There’s no denying the impact of French influence, whether it’s ornate elegance and fashionable chic or the way the colors of the landscape reflect in the decaying charm of rural dwellings.
However, it takes an American to try this at home.
Situated on 18 acres near Sunset, homeowner and president of British Acadian Richard Goula required two contractors before his Marseille stone farmhouse took shape.
The house is stucco over brick, with 1½-foot thick walls that take two days to register a change in outside temperature.
The surrounding grounds are planted with Louisiana irises and much more.
“You need a small country and the workers that go with it,” said Goula. “I love Europe. I wanted it to look like it had been in the French countryside for 200 years. And it will — it’s taking 200 years to finish.”
“Had I known, I’d never have started it,” he added with a laugh.
The house was eight years in the making and originally built as a place for a painting studio.
“It started out as a cot and a closet and grew from there,” he said.
The owner wanted property on which to garden, and while on a trip to Virginia to look for land, happened to pick up a book and realized Hurricane Camille once demolished six counties in Virginia.
“No place is safe,” he said with a laugh. “Why not build in Louisiana and make it as windproof as I can?”
Goula worked in a Jeanerette lumberyard when he was young and knew the basics of building materials. The house is built with old wood and 2-by-6s.
“It has four or five different layers in the roof alone,” Goula said, adding, “It’s not going anywhere.”
A 30-by-66-foot room with 31-foot ceilings is perfect for the owner’s 9-foot Steinway. Goula can seat 100 for a piano recital and just hosted a 137-piece exhibition of his own artwork, still in place.
Goula enjoys English-style gardening and says the secret to roses is to use the old varieties. He has two new 14-by-100-foot beds — 2,800 square feet of planting — a 20-tree apple orchard, three ponds, a stream and says he recently tried clematis, phlox and lilies, as well as daffodils, which he placed by throwing the bulbs overhead and wherever they landed, that’s where they were planted.
“The effect is as natural as nature herself,” he said.
Goula inherited his love of gardening from his mother. “My mother was the plant lady of the family, and I had to help her in the garden. Somewhere along the way I grew to like it.”
However, the sea of irises are his pride and joy, and he said he keeps the hybrids within bounds so as to keep the identity of the flower.
One nearly full-time gardener and two part-time ones help him keep his own landscape within bounds, and he is a frequent visitor to London’s Kew Gardens, where he studies the horticulture.
As the English know, Louisiana can be influential as well.
“They can grow cypress better than we can,” said Goula, “but not the live oak.”