Perfect Harmony – Nearly a century after it was built, the Levine family’s University Acres home still sings
Just as a guitar needs tuning to make it sound its best, so does a house every now and then. Steve Levine should know; the attorney-slash-musician and his wife, Beth, an interior designer, have tweaked their University Acres home to make it hit all the right notes for their family.
Ever since the day 13 years ago when the Levines moved into the house, music has filled its 76-year-old rooms. Steve has played guitar since he was a child, but “for some reason I got intensely into songwriting at age 54,” he says. He has composed songs all over the house, from his small studio/practice room to the more formally decorated music room. Beth and their 11-year-old son, Ben, along with older daughters Sarah, 26, and Melissa, 22, have watched as band practices took place and hummed along as Steve tried out new melodies.
Only one thing could stop the music here: the wrath of nature. When Hurricane Gustav pounded Baton Rouge in 2008, several tall trees came crashing down on the house. Coincidentally, the Levines were already planning to renovate their home before the storm, but their project became more urgent and extensive when they surveyed the damage.
“After the trees were craned off the house, we salvaged and stored what was left of our belongings from the damaged parts of the house,” says Beth. “We were without electricity for almost three weeks, but we felt extremely fortunate to be safe and have the resources to rebuild.”
Once the immediate crisis was over, the couple joined forces with architect Kelly Kerr not only to set things right again but also to modify the existing house to better fit their lifestyle. That meant expanding and reworking the master bedroom, altering the roofline and maximizing space in other areas.
“Our goal in renovating the house was to do everything the ‘right way,’ ” recalls Beth. “We wanted quality construction. It was a great advantage to have lived in the house before doing a major renovation; I had a very clear picture of what I wanted.”
The construction process was a long and messy one, as it was for so many local homeowners affected by the hurricane. “The worst thing about it is feeling like your life is on hold,” Beth says. But the family made the best of the situation. “We had some fun band practices in the unfinished living room and den,” says Steve.
When the last room was completed in June 2011, the family was happy to return to a sense of normalcy. Beth, who by day works to beautify other people’s houses in the design firm she shares with Dana Oatley Brown, turned her attention to the furnishings and finishing touches in her own home. She and Dana built on the foundation of classical style already established here and incorporated contemporary notes for an eclectic feel.
“I like it to be a little unpredictable,” says Beth. “I always advise clients to buy what they love, and we will make it work. That is basically how we have accumulated the furnishings and art in our home.”
Beth adds that working as a designer has cultivated in her a yearning for “tranquil, serene spaces,” and she infused that desire into this house with plenty of neutral-hued furnishings and pale paint colors. “After looking at fabric and color all day, I like calm when I come home,” she says. “If I weren’t a designer, I might have bolder colors.”
The outdoor spaces here are as important to the Levine family as those inside. The large backyard was already home to a pigeonnier and ornamental brick walls when they moved in, but during the renovation Beth and Steve lopped off part of the den to make room for an outdoor kitchen. Farther from the house is a large treehouse built for Ben and his friends.
“The backyard has been the scene of countless birthday parties, Easter egg hunts, campouts, water-balloon wars, and firework displays,” says Beth. “No one has made it all night in the treehouse, as far as I know. But we have had a lot of fun in that backyard.”
The front yard, complete with a graceful old oak tree and wooden swing, faces a small community playground just across the street. It is here that this journey comes full circle for Steve, who has appreciated the beauty of this neighborhood for years.
“When my daughter Sarah was about 1 or 2, I would take her to this park and push her on the little kiddie swings,” he says. “I’d look across the street at this nice white-brick house, which reminded me of where I grew up in Potomac, Maryland. I never imagined that one day I would live there, but that’s what happened many years later. It just felt like home as soon as I first set foot in it.”
Now, with all of its rooms restored to the harmony this family craves, the music plays on inside the Levine home. But just like a guitar, Beth says, there’s always room for more fine-tuning and adaptation. Quoting the TV character Frasier Crane, she laughs as she professes, “Décor is, after all, a fluid art.”
Click here to see a slideshow of the Levine family’s University Acres home.