Serene Outdoors and Luxurious Bathrooms
by Leslie Cardé
THERE’S SOMETHING SERENE about strolling through the manicured garden of this Uptown home, just steps from Audubon Park. As you gaze upon the intricate series of plantings, you’ll realize that every detail of the foliage surrounding the main home and guest house was precisely thought out. The landscape is accentuated with various pieces of statuary, drawing one’s eye to different elements within the garden.
This home had previous owners, so when landscape architects Marianne and Alan Mumford approached a redesign in 2009, there were many facets of the space to consider. The in-ground pool, designed by René Fransen of Fransen Mills LLC in New Orleans, was an element the current owners wanted to keep, so it was a matter of enhancing the surroundings to the taste of the new inhabitants of this home.
“In thinking back on this design, it reminds me how an important part of the project is to weave together the various selections, so we can recommend various sizes and shapes in order to keep things in proportion,” recounted Marianne Mumford, V.P. and Landscape Architect with
Landscape Images, Ltd. in New Orleans. “The tables and art elements must be in sync with the gardens they are surrounded by, as that’s what makes the end result successful. Integration of art is not by accident, and is one of the most personal selections in a garden.”
Since the 1980’s, this particular home has been owned by three different families. In fact, the folks who lived here prior to the current owners liked a bit more of a whimsical style. The rectangular-shaped lawn on display had a twelve-foot topiary elephant sculpture, which Landscape Images, Ltd. had previously maintained.
The current home owners and their decorator were instrumental in deciding on furniture and statuary. The job of the landscape architects was to provide a structured, ordered look around the art objects.
Most of the statues are of classical Greek women, but one of the sculptures, a giant urn ensconced in holly and tucked away on the perimeter of the backyard property, was so heavy that it took five men to transport it to the site.
“The idea of tucking statuary into a hedge was inspired by the gardens of Villa Gamberaia, in Florence, Italy, even though this is a French-style garden,” Mumford said. “To make this gigantic piece feel in scale with the rest of the garden, we used plantings to do this, tucking it into the interior of the Dwarf Burford hollies.”
The owners wanted a white canvas to unfold between the guest and main houses, so most of what’s blooming reflects that color. While a large Savannah holly brings out a hint of crimson, everything else, from a Japanese maple and Sasanqua to Daisy Gardenia azaleas and Alta magnolias, brings out the snowy white palette. As spring overlaps into summer, seasonal selections like white Alyssum and white Torenia produce an added pop of white.
Arizona flagstone pavers punch up the color coordination with the planters and furniture, and abut the turf areas of monkey grass and Empire Zoysia.
All around the back-scape you’ll find Dwarf Yaupons and Boxwood sprinkled throughout as accents, making this tranquil space a great place to relax after a busy day at the office.
Speaking of tranquility, what better way to relax and unwind than in the comfort of your own backyard oasis. Pools have evolved into habitats, and certain pool builders known for their creative designs are building environments that look like they came out of a tropical rainforest.
“They either know what they want, or they want me to tell them,” explained Greg McSwain, owner of Greg’s Pools and Spas. “I’ve built 1400 pools over the course of my career, and I’m a pretty creative guy, so many of my clients trust me to have a vision for their backyards. You want a waterfall? No problem. A grotto? We’ve got you covered.”
For this freeform pool in Madisonville, right on the Tchefuncte River, McSwain was faced with a dilemma: a prior pool that was sinking on one side and emptying itself right into the river. Unfortunately, you cannot jack up a sinking ship, according to McSwain, so it meant ripping the old one out and starting over. The problem stemmed from the fact that the former pool was not on pilings, making it highly unstable, especially perched right alongside a river.
“We jackhammered the entire property and hauled away the contents,” explained McSwain.
“Then, I took the dirt from another house’s digs and filled in the crater. Afterward, we dug pilings into the mud, which had seepage from the river. You pile-drive until you get enough resistance. All told, we drove 40 foot pilings; there were about 75 of them. The ground itself ends up sucking onto the pilings after they sit for about a month.”
With a now-stable environment, the creative process begins. The owners, David and Carolyn Briggs, had seen a house a couple of doors down, which McSwain had designed and built, and liked what they saw. So, they entrusted him to come up with a design that would be fitting for their property. Flexible boards were placed right on top of where the pool would eventually be dug. As the pieces are laid out, the design takes shape. The clients are there to make any changes and give their input, so essentially the pool is formed right in front of them.
For this particular pool, which was built in 2019, prior >> to the pandemic, supply-chain issues were not yet a problem nor was the destruction of a Texas resin mill which supplied PVC pipe to construction jobs. This includes filters and pumps, which are a part of any pool. A standard pipe which was $8 then, is now $52, increasing the bottom line on all pool construction. Starter pools that used to come in at around $39,000 are now $69,000. Most of McSwain’s pools, like this one, run six figures. He just finished a pool in Hammond, known as the Lazy River Pool, with a price tag of $350,000. So, save your pennies if you’ve been enticed by these environments and are thinking about an exotic pool.
Exotic is the operative word. This particular pool contains a grotto, a waterfall, a hot tub, and a tanning ledge, where adults can soak up the rays while still being covered in cool water, and with only an 18” depth, the kids have a place to play. The boulders framing the pool are made of Tennessee moss rock, the deck is made of flagstone pavers, and glass tile stepping stones serve as an eye-popping accoutrement while forming the beach entrances on both sides of the pool.
