In the Pristine White Sands of St. Barts, Laura and Benton “Ben” Oubre left their footprints, but the island left an even bigger impression on them.
“I always feel at ease when I go to the beach or a resort, and I thought it would be great to bring that feeling to our home,” says Laura.
So with memories in mind of that French-flavored Caribbean island—and other vacations to Napa Valley, Seaside and Fairhope—the couple set out to transform their Bocage-neighborhood home into a serene, sun-soaked space that would give them and their two young children a feeling of being on holiday all year long.
“I really wanted the whole atmosphere to be calming, with light colors and soothing art,” Laura says.
Getting to that place, however, was almost as challenging as a cross-country flight with two layovers and a last-minute gate change. The Oubres had chosen this home five years earlier because of its close proximity to Ben’s gastroenterology practice and the family-friendly neighborhood, but not without a little initial reluctance on Laura’s part.
“When we first saw the house, Ben wanted to get a flyer and I said, ‘No way! This is not at all what we’re looking for.’ But needless to say, it has turned out to be our dream home.”
After a month of thinking and rethinking about this house, the couple realized it could work for them, since it already had “great bones for a house of its age,” Laura says, including high ceilings and spacious rooms and hallways. It would just need some aesthetic adjustments to make it suit their family’s style and lifestyle.
Before they even moved in, the Oubres made a few quick alterations, including changing windows and doors and applying a “calming creamy white” stucco to the exterior. But it took five years of actually living in the house and getting to know it before they decided to embark on the major journey of a renovation.
“After living in the house with twin toddlers, we knew exactly what we wanted,” Laura says. “I wanted the kitchen to be closer to the back den to make it our main living area, and I wanted to join the outdoor and indoor living spaces, making them flow seamlessly. Once the twins hit 6 years old, we knew we were ready to start.”
So armed with a file system full of pages pulled from Veranda and Architectural Digest and ideas culled from favorite getaways, Laura brought in her friend and interior designer, Anne McCanless, to help bring her vision to life.
“I could not have done it without her,” says Laura. “We have very similar style and taste, so we work really well together and I totally trust her.”
Upon Anne’s recommendation, the Oubres added architect Lionel Bailey, and then builder Brandon Craft, to their renovation team, and the project was launched. In the first phase, an old garage apartment was revamped as a space where guests can comfortably stay—and, smartly, as a place where the family could hunker down during the next, more invasive, part of the renovation.
While walls were being shifted and rooms repurposed, Laura was busy working with Anne to plan the look of the interior. “I just really wanted it to be light and airy,” Laura says. “I wanted to bring the outside in.”
Anne helped Laura to flesh out design concepts and to find just the right accents and fabrics to translate her beachy vision. Laura didn’t mind handling some of the legwork herself, picking out pine ceiling beams at a salvage yard and selecting a chandelier straight out of a new container at Lamps and Lighting that would serve as inspiration for the kitchen color palette.
Meanwhile, Ben was happy to let Laura take the reins on the design project. “She had very specific ideas about how she wanted it to look and how it would fit the space we had,” he says. “I’m more of a function-over-appearance person, so I was fine with what she wanted.”
Art also played an important role in the redesign, as the couple built on their existing collection of Louisiana artists with help from Ann Connelly Fine Art. “We all have walls, we all have couches, we all have furniture; but I think the art and the lighting are where you can really express yourself,” says Laura. The home’s pale walls are perfect for showcasing their acquisitions, including works from artists such as Meredith Pardue, Saliha Staib and Jill Hackney.
After all the dust finally cleared about a year later, the Oubres were left with the peaceful haven they had imagined. “We have a busy lifestyle, so our house is our retreat—a relaxing space away from the stress,” says Laura. “It’s nice to be able to look at our pool while having my morning coffee or helping the kids with their homework. And we love that element of indoor-outdoor living.”