeyer, Sally Heller, Mitchell Gaudet, George Dureau, Douglas Bourgeois, Sibylle Peretti, Skylar Fein and others.
Gaudet’s glass book pages stand along the top of an ebony-and-faux-marble coffee table; two more Gaudet pieces stand in alcoves on either side of the room.
An unusual glass vase by Sibylle Peretti tells the story, in black French handwriting, of several dogs who were saved in Katrina, pictured on the bottom of the vase.
OPENING THINGS UP: The 1960s house had dark paneling and was “awful,” Hess said. “It was a mess. It had little windows and all the interiors were very dark. They really weren’t taking advantage of the beautiful views there.
“The whole idea was to pop a lot of windows in, remove all the walls and really open it up.”
The house “got 6 inches of water in it because it’s lower, but it was enough for the mold to go up the walls,” Hess said. Because they had gas service, they were able to live in the house four weeks after the levees breached, and they started to gut the lower house.
“Then we decided we wanted to make this better,” Hess said. “We decided we wanted to make an entryway. And make the stairway into art.”
That it is. A huge metal superstructure was built into the wall to support the floating staircase. Every individual step has a beam in the wall. From the landing that leads from the staircase to the master suite, the view of Bayou St. John and downtown is even more striking.
Even the floor of the balcony has large glass insets, as do the pocket doors.
“Chet found all this wonderful tile and stone for us,” such as the Italian porcelain tile flooring, Hess said.
Hess, owner of Hess Marketing, always admired a midcentury chair in the home of a friend in Shreveport, where he and Thaxton, a retired district court judge, have their second home. It was owned by Rose VanThyn, who was a Holocaust survivor, and who left it to Hess because he liked it so much.
He and Pourciau found a new fabric for it that reflected her joie de vivre.
“Chet and I worked together to find the fabric,” Hess said. “She was a very festive person, a kind of fun person.”
HEARTH AND HOME: The homeowners wanted a fireplace in the house, which now has four bedrooms and four baths in 4,800 square feet. The modern fireplace was from Hollywood Doors in Metairie, and Pourciau located the stacked stone for its facing at the design center of the Home Depot on Earhart Expressway.
Other furnishings originated in more surprising places. Some are works of art in themselves, such as the Sally Heller console table by the front door. Then there are a couple of matching chairs.
“We found something inexpensive and got the fabric and put it on backward,” with the wrong side out, Pourciau said. The pale taupe sofa has a gentle curve because, Hess said, “Everything else has straight lines, so we wanted a sofa with some curves.”
The room makes it easy to socialize. The homeowners wanted a television hidden somewhere, which is why Pourciau suggested putting it behind the painting.
With a special sound system, it’s the perfect place to gather for special events such as the Academy Awards or Saints games.
The rest of the time, “It’s very peaceful here,” Hess said. “Just looking at the water calms you down. And the neighborhood is alive: People riding bikes, walking dogs, every kind of walker, jogging, fishing off the bridges, the pelicans diving in the water.”
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