Donna and Tom Russell’s Lakefront home brings a fresh approach to modern design.
Thomas “Tom” and Donna Russell, with Tyson, their American Staffordshire terrier.
Cheryl Gerber Photographs
In a park-like Lake Vista setting where all the streets have bird names, Donna and Tom Russell found the perfect location for the contemporary home they envisioned. “We loved the lot but not the house,” recalls Donna, a designer who owns ProVisions Interiors, LLC. “The pie-shaped lot had an interesting view of the park and the large oak tree in the front yard. We also liked that the lot faced north to capture the breezes from the lake.”
To create their dream home they called in architect Dodie Smith (C. Spencer Smith, AIA). “Dodie understood our vision from our very first meeting,” says Tom, co-owner of The Russell Marine Group. “She lives in the area and appreciates the uniqueness of the original utopian land plan where the fronts of the houses face the park with beautiful oak trees and winding pathways.” Donna adds, “We told her we wanted a modern-style home with clean lines that would incorporate much of the existing split-level cottage, while also creating a completely new addition, façade, front and side raised porches and rear courtyard.”
Smith’s design involved removing the porches and a small living room, and creating a large new space with 12-foot high ceilings, a unique fireplace and a series of 10-foot high windows and sliding glass doors, topped by clerestory windows, to fully embrace the view of the park in the front and a handsome courtyard in the back. New front and rear doors were added at each end of the hallway that joined the new construction to the existing house. “The seamless connection between old and new was a key design feature,” Smith explains. “The final modern design is a fresh approach not typically seen in New Orleans.”
“Once we had Dodie’s plan, I got busy with a plan of my own to renovate the remaining two-story structure,” Donna says. “Both Tom and I wanted to reflect a more modern flavor with an abundance of light-filled windows facing the park side. Once we began, I was like a kid in a candy store, and with the special help of Leo Galvan, a talented craftsman, we took the existing walls down to the studs. In the end, there was just a shell of the original space and we began our 14-month rebuild journey.”
“I decided early on not to reenter the house until it was ready to reveal,” Tom says. “I wanted to save the ‘shock’ and ‘awe’ until it was finished.” Then he adds with a smile, “The ‘shock’ was writing the checks for the work, the ‘awe’ was walking into the house for the first time and seeing our beautiful new house.” Donna couldn’t be more proud of their home and adds, “It was a true labor of love, and today we have our dream house.”