Designed by celebrated architect Ken Tate, the grand Italianate home on St. Charles Avenue is a custom new build with historic charm
As you glide down New Orleans’ impossibly picturesque St. Charles Avenue in the quaint streetcar, you’d be forgiven for assuming that this 28-room Italianate mansion is at least the same age as the century-old oaks that line the street.
In fact, it’s a new build property by architect Ken Tate, who specialises in creating custom ‘homes with soul’ in a variety of styles (from Spanish colonial to mid-century modern) that are so authentically realised, dating them requires a double take.
“The entire site was all completely built as new,” explains Tate. “However, I can say unequivocally that everyone who sees the house thinks it has always been there, and that I renovated an older house. This does not bother me because that was one of my goals – that the house perfectly blend into its historical Classical Revival context.”
Tate has a decades-long career which has been celebrated in four monographs, but he still had to interview for the project, along with several New Orleans architects, who had all completed a number projects in the older parts of the city. “We were at a very large conference table at the client’s office, and he then started looking at my published works,” recalls Tate. “He walked around the table with several of them under his arm saying, ‘none of the other architects have books on their work, much less four of them’. They offered me the project that day.”
The owners wanted to demolish an older ‘not so pretty’ house in order to build a classical home that would look fitting on historical St. Charles Avenue. “This was exactly the kind of project I had been looking for for my first one in New Orleans mansion,” says the architect. “We spent a year on the design and working drawings, which were refined continuously until the house was completed, and the contractor took five years to construct the house and its grounds.”
Tate’s envisioned a grand home with a formal two-storey façade on St. Charles Avenue and a large rear courtyard with single-storey wings flanking it. There are also loggias, pergolas, and a swimming pool and pool house, fringed with palms. “These things all came about even better than I had envisioned,” he adds.
The Italian Renaissance provided the architectural inspiration – specifically Palladio’s powerful Basilica in downtown Vicenza. As there is a giant, century-old oak tree on the street in front of this New Orleans mansion, Tate felt he needed an architectural prototype that would ‘read’ very strongly behind the tree and at the first floor level. The result is a handsome frontage with stone arches, columns and casings, and white stucco over brick, which is quickly gaining a gentle patina, adding historical gravitas.
Interiors by the Gerrie Bremermann, the late grande dame of New Orleans decorators, used the clients’ vast contemporary art collection as the catalyst for the design scheme. Bremermann also sourced European antiques from Los Angeles, New York and New Orleans, selecting pieces for each room that would resonate with the art.
“In some cases, the antiques came first and in other cases, the art came first, but eventually there was a marriage made in Heaven,” says Tate about the focal points of this New Orleans Mansion. “One antique choice that I recall, in particular, was the pair of Italian wooden corner cabinets from Richard Shapiro in LA. They were purchased specifically for the dining room, and then a Ida Kohlmeyer painting was bought to go in the same room with them.”
This balancing act between old and new is something that Tate is also accomplished at performing. The uninitiated can’t tell that he was the author of any of the houses he has designed; you need to be able to differentiate the level of detailing and the high degree of visual acuity that he achieves. Other than that, there are no telltale signs.
“I can move quite easily from one style to another,” he says. “I actually take new commissions that involve styles that I have never done and that would be extremely challenging, like this project. I thrive within those challenges.” kentatearchitect.com