“Waterfalls are beautiful, but are a lot of work,” McSwain said. “Half of all of the fountains in this city leak, and it’s the same principle. If you don’t do it right, the constant water movement causes cracks and fissures then leaks, and the water starts to back up into your garden.”
As far as add-ons, the diving boards and slides that many of us grew up with are passé, not because they’re not wonderfully fun additions, but because insurance companies have blacklisted them in terms of coverage.
These decorative pools elicit a vibe all their own, brought forth by both sight and sound. LED lighting systems with an array of seven different colors can be changed based on the moods of the owners and can be controlled quite simply through one’s smartphone. Natural sounds of the waterfalls, spitting cranes, or anything else can be enhanced or turned down completely.
So, who needs a vacation to paradise, when you’ve got one right in your own backyard?
And, if you get bored, take the yacht out for a spin down the river to the many local watering holes.
When Susan Currie, Interior Designer, with offices in New Orleans, Atlanta and Brooklyn, was called in to transform a New Orleans bathroom belonging to a doctor and his wife on one of the gem streets at the lake, she had her work cut out for her. With a six-figure budget, she still aimed to minimize total costs by trying to keep the renovation’s structural details in check.
“The bathroom had to be gutted,” said Susan Currie, ASID, owner of Susan Currie Design, LLC. “The plan they went with kept things in the same approximate place as before, so the construction costs wouldn’t be sky-high.
They were given other options and other ideas, but when moving more plumbing and tearing out more walls is involved, the costs just naturally go up. So, we figured out how to design what they wanted, while at the same time keeping major reconstruction to a minimum.”
Currie discussed at length the couple’s wants and needs. Everyone agreed that the bathroom/closet/dressing areas were cramped and small and closed off. No one particularly cared for the darker greyish pink tile on the floors, and the floorplan was very chopped up. By keeping the tub in the same location, but stealing space from the walk-in closet, and opening the space up with a lot of glass, it wouldn’t seem as claustrophobic. And, there were specific requests. The wife requested a tub deck so she could sit on the edge to get in the tub. This was accomplished by adding a bench seat and a grab bar.
The goal was to transform the primary bathroom from a dark ‘80’s flashback to a light, airy oasis with all new finishes in brighter more reflective colors and contemporary champagne bronze fixtures, in this case by Brizo. The small shower needed to be expanded and was enhanced by the addition of a glass panel, allowing daylight to stream in. An abstract floral wallpaper by WallQuest and fun pendant light fixtures by Circa Lighting give the space a touch of tasteful glam.
Other areas were brightened and lightened with natural stone, mosaic tile, and porcelain tile in the shower enclosure. And, there’s a lovely chandelier providing visual solace. With sinks by Kohler, a vanity stool by Ballard Designs, and cabinetry by WoodMode, the whole look feels refreshing and pulled together.
“I do my best to match my clients with the best contractors for their design specifics,” noted Currie. “If it involves complex structural issues, I pull in an architect or a structural engineer. Most importantly, when all is said and done, I want my clients to have a great project that’s beautiful and functional at the same time.”
If opulence is what you’re going for, and budgetary constraints are not an issue, then feast your eyes on the 20,000 square foot Mandeville home of Ingrid and Tyrus Murdoch. Together, they built this house on over an acre of land. It took three years, has three levels, and essentially has an entire home on each floor. It boasts three separate giant master suites which contain a parlor, a sunroom, two fireplaces, a sleeping area with an adjacent plunge pool room, a large bathroom, a laundry room, a safe room, a two-story closet, and a kitchenette. Remember, the main area of the house has its own large kitchen. Their daughter has her own master suite containing 2,000 square feet, but as an 8-year old, she has other rooms more useful for a child, like a playroom and the nanny’s room.
“I have no idea how or where I got this taste,” said Ingrid Murdoch. “I’ve never been to Europe, nor do I have rich ancestors. Before my business took off (she is the former CEO of Sensible Meals), I lived in a shed with no running water. So, I created vision boards, which some people thought were outrageous and unattainable. But, I believe in creating a life of abundance.”
Married to a WWE wrestler, comedian, and now broadcaster for Fox News in New York, it’s a long-distance relationship, with her husband primarily living out of hotel rooms in NYC during the week. It’s a hectic schedule which they would eventually like to change.
Perhaps the most fascinating feature of this home is the two-story bath and closet, which is connected by a floating staircase from the lower to upper floor. It was modeled after a woman’s home in Texas, purported to have the largest closet in the world. In this residence, it begins in one of the master suites with the large two-story bathroom, replete with an eight-foot tub and a massive shower. The ornate bathroom includes Sherle Wagner 24-karat gold plated faucets and hand-painted sinks. It is here that the spiral staircase emanates, heading upward to the second floor of the closet.
Murdoch believes in Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese traditional practice which claims to use energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environments. Bad Feng Shui could mean putting a bed on the same wall as the door. The beliefs even extend to paint colors, associating pink with the energy of partnership. The Murdoch bedroom and bathroom are both pink.
A famous interior designer once said: “Be faithful to your own taste, because nothing you really like is ever out of style.”
Leslie Cardé can be reached at email@example.com