Home The perfect marriage

The perfect marriage


Contemporary furnishings complement antiques to make this historic house a modern, livable retreat


It was not the plaque on the sidewalk announcing the historic value of the house that appealed to the present owners; both had lived in houses of historical significance before.

“I wanted this house for the dining room chandelier; Charles wanted it for the 10-foot-deep swimming pool,” Brenda Fenner says of the raised cottage near Tulane University.

The 1862 Waterford crystal chandelier, both impressive and delicate, is original to the house. So are the four variegated blue-black marble overmantel and the wide, well-worn floors in the original areas of the house that now serve as a formal living room, dining room and two of the three bedrooms. The huge family room, state-of-the-art kitchen, master bath, pool and landscaping are modern amenities created for the Fenners.

The doors of the house, which was once owned by James H. Dillard, who endowed Dillard University, open to inviting rooms filled with antique furniture collected by the owners’ families and recent purchases of contemporary furnishings—most with a story to tell. Brenda, who studied at the New York School of Interior Design, creatively pulled together objects as disparate as a Murano glass chandelier, Steve Martin wire sculptures, American, French and English antiques, mirrors, books, plus chests, commodes and tables from several Louisiana plantations. She had a friend, Lynn Ives of Hampton & Adams, upholster antique seating in modern ways: Victorian side chairs in Ultrasuede animal print; oncematching arm chairs transformed by white taffeta embroidered with brown silk; a camelback sofa covered in faun-colored velvet by Rubelli. “I know provenance is important,” says Brenda, pointing to an heirloom tea service that once resided at the Payne House in the Garden District, “but I don’t have any trouble mixing the old with the new, the grand with the ordinary.

“In the dining room we have English chairs from Nina Sloss, with seats of fine needlepoint. The table is a reproduction, new as yesterday, but the lines work together. Cranberry cut-glass urns on the mantel flank a portrait of Charles’ father. This chest is from my mother, that from Charles. The tilt-top table is from Madewood Plantation from before Mrs. [Naomi] Marshall bought it and thankfully restored it.”

Varying colors of the same tonal value draw the eye from room to room. The soft pistachio in the living room morphs into a pale paper bag hue in the dining room. With paintings, sculptures, mementos, photographs and even framed pieces of antique lace to hold one’s attention, Brenda kept the walls solid and trim white.

march07-22.jpg“The walls in the dining room are Venetian plastered. I wanted to learn how to do it. Well, I learned and I won’t be doing that again,” says Brenda with a laugh. Ives created voluminous drapes from yards of buttery dupioni silk to frame the double-hung windows in the 14-foot-ceilinged rooms. The color complements both rooms and allows an abundance of light. Off one side of the dining room is a guest room and closet turned into a powder room.

Beyond the dining room, the Fenners wanted a large family room with a big open kitchen. The space was problematical, so they turned to another friend, well-known architect Davis Lee Jahncke to work out a plan allowing easy flow from one room to another, as well as to the outdoors. With the exception of a fine tall case clock from Provence, an unbroken view of the Weber-landscaped garden can be seen from a bank of varying-shaped windows and doors.

march07-23.jpgPale limestone was used for the floors while calm shades of putty and pond green define the areas. Throughout the family room, down-filled sofas and oversized chairs from Rug Chic have been covered in easy-to-maintain cotton canvas or chocolate Ultrasuede. The Storehouse coffee table and end tables hold a variety of fine French lamps, antique boxes and frames. Antique planters filled with orchids thrive in this greenhouse-like atmosphere.

Brenda commissioned Wilcox Honore, cousin of Lieutenant General Russel L. Honore, to create a massive wall of cabinets and bookcases centered by a large flat-screen TV, hidden behind doors. The piece is balanced on the opposite wall by an island and hanging cabinets, which front the kitchen featuring top-of-theline appliances—SubZero, D?©cor, Wolfe, etc.—and massive storage units. Here, too, Brenda turned to local talents, in this case Classic Cupboards.

The master bedroom was painted a slightly darker shade of putty to complement the tan, blue and white Pierre Deux toile used for the headboard, duvet cover and chaise. The colors are repeated in floor-length curtains of French silk stripe.

march07-24.jpgThe pièce de résistance is the master bath. The Fenners, Jahncke and Southland Plumbing transformed a former sun porch into a total spa experience with a view of the pool. “We kept the original beadboard ceiling and painted it porch blue for fun,” says Brenda of this enviable retreat complete with marble, mirrors, orchids and whatever plants are season. “I love my bathroom. The views, light and glamour of it all just tickles me.”

After Katrina, the Fenners focused on landscaping, in part because four huge magnolia trees fell on the house. A long back fence was replaced; garden beds were raised and deepened with near-matching bricks. Surprisingly, a vintage glass-top garden table was found unscathed under the fallen trees. Other pool and patio chairs were replaced with plastic ones from Wal-Mart and slip covered with awningstripe canvas. Fruit trees, hydrangeas and flowering magnolia surround the pool.

“In the four years we have had this house, we have renovated, restored and withstood Katrina and Rita,” says Brenda. “It’s the perfect-size house for us at our age; cozy enough for two, large enough to entertain and roomy enough to have all our grandchildren for sleepovers and playdates.