“This house needed to be a pavilion that was about the new honeymoon period in their life, with the children grown,” says architect Bobby McAlpine of the contemporary abode he crafted for his clients, European antiques dealer Susan Roland and her husband, Jim, in St. Francisville, Louisiana. “It’s not meant to house everybody, but it is meant to feed and entertain [all].”
Situated on a 450-acre property, at the edge of a 34-acre lake, the wood, glass, and steel home has only one bedroom, but its numerous indoor and outdoor gathering spaces are expansive and welcoming. When visiting, the Rolands’ six children and their grandkids, as well as out-of-town guests, stay in one of the compound’s other houses, which include a total of 16 bedrooms and are all located a short stroll or golf cart ride away. “We thought, We’re getting into retirement age…. Where do we want to be?” Susan says of their early discussions around building a new primary residence. “It’s absolutely right here on this lake.”
The Rolands had long been admirers of McAlpine’s work—and his firm was a well-established patron of Susan’s own Fireside Antiques in Baton Rouge—so the decision to contact him about the project was easy. Although the architect’s signature style, a sublime mix of soaring gables and natural materials, was what initially drew the couple to him, McAlpine recognized right away that this project called for a somewhat novel approach.
“The house needed to be a glass box—it had views all around,” he says of his unusually low-slung vision, which incorporated a parapet roof. “I wanted it to be almost like a louvered, modern riverboat sitting there on the water, because it’s [in] an extremely Southern context, with moss-laden trees.” McAlpine was able to warm up the modernism by creating texture—adding densely beamed ceilings, window panes instead of plate glass, and a wall of operable shutters on the exterior. “All of those are elements that drink you in and don’t reflect or repel you,” he notes, “They absorb you.” The same can be said of the hand-cut stone and the 18th-century white oak floors, which, he adds, provide “an enormous amount of character.”
With the architectural concept in place, devising a scheme for the interiors naturally fell to Susan and her daughter, interior designer and Fireside co-owner Laura Roland. They soon fell into a regular pattern over a two-year planning period, in which Susan, on site, would talk with Laura, based at their company’s 18,000-square-foot showroom in nearby Baton Rouge, about the various items on their checklist. Certain anchor pieces—such as a monumental 19th-century oak bibliotheque for the kitchen and a pair of back-to-back 18th-century limestone mantels for the salon and dining porch—were discovered during their quarterly buying trips to Europe and inspired much of what would populate the rest of the rooms. “To be able to find two of those was such a miracle,” says Susan of the rare fireplace surrounds from France’s Cognac region, where, at the bottom of a quarry, they also sourced 40 containers of nearly identical limestone for the porches, patios, and study. “You have these clamshells, mollusks, and all these wonderful little creature fossils that were in the stone.”