Written By Joan Lerch
Photography By Alise O’Brien
When a home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there are always great stories associated with it, and the current owner of this elegant Tudor Revival home says his chapter began with a phone call.
The Maritz & Young classic was often unoccupied while the previous owner, a widowed friend, spent most of her time in her New York and Florida homes. “I had been in the house for dinner parties, and always liked it,” he explains. Seeing it unoccupied, he wondered if perhaps the owner might want to sell “someday,” so he gave her a call to express his interest. She was traveling, but just one week later they managed to connect.
He remembers the conversation well. “She said she actually had been thinking about selling, but she just couldn’t imagine putting it on the market, because it was her favorite house, and she couldn’t bring herself to sell it to a stranger. But then she told me, ‘You would be perfect!’”
And with that, someday became moving day.
While he made a few changes to the house in the beginning, it wasn’t until 2013— following a Valentine’s Day wedding— that he and his new bride began the transformation that would make the home their own, with the guidance and expertise of Colleen Ertl, senior designer and vice president of Diane Breckenridge Interiors.
With perfectly proportioned rooms and a floor plan ideal for grand-scale entertaining, there was no need for structural modification. Like many talented artists, the designer began with paint, creating a warm canvas for the furnishings, rugs and artwork the couple had begun to collect.
In the living room, a creamy off-white was used on the walls and the intricate crown molding, and this simple but significant change created the warmth the couple felt the house had been lacking before. Two roll-armed sofas, upholstered in a beautiful buttery hue, invite a fireside chat. On either side of the fireplace, twin antique chests, originally purchased for the dining room, add weighted balance. Commenting on the new placement, one of the homeowners said “I wasn’t sure about that idea, and then once I saw them there, it made perfect sense.”
At one end of the living room, two spectacular gilded mirrors surround the arched doorway to the library, where leather armchairs and an array of pillows suggest a lazy afternoon with a good book. Serenity is assured with the “No TV in the library” rule, with the only soundtrack courtesy of an antique disc music box. Thoughtful architectural design keeps the wood-paneled room awash in natural light from two walls of windows. Respecting the light and the views, the designer dressed the windows with a simple Roman shade in a traditional plaid.
The creamy vanilla of the living room continues into the foyer, a sublime space featuring a broad staircase that splits at the landing, turning back and concluding in the second-floor sitting area. With a diamond-pattern terrazzo floor and soaring ceiling, the dramatic foyer recalls the elegance of a ballroom.
When dinner beckons, the artistry continues in the formal dining room. Through a deep arched doorway, a stunning Irish hunt table provides seating for twelve— and perhaps the home’s best story.
After purchasing the house, but before moving in, the homeowner was contemplating his new project and what it would require. At the top of the list? A round dining table. “A round table is so much better for conversation!” he says. And while it wouldn’t work in a long, rectangular room, he added, the square dimensions of his new dining room would be ideal. And so the search began.
In New Orleans, the perfect piece was discovered through Bill Rau, the third-generation proprietor of renowned M.S. Rau Antiques. Once housed in an Irish castle, the table had a gracious but commanding presence. Knowing it was perfect, the homeowner didn’t hesitate. The dealer agreed to store it for several months, shipping it to St. Louis when the owner took possession of his new home, and a deal was made.
But this was the spring of 2005, and the storage facility had the misfortune of being located in the path of Hurricane Katrina. When the antique sustained considerable water damage, Rau promptly refunded the entire price and had the damaged table shipped to Chicago for an intensive restoration.
Meanwhile, St. Louis antique dealer Jules Pass had been recruited to find another round table, but his search had come up empty. Months later, learning his first choice would travel through St. Louis on its return to New Orleans, the homeowner requested a 24-hour “layover” in his still-empty dining room. When the restoration work got a thumbs-up from Pass, the deal was done again. “I bought the same table twice.”
The table’s name describes its provenance as well as its occasion-specific function. The unusual design features a center portion that can be removed in two pieces, and servers used the semi-circles to carry and serve a traditional Pimm’s cup to riders gathered at the gate for a foxhunt. Back in the castle, the center opening allowed a server to pour wine and water with 360-degree efficiency.
The home’s original plan featured a covered terrace at the north end, accessed through a door in the living room, and a thoughtful remodel has converted it to an all-season family/TV room. Original details like the transom above the doorway, and the exterior brick wall, were preserved and integrated into the final design. Motorized sheet glass “windows” retract at the touch of a button, instantly creating a screened-in porch in the summer months. The crowning touch to the new space is a gorgeous coffered ceiling. Delighted with the results, the couple happily reports, “We live out here!”
While the repurposed porch is versatile and cozy, its supporting role is arguably its most important. “Enclosing the porch gave us a foundation for the new second-floor master dressing room,” Ertl explains. Outfitted with custom armoires, open shelving and a mirrored dressing table, the fabulously feminine room was created for the lady of the house at the request of her husband. “Yes, I take all of the credit, or the blame, for that idea,” he admits with a smile. In one corner, a small refrigerator is stocked with water, iced tea and the occasional adult beverage. Could there be a more enchanting place to get ready for date night?
Centered under a chandelier, the granite-topped chest of drawers is gorgeous, but it caused the designer at least one sleepless night. “The slab of granite is enormous, and it had to be carried through the front doors, up and around the curved main staircase, through the sitting room and the master bedroom. It was so stressful for everyone!” And one homeowner couldn’t even bear to watch, the designer says. “She wouldn’t come in until it was safely in place.”
The entire rear façade of the home is well connected to the outdoors, with an enclosed porch off of the library, and an additional terrace beyond, where winding brick staircases descend to the pool and gardens below. A flagstone path leads to the delightful and inviting peaked-roof pool house. Surrounded by a low stone wall and crafted in the style of the main house, the charming structure would be at home in the English countryside. An indoor and an outdoor fireplace share a single chimney, keeping things cozy in the cooler months. In summer, clematis vines cover the pergola, providing a shady spot for poolside dining, and privacy is assured by the densely wooded area at the back of the property.
While she created the containers and hanging baskets herself (with some “heavy lifting” assistance from her conveniently tall husband), the homeowner says the overall landscape design and care is the work of Focal Pointe Outdoor Solutions.
What began as a casual inquiry evolved into a years-long project with an exquisite happy ending (and both homeowners agree: “We’re done!”). Clearly, when his friend made the difficult decision to sell her favorite house, her confidence was warranted and her words were prescient: “You’d be perfect!”