On the morning that Chris and Jamie Meeks' Uptown house was to be photographed for CUE, Jamie had started the day as she often does - with a run in Audubon Park, and by 10 a.m., she was fast approaching the full warp speed that typifies her busy life. A "package of never-ending fire and energy rolled into a petite frame," is how the oldest of the Meekses' three children once described her mother in an essay. And Jamie herself admits, "she pretty much pegs me." With so much energy to spare, it makes sense that Jamie prefers her surroundings simple, calming and clutter-free. Over the years, she and her husband have renovated nine houses and perfected the look — a combination of cool, white underpinnings; sophisticated, clean-lined furnishings; and contemporary art, much of it Jamie's own. And while it wouldn't be accurate to say that the house is minimalist — it's imposing, turn-of-the-century scale and Jamie's affinity for collecting meaningful mementos lend a lived-in authenticity rarely found in a truly minimalist design — it is more than fair to say that there is nothing fussy, contrived or overworked.
"I think less is best," says Jamie, a self-proclaimed right brainer who paints and sculpts. "My work is where I tend to over-process things, not my home."
The Meekses purchased the Queen Anne-style house — designed in 1903 by architect Robert Spencer Soulé — in 2004 and turned to contractor and designer Michael Carbine for help with their extensive renovation plans. Having renovated houses as a part-time occupation during the 1990s, in the initial planning stages both Chris and Jamie had strong ideas of what they wanted. But Carbine's input proved invaluable to the project, which, because of Katrina, took an unanticipated 18 months to complete.
"Michael was great because he felt the footprint of the house didn't need to be expanded," says Jamie. "Chris was insistent at the beginning that he wanted a master bedroom downstairs, but Michael said, 'It's too much house.' And he was absolutely 100 percent correct." Carbine prevailed, and rather than build on any additional square footage, the Meekses actually eliminated an awkward, earlier addition on the second floor, reworked the floor plan of the existing space and expanded upward into the third-floor attic, which now houses two bedrooms, a bath and a studio for Jamie. Walls and doors were relocated; fireplaces, including several in the center hall, were stripped away; staircases and mantels were rebuilt, jobs tackled by Chris, a stockbroker and a talented, self-taught carpenter; stained-glass windows were removed and French doors were installed — all in an effort to bring light into the house and pare down the dark interior, which displayed a confusing mix of architectural influences and lacked a cohesive style.
To take advantage of an unused side yard and add to the sense of tranquility that reigns throughout the house, Chris designed a classically inspired lap pool, visible and accessible from both the kitchen and den. Though the Meekses originally wanted a veranda that wrapped around the side and rear of the house, Carbine designed an abridged version that functions as an inviting transition between the indoor and outdoor spaces.
When it came to the design of the kitchen, Jamie was master of the domain. While Chris wanted to experiment with color, she held fast to her desire for all white, one of the few elements of kitchen design she'd always wanted but never fully achieved in any of the couple's previous homes. In fact, all of the rooms where Jamie spends most of her time — the kitchen, den, master bedroom, her studio and her bathroom — are clean, crisp visions in white.
"I never tire of it," she says. "It reflects light and it's part of the simplicity that has worked for me from house to house." On the other hand, Jamie's boundless energy and curiosity are always in search of a new mission and the proverbial writing already appears to be on the house's perfectly appointed, serenely white walls. "My house will change," she says. "I move things around quite a bit." Jamie's Tips on Making a House a Home "Surround yourself with things you love; things that are meaningful."
"I think less is best for the eye. In other words, practice restraint."
"Stick with what the house has to offer. Even a major renovation, if it's well done shouldn't fight the essential character and integrity of a house."
"A coat of paint does wonders. Changing colors can be more transforming than anything else you do."
"Lighten the color. (Darkness drives me crazy.) White brings in the light, and it's clean and fresh."
"I do like things to tell a story. A lot of my favorite things aren't anything I bought or could have paid for."