Coming Home – After traveling the globe for decades, Gerry and Don Daigle build their dream home in the heart of Baton Rouge

To see more pictures of the Daigles’ home, click here.

Gerry and Don Daigle could have chosen anywhere to build their dream home. After all, during Don’s long career with ExxonMobil, they had lived in multiple U.S. cities and traveled all over the world. They had experienced the bustle of big metropolitan areas, sampled diverse cultures and savored breathtaking natural landscapes.

But when the work was winding down, there was only one place this couple wanted to be: back in Baton Rouge.

“We were living in McLean, Virginia, but all of our children and grandchildren were in Louisiana, and we have a lot of other family here, too,” explains Gerry. “We decided it was time to come home.”

There was another reason why Baton Rouge would be their ideal retirement spot. The couple was ready to give back to the region they felt had given them so much, from their early years in Church Point to Don’s chemical engineering education at LSU to his early career at the Capital City’s Exxon refinery.

“Our roots are here in Louisiana, and we felt it would be good to come back during our retirement years and contribute something to the state and to the city, because we were given a very good education and opportunities here,” says Don, whose retirement in late 2006 came after serving as the firm’s vice president of refining worldwide.

Returning to their native land didn’t mean, however, that the Daigles would give up all the experiences and interests they had gained over Don’s 43 years of working and traveling for ExxonMobil. Instead, the couple chose to incorporate the best of what they had learned and collected into the perfect home for their golden years.

“When I was younger, I thought I would someday build a Cajun cottage, an Acadian-style house,” Gerry says. “But I guess by moving around and living with different materials than we had in Louisiana, I just got to where I liked other things also. So when we decided to build, we decided we would like something different.”

With close ties to the area already, finding the right site for their new home—and the right team to construct it—was easy. Close friend and Realtor Dot Craig gave the Daigles a heads-up that a six-acre property on the outskirts of the Southdowns neighborhood had become available, and they seized the opportunity. Like the house they envisioned, the site was unique for this area—gently sloping because of a ridge that runs right through it. “I tell people we’re living on one of the only hills in Baton Rouge,” says Gerry.

To find the best architect for the job, the Daigles needed to look no further than their own family. Son-in-law William “Bill” Powell embraced the couple’s challenge to create a home that reflected many of the architectural influences and materials they had been exposed to around the globe while at the same time being well suited for its environment. “They didn’t have a particular style that they requested up front,” Bill says. “They knew they didn’t want a modern house, but they wanted something different than what is typical. So they gave me some freedom to create the best design for their needs.”

After moving around so much, the couple did have a sense of what amenities they felt would be essential, and for once they also had the luxury of time to put those features in place. “We’ve lived in many homes … but we’ve never built one before,” Don says. “We were always transferring with ExxonMobil. They’d say, ‘You need to be there a month from now.’ So we’d go on this whirlwind house-hunting trip and pick one out and buy it and move in. And through that, I think we kind of learned along the way what we liked and didn’t like.”

Among the features the Daigles specifically requested that Bill incorporate into the design were deep overhangs—“because it gets so hot here,” says Gerry—and transoms, as well as an open layout to accommodate large gatherings, ample space to hold the many pieces of art they had collected, and expansive windows to showcase the scenic views.

Bill’s ingenious solution began with the unexpected use of an architectural style that dates back to the turn of the 20th century yet still somehow feels modern. He loosely based the home’s structural characteristics, like low-sloping rooflines, wide overhangs and large windows, on the Craftsman style of architecture that emerged more than a hundred years ago and inspired the creation of bungalows first in California and then around the country (including here in Southdowns).

“Some people, when they see the house, think it’s somewhat contemporary, but it’s actually based on this architecture from the early 1900s,” says Bill. “Using this style allowed me to be unique and creative and to do something that’s still traditionally based. But it’s not just for looks—the style had functional benefits that really met their needs.”

Bill chose to incorporate materials reflective of the couple’s travels and to carry those throughout the interior and exterior design. Rugged Texas limestone is seen both on the façade and on the great room’s massive fireplace; Douglas fir gives a warm feeling to exterior eaves and interior ceilings and doors.

