Many years ago, Paul Flower made a solemn promise to his wife, Donna. "He told me, 'Someday I am going to build you that pool you want,'" Donna Flower said. "But 'someday' was dragging on and on."
The couple had been living in a gracious but pool-less home on Calhoun Street when a lot became available a few blocks away near the corner of Prytania Street and Calhoun. They arranged to have George Hopkins, the noted local architect, work with them to design the new house.
"We worked on those plans with George for more than a year and finally had them just right," Donna Flower said. "But then Katrina came."
The storm distracted the couple from their personal project, as Paul Flower turned his full attention to his construction business, Woodward Design Build. By the time things settled down and planning could resume, a late-breaking development caused another delay.
"We learned that the lot next to ours was available, and so we started all over with the plans," Donna Flower said. "It wasn't until Memorial Day weekend 2010 that we finally moved in to our new home."
Years in the making, the 5,000-square-foot house is situated behind a tall iron fence and sculpted garden near the corner of Calhoun and Prytania. With its tailored landscaping and graceful stucco facade, it blends in seamlessly with the neighborhood's old homes.
"We wanted a home that fit in the neighborhood," Donna Flower said. "That was important to us."
The downstairs includes a master suite, great room, dining room, kitchen, den and home office. Upstairs are three bedrooms and baths, spacious enough for hosting the couple's out-of-town daughter and her family or their local grandchildren, who enjoy sleep-overs. Configured in an L-shape, the house wraps around two sides of the rear garden. The long-awaited pool borders the garden on a third side.
"In all, five rooms face directly onto the garden, so there is a beautiful view and great natural light in all those rooms," Donna Flower said.
The great room -- located just past the entry foyer and stairwell -- features a bank of glass French doors that open to a terrace paved in Pennsylvania slate. The room flows with ease into the dining room and kitchen, which in turn leads to the den and Paul Flower's home office. Rooms relate to one another chromatically thanks to a neutral color scheme devised by designer Louis Aubert.
"In our old house, I was stuck with an orange kitchen that I couldn't get rid of," Donna Flower explained. "I didn't want anything like that to happen again.''
The Flowers worked with Patricia Brinson to select upholstery, rugs, light fixtures and drapery fabric to complement the home's casual elegance. Brinson chose a serene blue green color as an accent, using it on throw pillows, the painted wood of a chair and the cushions of the outdoor furniture, among other places.
Occasionally, art works pick up the blue tone, as is the case with a painting by Christine Linson that the Flowers purchased on one of their many trips to Fairhope, Ala. Lamps by metalworker India Stewart and works by other local artists serve both practical and decorative purposes.
Window treatments appear only in the dining room and in the master suite, which face the street and garden, respectively.
"We didn't need them for privacy anywhere else and didn't want to obstruct the view of the garden and pool,'' Donna Flower said.
A demanding client
Furniture includes both newly acquired pieces and antiques from the couple's previous Calhoun Street house. The den -- where Paul Flowers indulges in watching New Orleans Saints games -- features built-in bookcases of antique cypress unearthed at one of his company's construction sites.
The same cypress appears in the kitchen island, where a row of white leather-covered chairs awaits the influx of grandchildren -- locally, five of them ages 6 and younger -- who visit frequently.
"You might think white leather wouldn't be practical, but it is," Donna Flower said. "We are all about low maintenance."
Having a husband who is an expert in construction has both pros and cons when it comes to building the family home, she discovered.
"Most of my husband's projects are commercial, so sometimes he had ideas that I didn't think worked well in a home environment," she said. "One of them was the belief that the floors didn't need rugs."
Paul Flower had spent considerable time searching for just the right wood for the floor. He wanted something harder than oak and that wouldn't be discolored by light like Brazilian cherry and mahogany can be. He decided on Brazilian Ipe.
After the floors were installed, Paul Flower felt the floors were so beautiful that rugs were unnecessary, But Donna Flower disagreed.
"When we didn't agree, I would lose,'' said Paul Flower, the Oushak rug underfoot in the great room a testament to his conclusion. "I found out that my wife can be a very demanding client."
But when it came to construction techniques and material choices for building a state of the art home, Paul Flower had his way. He installed pilings for the pool and walkways, the better to support them and head off any subsidence issues. He framed the house with Borate-treated wood and BluWood for strength, as well as for fungus and termite resistance.
He insulated the house with open-cell in the walls and closed-cell under the roof to create a sealed, energy-efficient environment. He installed a damper in the cooling system so that cool air can be diverted comfortably.
He made sure to use on-demand water heaters and to install a security system with cameras. And he seamlessly mixed in such aging-in-place features as wide doorways, roll-in showers, an elevator and a ramp from the garage to the kitchen.
The most unusual amenity may be Paul Flower's walk-in closet, which has a locking mechanism similar to that of a bank vault.
"The whole house is built to hurricane standards, conforming with the code,'' he said. "But we built my closet to be tornado-resistant. I can use it like a safe room if I ever need to."
For all of Paul Flower's savvy, it could be that what Donna Flower prizes the most is the long-awaited pool he built for her. Measuring 50 feet long by about 12 feet wide, it affords her the opportunity to swim her daily quotient of 60 laps in her own backyard.
"I started swimming 20 years ago when I saw how it helped my mother's arthritis,'' Donna Flower said. "I'd swim at the Reilly Center and Elmwood Fitness, but always hoped we'd have a pool at home. My husband kept his promise."