LATE ARCHITECT’S HOME GETS A FRESH PERSPECTIVE
WRITTEN BY JEANINE MATLOW / PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOMMY DASPIT
In Pass Christian, Mississippi, the aptly named Scenic Drive features a refurbished residence originally owned and designed by New Orleans architect James Lamantia. Sadly, he passed away before his plan to properly restore significant damage from Hurricane Katrina, but that would not deter the current owners from making the 1940s home their own. While visiting the area, the wife, a Mississippi native, fell in love with the notion of living there part time. “The beachfront house came with a huge parcel and a pretty little cottage on the property,” says their architect, Leah Watters, AIA, owner of Pass Christian–based Watters Architecture.
Compared to its stately neighbors, the modest dwelling that the couple would use as a vacation home, was considered nondescript. But her clients could see the inherent simplicity of the architecture. “The bones of the home were very good,” says Watters. Its historic location was another selling point. “It’s a gem of a community with homes on the Gulf of Mexico,” she adds.
While the climate would dictate protective elements, like generous overhangs, straps that tie the roof to the structure, and impact windows to protect against blowing debris, the recent renovation is a reflection of the homeowners who have three grown children. The husband likes industrial modern and the wife likes coastal charm. “I love finding the balance,” says Watters. “That’s always the fun part of the project.”
French doors with blinds for privacy lead to the guest bedroom that features casual decor in this thoughtfully reimagined second home.
“. . . there was a great deal of precision, even for a simple decision . . . The results are refined in a beautiful way.”
Warm and welcoming porches are a hallmark of Southern homes, and this one is no exception.
Their goal was to adapt the home to modern living while respecting the simple architecture of the structure. “The husband is a mechanical engineer, so there was a great deal of precision, even for a simple decision, whether it was a bracket or a cabinet. The results are refined in a beautiful way,” she says. “The wife rides horses and loves [all things] equestrian, nature, and the earth.” Simplicity reigns when entertaining, with fuss-free food like shrimp boils.
“We wanted to extract the most that we could out of the structure. The attic space was underutilized so we made it into a dormer. That decision came far into the design,” says Watters, who credits others for the success of the 3,024-square-foot project. “When you have the right team that can build everything with a ‘yes’ and a smile . . . the home was handled with grace and the contributors are a product of a recipe that makes it hard to feel like the brainchild.”
Her firm selected the architectural finishes, and the interior design was done by Marcia Artigues Interiors. The lighting, which can be controlled remotely, glows at night and highlights the distinctive ceilings found throughout like the substantial skylight in the kitchen. Watters—who worked closely with the trim carpenter to push the limits for details seen generations ago—says the home’s strength is the trim found throughout. Other enhancements include the classic Southern porch that needed a lift. “We added three feet to the roofline above the porch to make it feel properly welcoming,” she says. Windows on the facade were replaced with doors. “The back of the house is more modern. We juxtaposed the front with the back and mixed the inside,” she adds.
In the kitchen, Wolf appliances include a forty-eight-inch range with a custom hood. A glass-front fridge, warming drawers, and a microwave drawer are among the modern conveniences. The travertine floor and subtle tile backsplash complement white cabinets from a local craftsman. Glass-front styles make the space feel more open.
Slipcovered furniture surrounds a refinished fireplace in the living room where a shapely metal chandelier hangs overhead. “It’s a curated selection to evoke a coastal traditional feel,” says Watters, who had a great relationship with the owners. “They were renovating and living out of state, so there was a lot of remote communication. Everyone depended on everyone so much.”
With a renovation, you note the existing space constraints. “Maybe fifty percent of what exists is working, so how can we reconfigure it to be what we need it to be?” she says. “This home was inherently beautiful and it didn’t need to be as lavish as a primary residence. You can always make a small space feel bigger.”
Not sure who to hire for a renovation or new construction? Leah Watters helps lead the way.
Start Smart. She often gets requests to draw blueprints. But, if you’re not looking for someone to take your vision further, she says it would be more efficient to purchase plans online or work with a draftsperson for a fraction of the cost.
Custom Fit. “When you come to an architect with a vision, that architect will extract so many elements to determine what you want so that it will feel like a house that’s tailored to you,” she says. “We know how homes are being built and how windows are installed.”
Crash Course. She offers a complimentary forty-five-minute meeting. “They often walk out with so much education,” says Watters. “An architect will know about hurricanes or termites in your region. We can talk about the home-loan process and how to find a builder. We really work with people all the way through.”
Enhancements to the front porch visually expand the modest footprint of the 1940s residence, where kitchen upgrades include deluxe appliances and custom details like cabinetry.
A coastal traditional aesthetic suits the living room where windows and doors maximize the views.
The primary bedroom opens to the porch.