Many people believe the focal point of a home’s interior design is the art that hangs on its walls. To Ross and Stacy Henry, the real allure lies beyond those manmade barriers.
“I think of the view out the window as providing the most breathtaking spectacle,” Ross says. “This brings creation into the living room, and there is no greater beauty.”
Such a strong sense of connection between home and landscape has inspired the Henrys to live in older homes in Baton Rouge’s older neighborhoods for all of their 17 years of marriage. That feeling was also what caused them, after Hurricane Gustav’s tear through town, to mourn the loss of a few tall shade trees outside their previous home on Daggett Avenue. The dramatic transformation of the lot was ultimately part of what motivated the couple and their two young daughters to make the move to their current home, just a short jaunt away in Walnut Hills, in early 2010.
Like the neighborhood, the house itself was filled with historic character. Built in 1957 for prominent physician Henry Miller and his family, the house was meticulously constructed using many materials from the family’s ancestors’ antebellum home. Large oak trees framed the slate-roofed house with a graceful beauty not found in newer developments. And the backyard even contained a hidden treasure: a garçonničre, or traditional old tower-like apartment originally designated for use by unmarried young men.
The bones of the house were exquisite, but many of the trimmings needed updating to meet a modern family’s needs. Thus began the first in a series of thoughtful renovations.
“Stacy and I both enjoy giving new life to the old,” Ross says. “That’s why we enjoy older homes so much. … The construction quality can’t be replicated in today’s marketplace.”
The Henrys first called in Keith Morris of Keith Morris Designs to help formulate plans for new space allocations, then hired Chris Choppin Construction to carry out the new vision. The closed-off kitchen, typical of the 1950s, was made to feel brighter and more open by adding an exterior window and removing a wall that faced the living room. A formal breakfast room was converted into a casual keeping area, and a small, no-frills bathroom off the kitchen was expanded and enhanced.
Much of the renovation was focused on bringing in light. Dark paneling was removed in the living room, and 10 ceiling lights were added where none had previously existed. More lighting was added in the wide hallway, and a bank of sliding glass doors was replaced with classic wood French doors that better suited the home’s historic feel—and allowed the couple to have a better view of the surrounding landscape.
If the first home makeover was planned at leisure, the second was entirely unintended. In late 2010, the family was stumped by the continual sound of water running in the house. When plumbing pros checked it out, they discovered serious leaks and recommended replumbing the entire house. With pipes being ripped out and replaced, the Henrys made the best of a bad situation by taking the opportunity to modernize their bathrooms. The most stunning evidence of this overhaul, aided by Montgomery & Waggenspack Architects, Jackson Construction and Don’s Plumbing, is in the master suite, where a clean and bright new master bathroom sits in the place of an old bathroom/closet combo.
In decorating the house, Stacy and Ross called on designer friends old and new, from Morris to the teams at Dixon Smith Interiors and McMillin Interiors. Just as the function of the house was changing to suit its new owners, so was the couple’s aesthetic vision. “My personal style has evolved over the years from very traditional to a more eclectic mix of the old and new,” Stacy says. “I now prefer clean, simple lines and a base palette of neutral colors accented with brighter-colored artwork and accessories.”
Much of that artwork comes from local artists favored by the couple, including Saliha Staib, Lauren Barksdale, Rhea Gary and Nancy Smitherman. Their work adds pops of color in the otherwise subdued interiors. The quiet palette is deliberate, allowing the vivid natural beauty outdoors to be highlighted through large arched windows and old French doors.
With a lot size of nearly an acre, Ross says he likes to spend as much time as possible outside with Stacy and the girls, Anna Claire, 9, and Abigail, 6, especially after a busy day of work as president of Henry Insurance Service. “We love the front and back porches overlooking the live oaks in the yard,” he says. “And the kids have plenty of room to run and play.”
As days wind down, the couple likes to relax in the library for what Stacy calls their “evening chats.” “As a couple, we believe it’s important to carve out time to discuss the events of the day, our kids and life in general,” she says. “This room really is a perfect spot for this daily time of relationship building.”
Nurturing relationships is a big part of the couple’s vision for their home, Ross adds, and the Henrys frequently host parties for friends as well as Bible studies and other events for groups from their church.
“Our desire is to create a venue for fellowship to happen—a place where people feel welcome and comfortable and a place for relationships to begin as well as deepen,” he says. “If we can foster that type of atmosphere, I believe the investment we’ve made in our home will be leveraged to create something greater than simply a place to live.”