Outside the box – An American classic gets a thoughtful makeover to suit Ann and Mark Bowen’s easygoing style

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Ann and Mark Bowen know a rare gem when they see one. In their former hometown of Covington, they seized the opportunity to acquire the historic district’s first brick house. After Hurricane Katrina drove them to Baton Rouge, they eventually found another jewel in a classically designed home in Capital Heights.

“Mark and I are drawn to older, established neighborhoods,” Ann says. “I love the large yards, gardens, trees and older homes with good bones.”

Like the Bowens’ Covington house, the 1934-built Baton Rouge home was actually a diamond in the rough when first unearthed. But it only took a little polishing—with help from trusted residential designer and friend Matt Voelkel—to make it sparkle once again.

“I met the Bowens about 15 years ago when I was hired to renovate and add a significant addition onto their turn-of-the-century home in Old Covington,” says Matt, whose firm, studioMV, is based in Covington. “We clicked immediately and became lifelong friends as a result. I was thrilled to be able to work with Ann and Mark again, especially in Baton Rouge—my first project here.”

The Capital Heights house was built in an elegant Williamsburg style, with the typical central front door surrounded by a symmetrical balance of windows. But it was also, as both Matt and the Bowens will tell you frankly, a “box.” The couple knew they wanted more sunlight spilling in, more room to relax and play with their grandchildren, more opportunities to look out on the gracious backyard.

“We just wanted to update it for the way we live, but we wanted to keep a continuity with the original house and the neighborhood,” Ann says. “We knew Matt was really good at blending the old with the new.”

The residential designer was charged with providing a more spacious master suite and a casual den, along with new covered parking and an outdoor living space. His plan included attaching a porte cochere on one side and a new living and sleeping wing on the rear of the opposite side. With all the changes, he managed to hold on to the classic framework of the original house.

“The cohesiveness was achieved by creating links with lower roof forms and matching the roof pitches to the existing house, as well as repeating materials such as lap siding and large pane windows,” Matt explains. “These links, all across one story, created interest based on the simplicity of the original form.”

Dust was flying inside as well. The construction team, led by contractor Carter Hill, opened up doorways and rearranged spaces, all with the aim of creating a better flow and a more modern layout. The existing kitchen was expanded to include a butler’s pantry and a walk-up bar area, which flow easily into the new den and master suite.

The new structural shapes provided a perfect position for what Matt calls “great exterior spaces,” including a covered outdoor living and cooking area—a special request from Mark—and shady courtyard spots. To perfect these lush nooks, the Bowens called upon another longtime associate, landscape designer Brian Humphreys of Madisonville. Brian had also worked closely with the couple to frame their historic Covington home with flora, and he was happy to team with them on the new project. He arranged the spacious backyard into three “garden rooms,” including a traditional rectangular lawn at one side, a patio and formal garden centered around a fountain, and a more informal green space near the small guest house at the rear of the property. Aside from a few flowerbeds, Ann says happily that the yard now requires only a maintenance strategy of “mow, blow and go.”

The Bowens braved the chaos by living in the house throughout the seven-month renovation process, which Ann says “wasn’t bad at all.” Meanwhile, she worked with Matt’s team of interior designers to select fixtures, appliances, flooring and other details. She also found several unique furnishings at Baton Rouge shops like Mint Home and Dixon Smith Interiors; Jennifer Price from the latter firm helped her “pull things together” as the project neared its completion.

Since the renovations wrapped in late fall of 2012, Ann and Mark have enjoyed their historic home’s newfound connection with the outdoors more than ever; grilling in the outdoor kitchen, taking in the views of the formal garden from the master bedroom, and just running around the yard with their four grandchildren—two of whom live within walking distance. Ann also tends a raised vegetable garden with the little ones, planting special memories as they pluck cucumbers and okra.

Meanwhile, Ann’s interior design style has evolved just as the house itself has—gently and always with an eye to tradition. “I can’t say my style has changed over the years, although I am trying to add a little bit of a contemporary twist,” she says. “I take into consideration our lifestyle, needs, wants, and the functionality, rather than going with a specific style or trend.”