Coco Dumez sat at a table in the family room of her Arabella Street home, working diligently at her computer. Her older brother, André, perched on the edge of a nearby sofa, a video game controller in hand and a giant screen in front of him. Ginger and Beignet, two Cavapoos (poodle-Cavalier King Charles spaniel crossbreeds) bounced up and down in excitement nearby.
It was a typical day at the Dumez residence, a home that is otherwise anything but typical.
“When people visit for the first time, they can’t believe the inside of the house because it looks so traditional on the outside,” said Suzanne Dumez, vice president of business development for furniture distributor AOS.
The public will have the opportunity to tour the Dumez residence Oct. 21, when the New Orleans Architecture Foundation sponsors its second annual home tour. Eight Uptown and University section residences will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., affording guests the opportunity to tour homes in a broad range of styles and historical eras.
But how is it that the elegant Center Hall home across from the Arabella Street fire station came to feature a surprising interior?
“It’s my fault,” said Steve Dumez, one of New Orleans’ premier architects and the director of design at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple. “When we bought the house in 2006, Suzanne thought maybe we could make cosmetic improvements and be done with it. But I had other ideas.”
The couple had embarked on a house-hunting adventure when they realized that Steve Dumez's loft at Felicity and Magazine would not comfortably accommodate their growing family for very long.
“We already had André (now in ninth grade) and were expecting Coco (now in sixth), so we felt we needed a house with four bedrooms: One for us, one for Coco, one for André, and one that could serve as a guest room,” Suzanne Dumez said. “Plus, we love New Orleans Center Hall houses and had to look and look before we found this one.”
The necessary number of bedrooms was there, but so were a slew of baths scattered throughout and a warren of small rooms.
“Even though there were lots of baths, none of them connected to any of the bedrooms,” Steve Dumez said. “We needed more space than the original 2,400 (square feet) that the house had, and we needed four independent bedrooms, with baths attached so that everyone would have privacy. With nowhere to go in the back yard because of setback requirements, the only way to get what we needed was to go up.”
The genius of Steve Dumez's renovation plan is that it preserved the configuration of the first two rooms on either side of the central hallway in their (nearly) original form, but it removed walls to open up the rear of the house. Today, an expansive master suite (bath, bedroom, dressing room/closet) occupies the rear of the house on the Prytania Street side of the reconfigured space, and an open kitchen and family room fill the Perrier side.
The children’s bedrooms migrated upstairs as a result of the renovation, affording André and Coco independent sleeping quarters connected by a Jack-and-Jill bath, plus a shared play area at the top of the stairs. A “skywalk” (glass-walled bridge) connects the play area to the world headquarters of Coco’s art business, “Sweet Pea Paintings,” where the young artist transforms 4-inch square canvases into bright paintings of dogs, butterflies and favorite sayings.
“I really love making them and love it even more since I discovered I can make money selling them,” said Coco (short for Corinne).
The skywalk or bridge traverses an open volume above the kitchen where the “ceiling” soars from the kitchen floor to the roof peak of the camelback — a total of 20 feet. The open space above the kitchen and the 11-foot ceilings in other rooms create the illusion that the house is larger than it is, about 3,700 square feet today.
A glass wall at the rear of the family room connects to a deck of ipe and contributes to the illusion of size. A square pool, mostly aboveground and wrapped in ipe, was built at the same level as the deck and floor of the house, another design device that makes it appear as if the inside space continues outside.
The home’s ebony stained floors give the interior a distinctly contemporary feel, especially in concert with the white kitchen cabinets and the dark wood wall (with a secret door) in the family room. White walls, except in the cozy office, serve as the backdrop for a stunning art collection. There are works by Elmore Morgan, Mac Ball, Nicole Charbonnet, Michael Crespo, George Dunbar, Campbell Hutchinson, Libby Johnson, Henry Castelli and Brian Borello.
“We’re lucky,” Steve Dumez said. “Many of the artists are our friends.”
For all the refined beauty of the home, Suzanne Dumez said there's one feature her friends envy most of all.
“I have two laundry rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs,” she said. “They adore the idea of not having to walk up and down stairs all day long to do the laundry.”
New Orleans Architecture Foundation Fall Home Tour
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21
WHERE: Headquarters at Café Luna, 802 Nashville Ave.
TICKETS: $25 advance, $30 day of tour