St. Francisville — Years before they knew what kind of house they were going to build, Belton and Dare Didier began collecting old beams, salvaged wood and bricks.
They had the property — 80 acres just south of St. Francisville purchased in 1999. They just needed some house plans.
“We went in reverse order,” Belton Didier said. “We built roads, bridges, planted trees and built a guest house on the property, and then we built the house.”
Everywhere they went during the time they were working on the property, they looked at houses, trying to decide what to build. They even talked with an architect, but “we couldn’t get our hands around a design,” Belton Didier said.
Then, on an early morning walk around Natchez, Mississippi, he decided that Twin Oaks, a cottage-style home just blocks from downtown Natchez, would be perfect on the property.
“He said, ‘We need to duplicate Twin Oaks,’” Dare Didier recalled. “We later went back to Natchez, and Belton brought his measuring tools, and we began the process of measuring every tablature, every molding.”
As their plans progressed, the Didiers became fast friends with Twin Oaks’ owner Regina Trosclair Charboneau, who let them measure and study her home as often as they wished.
Belton Didier, a tax consultant in Zachary, decided to contract the house himself.
“I knew a little bit about contracting,” he said. ”My father was always busy with some kind of project. He was always remodeling or adding on, And while I was at LSU, I did construction work.”
It took three full years to build the house.
“That was nonstop,” Belton Didier said. “We didn’t rest.”
Even though the exterior of the Didier home looks very much like Twin Oaks, the interior is the Didiers’ own design using elements they “borrowed” from homes designed by Louisiana’s famous architect A. Hayes Town.
“We knew what we wanted,” Belton Didier said. “We loved Mr. Town’s brickwork and big windows. We combined those two — the 1840s of Twin Oaks and the recent of A. Hayes Town — in this house.”
The recently completed home is one of four newer homes on this year’s Friends of the West Feliciana Parish Library Christmas in the Country Tour of Homes on Saturday, Dec. 6.
The Didiers’ home opens to a wide entrance hall that leads to the dining room. On the left side of the hall is a guest bedroom; on the right is a study and the master suite.
The dining room is open to the large kitchen, with its countertops and center island of river-washed granite and cabinets of old cypress.
Behind the kitchen is the sitting room, which leads to the room the Didiers call “the Brick Room” because the walls are old brick with slate floors. Its arches were originally to be open to the outside.
“We realized that between the dirt daubers and the heat, we needed to make this a completely inside room,” Dare Didier said.
They had made cypress door units to fit in the arches that “were so heavy that it took four men to move just one panel,” Belton Didier said.
Ernest Behrens, who did much of Town’s brickwork, did the brickwork for the Didiers.
“I would show him a picture from Mr. Town’s book, and he would build it,” Dare Didier said. “He said, ‘I built it the first time. I can build it without plans.’”
The home required a huge number of bricks that the Didiers collected over years.
“Not knowing what the design of the house would be, we had a man in Mississippi,” Dare Didier said. “When he would tear down a building, Belton would go and get the bricks.”
Her mother was in the antiques business in Mississippi, so Dare Didier has a fine collection of furniture and decorative items, including many inherited pieces. A number of landscape paintings hang throughout the house.
One of her most interesting items is the bed in the master bedroom made by St. Francisville furniture maker Gordon Graham. It is an exact copy, except for the enlarged size, of a 19th-century bed made by C. Lee, a free man of color who studied woodworking under the famous New Orleans cabinetmaker Prudent Mallard.
The Didiers are not quite finished with their big project. They are working on landscaping and have plans to add an outdoor kitchen, a pergola and gardens off the brick room.
“Belton is my DIY person. He is extremely talented doing it himself,” Dare Didier said. “He built the house. I just hemmed the skirt.”