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Louisiana Home on the Bayou

In the New South, elegance segues effortlessly into exotica

Written by Candace Ord Manroe
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  • Michael Luppino

    There are no bad views in this new home in Monoroe, Louisiana. Bayou DeSiard laps up lazily to the serpentine wooden boardwalks that ribbon around the house. Mature bald cypress trees stand knee-deep in the water, dripping Spanish moss. “The best thing about this house,” confirms Harlan Sager, who shares the home with his wife, Dawn, and their three school-age children, “is that every room has a view of the bayou.”

    It’s one of the New South’s salient architectural goals: making the most of nature, which is among the region’s most gracious features. Architect Lee Ledbetter intended nothing less: “We sited the house for a two-mile uninterrupted bayou view.”

    Having made his mark on the East Coast working with architecture icons such as Michael Graves and Robert A.M. Stern, Ledbetter wanted one of his first major commissions back home in Louisiana, where he returned in 1993, to be a standout. A further incentive was the clients themselves. “Lee’s older brother has been my best friend since childhood, and his younger brother introduced me to Dawn,” explains Harlan, cinching tight the families’ circle.

    A small world can mean big pressure, but Ledbetter was unfazed. “It was an honor to design a grand house for my lifelong friends in my hometown,” says the Monroe native, whose office is in New Orleans. But his ultimate inspiration was the property itself.

    Steeped in natural beauty and family history, the project would have been a can’t-miss even for a lesser talent than Ledbetter. The land originally belonged to Harlan’s great-grandfather, the first bottler of Coca-Cola. In 1894, at age 28, he opened his bottling plant in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Then in 1905, he moved to Monroe to open another small plant.

    The family’s been there ever since and has kept a hand in the business—Harlan served as Coca-Cola’s vice president.

    “In the 1920s, my great-grandfather
 bought the old Hard Times [cotton] plantation, which my property is just a small
part of,” explains Harlan. His grandfather,
 one of the original founders of Delta
 Airlines, grew up there. But with 700 feet
 of bayou, Harlan’s portion of the old
 estate offers plenty—especially considering
 it was literally luck of the draw. “I and 
the 12 other members of the fourth gen
eration drew straws. I think I got the best,”
 Harlan says with a chuckle. All that was lacking was a house.

    He had dreamed of it for years—at least since his first date with Dawn, when she was 18, and he was 26. “Harlan drove me out to the property and told me that someday this was where he was going to build a house,” Dawn recalls.

    In 1996, he made good on his word. He hired Ledbetter, who modeled Harlan’s dream house on the region’s traditional raised plantation cottages, then built it on a promontory at the confluence of Bayou DeSiard and Hog’s Bayou.

    Like the intersecting waterways, the rooms flow one into the other, eliminating the need for formal hallways. “The floor plan has a Northern Louisiana plantation antecedent,” says Ledbetter. “This means the house is only a single story high and has a more informal flow.” But make no mistake. It has its share of grandeur.

    A broad center gable at the front houses a formal columned portico—traditional Southern fare, but with a youthful kick. The stylized look is hardly Tara. “I have no interest in straight historicism,” explains Ledbetter. “For example, the house has a more idiosyncratic shape. And it doesn’t have shutters. For many, that borders on heresy for a Southern home.”

    The brick façade is painted yellow at the request of Harlan, who became enamored with St. Petersburg’s pale yellows during two trips to Russia with People to People. “I had fallen in love with the Winter Palace, and told Lee I would like to paint the brick that color,” Harlan explains. Ledbetter looked closer to home, however, for the right color match. He found it in New Orleans, on the historic General Beauregard House just down the street from his offices. Ledbetter “borrowed” a flake of the peeling paint and had it matched.

    The portico portends things to come. “It prepares you for the grandeur of the great hall, an adaptation of a Creole center hall, which we exploded into a living room,” informs Ledbetter. This barrel-vaulted space with its 22-foot ceiling functions as the living room. It’s also the architecture’s central hinge, holding the wings together.

    But the gallery at the back is where the young family really lives. “Harlan wanted a deep porch. We put it at the back to take in the bayou views,” says Ledbetter. The gallery, visible through French doors and transoms, runs all along the house.

    Ledbetter addressed all design issues. For the great hall, he designed chandeliers hefty enough to humanize the high vault of the ceiling. Subtly colored silk at the windows and textured linen on the furniture meld with the gentle palette of the Chinese needlepoint rug. The dining room’s heirloom American Empire table and chairs continue the neutral color scheme with a splash of sparkle from a chandelier and mirror.

    Luxury turns exotic at the library, where mahogany bookcases meet herringbone leather floor tiles and graphic fabrics emit a whiff of Eastern influence. The library’s rich chocolates extend into the family room, a melting pot that also incorporates the lighter neutrals of the formal spaces.

    Even with its heirlooms and elegance, the home is true to its more casual upstate-Louisiana form. It is the New South. “The family’s lifestyle is quite informal,” insists Ledbetter. "Rest assured, the children roam the house."

    Photography: Michael Luppino
    Produced by Lynn Nesmith

    Architect: Lee Ledbetter

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    Antebellum Porch

    Dawn and Harlan Sager's new home revisits the idea of a broad antebellum porch-but on the back of the house, where the young family lives alongside the bayou.

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    Console Detail

    A French Empire console (one of a pair that flanks the great hall’s marble fireplace) and a painting by Lucien Rees-Roberts. 

     

     

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    Great Hall

    The great hall serves as a formal but family-friendly living room—the kids practice piano on the ebony grand. 

     
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    Great Hall Sitting Area

    The great hall subtly blends old and new, elegant and exotic, with abstract art by Jacqueline Humphries, a Chinese needlepoint rug, and a pair of Regency rosewood and gilt curule stools covered in bold modern graphics.

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    Exotic Library

    Exotica crescendos in the library with bold Japanese calligraphy chair fabrics and a private reflecting pool.

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    Dining Room

    The American Empire dining table and chairs are family heirlooms. A custom silver-leaf mirror tops a George III sideboard.

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    Kitchen Island

    A granite-top breakfast bar opens up views for the mahogany kitchen.

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    Family Room

    Adjoining the kitchen, the family room is clean, casual, and kid-friendly. The photograph is by Tom Baril. A 1950s coffee table rests on an antique Oushak rug. 

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    Master Bedroom

    Located at the opposite end of the house from the children’s wing, the master suite opens up to the gallery outdoors through French doors. 

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    Master Bedroom Sitting Area

    Rising 16 feet, an oversize bay carves out a pleasant sitting area in the soothing blue-and-white master suite.

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    Exterior

    The yellow home appears to glow from within.

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