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Publication Date: 2019-04-12

Design Insights

Inside Architect Lee Ledbetter's Refined, Updated Take on Tradition

After working with some of America's most acclaimed design firms, including Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and Robert A.M. Stern, architect and designer Lee Ledbetter returned to his native Louisiana and launched his own firm in New Orleans in 1995. Ever since, he has been acclaimed for his astute melding of tradition and modernity, his sensitive renovations of historic buildings, and his ability to imbue clean-lined spaces with comfort and grace. In his new book, The Art of Place: Architecture and Interiors, he shares 16 projects that range from his own houses to the sculpture garden he created for the New Orleans Museum of Art. Here, a few highlights from his beautiful new book.

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Photo: Pieter Estersohn

Built in the late 1850s as a single-story Greek Revival library and billiard room in the French Quarter of New Orleans, this pavilion was converted into a proper residence in 1871 with the addition of a second story and an Italianate cast-iron balcony. Ledbetter worked closely with his client to adapt the striking five-bay residence for modern living, restoring plaster crown moldings and elaborate door and window casings but removing walls to create large spaces that showcase the building’s rare wraparound windows. The curving staircase, previously hidden within a small, elevated vestibule, was brought to the ground floor, opened up, and redesigned to appear free-floating. The living room now opens to the adjacent study and staircase. New fumed-oak herringbone floors and a Louis XVI–style mantel complement French doors, plaster crown moldings, and an eighteenth-century giltwood mirror original to the house.

Photo: Pieter Estersohn

In this melding of two apartments on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the challenge was to create a gracious, cohesive 3,500-square-foot apartment while conforming to existing structural, electrical, and mechanical systems. Furnishings and fabrics were carefully selected to unify the space without distracting from the striking views. The owners love mid-century modern furnishings and contemporary art, so the apartment is endowed with the feeling of a pristine, white-box gallery. Italian antiques mix with American and French modern furniture as well as Ledbetter-designed sofas and tables. Artworks by Eva Hild and Nancy Lorenz share space with a custom tessellated-horn console and vintage Jacques Adnet chairs.

Photo: Richard Sexton

This ground-up new residence in the Lake Terrace neighborhood of New Orleans was designed to house a cutting-edge collection of contemporary paintings and photography. With the exception of a double-height, north-facing glass curtain wall, the massing of the house is solid and planar, limiting the damaging effects of natural light on the photography. The exterior—a minimalist composition of rectangular volumes in silver-gray brick interrupted by a large, double-height window that showcases the sculptural curved staircase—approximates the sober beauty of a classic white-box art gallery. But within, the individual rooms are detailed to convey a softness and intimacy better suited to residential life. The entry is signaled by the garage volume pulling away from the main body of the house, a feature that also allows for a sitting terrace with views of Lake Pontchartrain above the garage roof.

Photo: Pieter Estersohn

The designer's own home in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans was originally built in 1961 and has been sensitively restored. The courtyard off the dining room, one of four, features black river stones and native hollies that highlight the original flower-shape design, echoed in the Richard Schultz dining table.

Photo: Pieter Estersohn

For a 3,000-square-foot house constructed in the 1850s on a charming side street in the Garden District of New Orleans, Ledbetter's firm collaborated with Bell Architects to combine rooms by removing existing walls and fireplaces, and to devise custom millwork, new bathrooms, and a kitchen. Ledbetter designed custom furniture and carpets to complement classic modern pieces by Paul McCobb, Edward Wormley, and T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, as well as the homeowners’ collection of vintage modern Brazilian furniture. Paintings by Regina Scully and Mark Beard face off in the large living/dining room.

Photo: Pieter Estersohn

In the breakfast room of the same house, a print by an unknown Cuban artist hangs above a vintage Brazilian bar cabinet; the new kitchen beyond features teal cabinets and tile backsplash.

The architect's new book, The Art of Place: Architecture and Interiors, published by Rizzoli.

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