Investment banker John Selser and his wife, Kyler, moved about 15 times before they returned to his hometown of Baton Rouge and bought an older home in Walnut Hills. Locals call this area of town, east of South Acadian, “Pill Hill” for the number of doctors who built houses there in the years following World War II.
“The home has the feel of Uptown New Orleans,” said Kyler Selser, who grew up in the Big Easy, “but it’s in the neighborhood where John grew up. It’s the best of both worlds for us.”
Over decades, interior designer Dixon Smith assisted the Selsers with houses in Houston, New Orleans and Baton Rouge. When Joel Fazende finished design school, he began working with Dixon Smith and also worked on several of the Selsers’ homes.
There was no doubt they would pick Smith and Fazende for the total makeover of their new house, Kyler Selser said.
And what a makeover it was.
“They basically gutted the house,” Fazende said.
They redid the electricity, plumbing and heating and air. They kept the original room arrangement of a wide center hall with the living and dining rooms on the right and a solarium off the living room.
On the left side of the hall, they completely reconfigured the rooms, turning a small nursery at the front of the house into their library, the master bedroom at the center and their den at the back.
They took a big upstairs room the original owners called the “gymnasium” and made three bedrooms, a laundry room and three baths.
The home has a traditional floor plan with individual living room, dining room, den and kitchen. However, in most rooms of the house, the Selsers used more contemporary neutral colors that blend from room to room.
The home, designed by architect Perry Brown in the early 1950s, contains many fine elements like arched windows, doors and openings between rooms. The windows along the front of the house are arched at the top and go to the floor. The rooms have wide crown moldings, which are complemented by wide baseboards added by the Selsers to replace the original narrower ones.
“This made a big difference in the feel of the house,” Fazende said.
The center hall separates the den and the kitchen at the back of the house.
“We did wide openings to the hall in both rooms and painted them similarly, but they are two separate rooms,” Fazende said.
Even though Kyler Selser admits that cooking is not her thing, the modern kitchen is designed for parties. “I could put my phone books in the oven,” she said with a laugh, “but I like to entertain.”
To allow easy access and circulation from the kitchen to the dining room, the Selsers added a second door between the two rooms. The kitchen wall adjacent to the dining room is built out as a butler’s pantry especially for entertaining. The Selsers opted for an antique farm table rather than a center island.
With the exception of a few family pieces, the furniture was collected in anticipation of the family’s move to the home. The art, acquired over years, is beautifully displayed.
Among the Selsers’ most cherished items are two paintings smuggled out of Italy during World War II and purchased by Smith in New York and a framed collection of report cards, some in French, dating from the 1800s from Kyler Selsers’ family members who attended the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau.
The more public rooms in the home are fairly formal, Fazende said, but the home is no museum.
“It’s alive with activity,” he said. “There are always kids and dogs coming in and out.”