HAMMOND — Twenty years after he began with a master plan for the 16-acre former Sontheimer dairy farm, architect Michael Holly finally has his dream house.
The Pond House at Ten Oaks Farm is an award-winning getaway retreat for Holly and wife, Denise, having recently won the Baton Rouge Chapter of the American Institute of Architects’ prestigious Gold Rose Award.
The Hollys bought the property in 1984, but did not start construction on the Pond House until April 2014. It made its debut for the Holly & Smith Architects company Christmas party, which happened to be the same night as the Perseide meteor shower.
“We turned off all the lights and watched it from inside,” says Denise Holly.
They were able to do that thanks to the unique design of the house, which was inspired by renowned German architect Walter Gropius’ residential settlement, Weissenhof, a modern, low-income residential community built in the late 1920s outside Stuttgart. Holly was enamored by the geometry of Gropius’ design, with its flat roofs and accessible roof decks.
It’s the perfect weekend getaway, and Holly’s been known to pop in for lunch during the week or when he needs to work undisturbed.
“We’re very fortunate,” says Denise Holly, an art teacher at Southeastern Louisiana University Lab School. “We’ve been married 40 years. I like that he gets to enjoy this.”
When the Hollys purchased the property, it was a “blank canvas” that sent the architect’s creative mind into overdrive. Aside from three live oaks bordering the northern edge of the property, the place had little character.
In the beginning, the Hollys did all the landscaping themselves, planting lots of native trees, including the 10 oaks that give the property its name. Those oaks create an allée on the peninsula that juts into the man-made pond. For their 25th wedding anniversary, the couple planted another live oak in the “keyhole” across from the peninsula.
“They’ve had 20 years to mature,” says Holly. “It’s been interesting to watch.”
With the landscaping plan maturing, Holly turned his attention to building his dream house.
“My approach was to let the building drive what it is,” says Holly of the design process. “It was actually complicated to make something simple. It took a lot of thinking and ciphering.”
The three-story Pond House is placed on the pond’s edge, orienting the house north and south to capture solar energy. The deep overhangs shed rainwater into the pond and offer shade in summer’s heat.
The façade is a light green limestone-textured stucco, opaque tongue-and-groove polycarbonate panels and glass that help the residence blend into the surrounding landscape.
The ground floor features an outdoor kitchen wrapped in reclaimed cypress that frames a view of the pond from the outdoor fireplace and seating area.
Beside the deck leading to the pond is an outdoor shower room, which will come in handy once the planned swimming pool is completed in front of the house.
The second floor is home to the living room, kitchen and dining room, and features a panoramic view that cantilevers over the water’s edge.
The kitchen has open shelving and a long, narrow island that’s perfect for entertaining. The dining room offers a magnificent view of the front of the property, while the living area’s glass façade provides a view to the rear.
“You can watch a lot of wildlife from here,” says Holly of the living room, which is his favorite spot in the home in the spring and summer months. “There’s a great blue heron that comes everyday. We’ve also had a great white heron. I have cameras set up and I’ve caught bobcats, foxes, coyotes and lots of deer … and now we have an alligator.”
The third floor is the master suite, with a shower room surrounded by translucent walls. The ceiling of the master bedroom is made of cherry wood “drops,” the wood leftover after cutting.
Sliding glass doors open to a balcony — one of Denise Holly’s favorite spots.
“Mornings, being upstairs, you see all the trees and the light as the sun comes up,” she explains. “Outside, when it rains, the slope of the roof turns it into a waterfall.”
The 1,250-square-foot Pond House is also a net zero energy retreat. “It was built to be sustainable. In winter, we actually generate more electricity than we use,” says Holly.
He can remotely monitor the home’s energy usage from his Smartphone, turn the lights on and operate his high-tech security system.
“I was able to do all these things because I had myself as a client,” he adds, laughing. “There was lots of negotiating internally, but basically it was easy to make decisions.”
Holly also used lots of local woods, in particular Acadian cypress and sinker cypress, and employed local craftsmen. Johnny Skinner, of Johnny Skinner Woodworking Specialties, did all the cabinet work.
“I gave him his first job in 1980,” says Holly. “I think he retired after he finished this project.”
Eighty-one-year-old Charles Canale with Premiere Construction & Development served as project engineer. “He’s forgotten more than I know,” adds Holly with a chuckle.
Metal artist John Perilloux made the stair railings that boast a Holly-inspired butterfly design on each end. He also created two other pieces of artwork in the house.