From Lakeview to Lakewood: Surviving in Style
Janet and Allan Molero were pleased when their Lakeview cottage was covered in the press a few years ago. It was finally complete, just the way Janet, an ASID designer, had always wanted it. That was before eight feet of Lake Pontchartrain submerged it for three weeks. Step back. Regroup. Start over.
Once the waters subsided and their daughter, two granddaughters, and Janet’s 94-year-old mother found themselves homeless, the couple wanted to provide a roof big enough for the whole brood. They realized that their ravaged 2,000-square-foot cottage would not be big enough. They didn’t have to look far for a new start: about two miles southwest, in Lakewood South. In a neighborhood hewn from a country club golf course in the 1960s, tucked in the curve formed by the junction of I-10, I-610, and the Pontchartrain Expressway, they found a two-story, 4,200-square-foot home to make their own.
They bought the Lakewood house and moved in just before Christmas four months later. A private, self-contained suite for Janet’s mother, Lolita Garic Bruno, was completed first, fully fitted for wheelchair access, including a roll-in shower. The whole family used her bathroom while the rest of the house was being finished. Today, four of the five-and-one-half bathrooms are downstairs, including the grandmother’s suite. A “Jack and Jill” bath—one situated between two bedrooms—serves the second floor.
Outside, Janet covered the existing painted brick with stucco-like concrete finished in a technique known as “sack rub,” which she knew would emulate the aged surfaces of some of the old buildings in the French Quarter. In this technique, the applied concrete surface is dampened and rubbed over with a mixture of dry cement and sand in a wad of burlap to remove surplus mortar and fill the voids. The teal color on the shutters not only complements the chocolate-icing veneer of the home, but also introduces an accent color that recurs throughout the interior.
Concrete appears again as a major element in the interior design. The original floors lay at several different levels throughout the house. Janet decided to top the entire ground floor with scored, stained, and polished cement.
Janet designed the jewel-like bar that lines one wall of the kitchen. Mirrored doors criss-crossed in wrought iron and studded with fleurs-de-lis are set into custom cabinetry built by master cabinetmaker Rob Artist. To achieve the surface’s aged look, Janet commissioned New Orleans artist Elee Jenkins. Standard Glass and Mirror gave the glass its silvered look, and Designer Metal Works crafted the iron-look details. A hand-painted spherical bronze chandelier by Curry and Co. completes the look.
The Moleros’ master bedroom is a restrained study in gilt and old gold, with notes of cool teal in a pair of vases and a lamp shade. Over the upholstered headboard framed in Florentine-finish gold hangs a carved wooden arch with a medieval air that hung in the Lakeview house pre-Katrina. Janet rescued it and cleaned it up, but kept a bit of its Katrina patina as a link to the family’s previous life.
What appears to be another gilded sculpture on the wall above a bedside table is actually one of a pair of swiveling wall fans painted to match the wall. The Victorian-style fans provide the cooling benefits of a ceiling fan while leaving the ceiling open for a crystal chandelier.
An accent pillow on the bed is covered in a gold and white silk fabric with an intriguing story. The toile design depicts a scene from the Louisiana Purchase, custom made and available from a Julia Street boutique. Saint Louis Cathedral stands proudly in the center of the pillow, with cypress swamps in the background.
The same silk toile anchors the color scheme in the dining room, where it is used in the draperies. An Ashor chandelier with hand-poured ebony arms, Swarovski crystals, and wax covers hangs above a simple modern table and white leather-covered chairs. The teal accent finds its way to the ceiling, in a lighter shade, and in several more vases in the breakfront.
The breakfront represents an artistic recycling effort popular with French furniture makers, according to Janet. French artisans rescue windows from ancient structures being demolished all over the country and build cabinets around them, retaining the aged and peeling finishes. The results are striking one-of-a-kind, modern pieces of furniture whose visages, like queen mothers without their make-up, remain regal even while revealing their age.
Another kind of art enchants visitors to the kitchen. A lively grouping of folk art, including a couple with post-Katrina survival themes, joins a still life painted by Janet’s mother that survived and lives on. “Oh No Not You Again!” shouts another in big white block letters on a red background, leaving viewers to arrive at their own interpretations. “The conversation wall,” Janet calls it.
The kitchen island counter stands out from the granite-covered surfaces of the rest of the kitchen. Its 2?-inch slab of butcher block from Sweden was given traditional-style carved edges. The result is a counter with the look of a piece of fine furniture.
Gilt and white make another appearance in the comfortable living room, but this time, white is the predominant color. A creamy ivory covers the walls, the sofa, and the side chair with silvered wood legs. Even the silk rug is white with gold figures.
Behind the piano in the corner of the living room, another group of survivors hang out together. Three of four Jazz Fest posters displayed actually “drowned” in the Lakeview house. Janet sent them to art specialists who spent two full years returning them to near-original condition. They now spend their time with a newcomer, the festival poster honoring Jerry Lee Lewis.
Whimsy lightens the mood in Janet’s ebony and white dressing room. Her built-in dressing table skirted in white fits into a niche, but instead of a mirror above it, a lively piece of wire art by New Orleans artist Steve Martin represents a female figure. The artist, who has a studio on Julia Street, fashions his two-dimensional creations from one continuous piece of wire.
The requisite mirror is concealed inside an exquisite old three-part screen that stands on the floor beside the dressing table. Nearby, striking against the black wall, a painting by Ashley Longshore depicts a caricatured Marie Antoinette in shades of blue and gray against a floral black and white background. Atlanta artist Kimmy Cantrell created the cubist ceramic face that stands on the table. Beneath it all, the black and white of a faux zebra-skin rug tie it all together.
An overstuffed white sofa and chairs cluster around a cocktail table that bears a closer look. Janet took one of Louisiana’s singular design elements, the shutter, and made it the core of a truly unique design. A “found” shutter is mounted on a black and gold metal base fabricated to her design by Designer Metal Works and topped with a thick slab of glass, resulting in a functional, beautiful piece of furniture—as well as another “only in New Orleans” moment.
That drive to create something beautiful from the cast-off marks the true survivor, surpassed only by an unsinkable sense of humor. Both traits can be seen throughout Janet and Allan Molero’s new home in Lakewood South.