The layout of the house was another important consideration in making it functional for the Daigles. To create a sense of comfort for quiet times but still have room enough for company, Bill devised a series of wings surrounding a three-story central tower. “The house is sort of compartmentalized so they don’t feel like they’re lost in a large mansion when it’s just the two of them,” says Bill. One wing is home to the most often-used public spaces; another encompasses the master suite; another makes a quiet spot for guests. And the tower? It forms a Guggenheim-like “vertical art gallery” to hold many of the couple’s favorite paintings and, at the top, an intimate space with views of the grounds from all four sides.

This area was especially important to the Daigles, who, in the process of living in different states and visiting refineries in far-flung countries, had collected an eclectic array of unique art pieces and wanted to be able to enjoy them every day. “We just kind of picked up things from different places,” says Don, pointing to one of several Murano glass sculptures. “I made a lot of trips to Europe and Italy, and I used to bring back a piece at a time on the plane.”

Today, as part of Bill’s design, the Murano glass has pride of place in several lighted niches carved into the walls around the house. A tour of the home is like a veritable trip around the world, as Don points out watercolor works by an acclaimed artist and neighbor during their time in New Jersey; furniture pieces built in Malaysia and Thailand; paintings by a Nicaraguan artist the couple met during their visits to Central America; and bronze sculptures by an architect-turned-artist who lived near them in Virginia.

But some of the most meaningful artworks for the couple come from much closer to home. Dear friend Paul Dufour, a longtime LSU art professor, designed the brightly colored stained-glass front doors just before his death, and more of his unique glass pieces, paintings and mixed-media works hang throughout the house. A collection of trays painted by local artists was acquired at fundraising events for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center’s foundation. In Don’s office, a pen-and-ink drawing by the late Cajun artist Floyd Sonnier depicts an oil derrick in a swamp, and in the sitting room off the master bedroom are portraits of the couple’s children done by the late local artist Joe Yoder.

Now that they are settled in their new home for what is their fourth stint in Baton Rouge, the Daigles enjoy sharing it with friends and family whenever they can. In addition to having frequent visits from the grandchildren and reunions with Gerry’s many siblings and kin, the couple likes to host get-togethers for Don’s LSU fraternity brothers, a group affectionately dubbed the “old geezers.” And a recent fiesta to raise funds for the OLOL Children’s Hospital drew some 500 guests, who easily mingled and flowed from the front motorcourt through the house and to the rear patios and pool area.

Looking back on the design and construction process, Don says they were lucky to have a dream team of professionals on board to carry out their vision, which also included builder John Schumacher, whom Don calls “fantastic” and has since been recruited to renovate the family’s camp on the Tickfaw River. Another integral member of the visionary crew was interior designer Julie Fuller, who helped to make the furnishings fit the house without “coming in and making everything new,” says Gerry. Making the house itself fit within its surroundings was the job of Bill in conjunction with landscape architect and retired LSU professor Jon Emerson, who designed the landscape plan, and Tré Hymel, who implemented it in such a way that each planting seems to have been a longtime part of the terrain. The Daigles also credit their painter, Scott Ogden, for his meticulous work throughout the house.

Even though he is technically retired, Don hasn’t entirely given up work—but now his goal is community improvement. In addition to serving on the OLOL board since 2009, now serving as its chairman, he is also a member of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s board and civic leadership initiatives committee, as well as the board of the local chapter of Legatus, an organization of Catholic business executives. He has also worked with the “Forever LSU” fundraising campaign and is part of a team working to generate capital to build a new home for the school’s College of Engineering.

But he still makes sure there’s plenty of time for enjoying retirement’s somewhat slower pace, especially the laughter-filled days spent with the couple’s three children, two of whom live in Baton Rouge and one in Shreveport, and seven grandchildren.

“We were very fortunate that all of our children ended up back in Louisiana,” says Gerry. “For so many people who move around, their children are scattered all over the United States or the world.”

Adds Don with a smile, “We’re the family that came home.”

To see more pictures of the Daigles’ home, click here.