When Jack Chaney, co-owner of Safeguard Self Storage, and his wife Barbie, a former nurse, married in 1997, adding to their family (Jack already had a daughter, Mary, now 14) was a priority. Finding a house where they could raise the children they planned to have was an integral part of the vision. Two years after marrying and two years before having the first of their two sons (Jack Emmett, 5, and William, 3), synchronicity led them to the perfect three-story house in Old Metairie.
A new construction that a contractor had built for himself but never occupied, the house had classic bones and quality details -- 14-foot ceilings, hardwood floors and traditional crown moldings, a large family room and screened porch across the rear of the house, an open flow conducive to entertaining, and room for future additions such as a pool. Downstairs are the public areas: living room, dining room, family room and kitchen; on the second floor are the master suite, two bedrooms, four baths and a laundry room; on the third, a play/exercise room, two baths, and two bedrooms.
For help in taking the interior from a blank canvas to a warm, multi-layered hub of family life, the Chaneys turned to artist and designer Chris Guarisco, whom they met when he was teaching art to Jack's daughter at St. Paul's Episcopal school in Lakeview. "We wanted a house that reflected who we are and where the kids could hang out," says Barbie. "Chris and I started to talk and we hit it off." From the outset, the couple found that their burgeoning interest in art meshed well with Guarisco's training as a painter, and art quickly became a central feature of the decor. "It's a great art house because of its high ceilings, big walls, and good light," says Guarisco, who has left his own painterly print on the house in the form of decorative finishes and murals.
The first of his projects was the kitchen. Inspired by the illustrated plates in a children's book, Barbie had Guarisco paint whimsical and indigenous creatures -- among them a mermaid and a 12-foot alligator swimming amid lily pads -- above the counters and on the walls near a kitchen table. Guarisco then transformed the previously white cabinets using a labor-intensive process of glazing designed to impart an aged patina and a palette that complimented the surrounding scenes. The Chaneys also changed the kitchen's floors, swapping wood for textured ceramic tiles resembling flagstone, and devised a unique ceiling treatment consisting of corrugated tin perforated with cut-outs for the light fixtures and random holes, which look like twinkling stars at night. Initially, Jack and Barbie wanted to replicate the look of the stamped tin ceiling at Restaurant Indigo in Mid-City. But, true to form for the Chaneys, Jack tweaked the concept until he'd arrived at something more unusual. "We like to bring things together that you'd never expect to fit in," say Jack, "but then somehow in context, they do. Things just seem to happen that way with us."
The formal living and dining spaces at the front of the house evolved in much the same way. Guarisco painted the ceilings of both rooms. The living room ceiling depicts a tumultuous, Wedgwood blue sky painted in the Old Master style; the dining room is finished with a gold-foil technique known as "Dutch Metal," while the walls and trim are painted with eggshell white and vanilla beige.
"Because of the art (in the rooms), we wanted to keep the drama at the top," says Guarisco. Having designed rugs for Peel & Company, Guarisco also helped with the selection of Oriental rugs, and with the mix of antiques from his own Magazine Street shop, Chris Guarisco Designs, and from other local resources.
Barbie and Jack purchased the antique Belgian altar, now the focal point of the living room, after seeing it in Guarisco's shop during last year's Art For Art's Sake art walk. Above it hangs a large, colorful canvas depicting a beach scene, which resonated with the Chaney's love of family life. "Most of our paintings are impressionist," says Jack. "A lot is left to interpretation. We also like bold, vivid color and paintings that evoke memories of something we've done or somewhere we've been." In front of the altar and beach scene, Guarisco created a seating area suited to cozy tete a tetes by combining a pair of 1940s leather chairs and a round occasional table displaying one of his recent metal sculptures. Across the room, a daybed, found at a Paris flea market and upholstered in a floral silk damask, is grouped with a gessoed console and one of the late Ida Kohlmeyer's contemporary geometric abstractions.
A traditional mood and rich colors also reign in the dining room, which is furnished primarily with French antiques. Chris and Barbie used the China cabinet, which Barbie had already purchased on Magazine Street as the focal point of the room and added a French Provincial dining table, paired with 12 chairs, an unusual find in the antiques world, a 19th century buffet, and a Beaux Arts trumeau adorned with putti. The only contemporary furnishings in the room are a pair of metal bar stools bought at CHAIRish the Children, an annual fundraiser benefiting The Louisiana Children's Museum and one of the Chaneys' favorite charities.
Casual ease and orderly symmetry pervade the family room, located across the rear of the first floor. An Oushak rug with a black background, a large sofa covered in a russet chenille, a pair of tight-back sofas covered in celery ottoman cloth, and a coffee table constructed of old bargeboard anchor the central seating area, which faces a fireplace and built-in shelves that house a television and stereo components. Above the sofa is a vivid, naive-style painting that the Chaneys found while vacationing in Laguna Beach, Calif., and a group of four watercolors depicting hearts. Along one of the side walls, leafy metal sconces, bright paintings, and a pair of painted benches, all found locally, flank a large wooden bookshelf purchased on Magazine Street. On the opposite side of the rectangular room, a small oak table and chairs provide a place for informal dining. Outside, the screen porch, which runs parallel to the length of the family room, provides what the Chaneys call a transitional room between the indoors and the landscaped yard, as well as a place where their two young sons spend hours at play.
"Chris helped us with looking at the whole balance of the house, and in working with him, art became more of a passion for us," says Jack. "He taught us a lot. We're always adding pieces and taking pieces away. The house is a constant work in progress. That's all part of the fun."