written by:
photos by:
July 1, 2009
Originally published in Modern Across America

In the hot and humid South, time seems to stand still and the architecture is often no different. But in New Orleans, Bild Design, headed by local boy Byron Mouton, is hoping to change that.

A view of the Zimple Street house from the Mississippi River levee, designed by Byron Mouton and his colleague Don Gatzke.
A view of the Zimple Street house from the Mississippi River levee, designed by Byron Mouton and his colleague Don Gatzke.
Photo by 
1 / 10
Byron Mouton and girlfriend, Julie Charvat watch the world go by, New Orleans style.
Byron Mouton and girlfriend, Julie Charvat watch the world go by, New Orleans style.
Photo by 
2 / 10
In the living room, a coffee table adapted from old piano parts meets vintage red Alky chairs by Giancarlo Pirette for Castelli.
In the living room, a coffee table adapted from old piano parts meets vintage red Alky chairs by Giancarlo Pirette for Castelli.
Photo by 
3 / 10
Custom furniture softens the house’s aesthetics, including a dining table by AXIS Millwork and Fabrications. Ceiling fan by Craftmade.
Custom furniture softens the house’s aesthetics, including a dining table by AXIS Millwork and Fabrications. Ceiling fan by Craftmade.
Photo by 
4 / 10
Windows on the third floor frame views of the Mississippi River.
Windows on the third floor frame views of the Mississippi River.
Photo by 
5 / 10
Charvat relaxes in the bedroom.
Charvat relaxes in the bedroom.
Photo by 
6 / 10
Familiar building elements applied in unexpected ways and a strict rectilinear palette help unify the two building forms. The scale is just right for creating cozy outdoor rooms.
Familiar building elements applied in unexpected ways and a strict rectilinear palette help unify the two building forms. The scale is just right for creating cozy outdoor rooms.
Photo by 
7 / 10
The ground-floor office is flooded with light from two sides.
The ground-floor office is flooded with light from two sides.
Photo by 
8 / 10
Unexpected materials, such as a cement board shower surround, were often cheaper and easier to install than more traditional ones. “We made design decisions based on what we knew was easily available,” Mouton recalls. “The trick was to assemble these mate
Byron Mouton of Bild Design combined three distinct interior spaces on one oversized urban lot in New Orleans to create his own home. In the bathroom, unexpected materials, such as a cement board shower surround, were often cheaper and easier to install than more traditional ones. “We made design decisions based on what we knew was easily available,” Mouton recalls. “The trick was to assemble these materials to express qualities that aren’t normally evident.” Read the entire article here.
Photo by 
9 / 10
The living room of the tower transitions to a sizable balcony overlooking a private rear courtyard. As Gatzke notes, the design of the house emphasizes flexibility and 
evolution of uses for the three distinct spaces: “The ground-floor ‘bar’ unit could be
The living room of the tower transitions to a sizable balcony overlooking a private rear courtyard. As Gatzke notes, the design of the house emphasizes flexibility and evolution of uses for the three distinct spaces: “The ground-floor ‘bar’ unit could be internally connected to the studio apartment and upper floors, allowing it to be rented or combined as a larger single unit.”
Photo by 
10 / 10
A view of the Zimple Street house from the Mississippi River levee, designed by Byron Mouton and his colleague Don Gatzke.
A view of the Zimple Street house from the Mississippi River levee, designed by Byron Mouton and his colleague Don Gatzke.
Project 
Mouton/Charvat Residence
Architect 

The most unexpected thing about Byron Mouton and Julie Charvat’s home on Zimple Street in New Orleans’s Carrollton neighborhood isn’t its dizzyingly diverse surroundings of both upscale bistros and Section 8 rental housing. Nor is it that it’s a chartreuse and silver tower in a sea of more traditional, century-old houses. What’s most surprising is that you can drive right by without even noticing it.

“I take that as a compliment!” says co-designer, builder, and owner Mouton, who runs his own firm, Bild Design. He and Don Gatzke, former dean of the architecture school at Tulane and now dean of the University of Texas at Arlington’s School of Architecture, envisioned the Zimple Street project as a way to inject a bit of spark into New Orleans’s historically minded architectural climate while remaining true to the city’s beloved character. Their goal was to create a new housing type that reinterpreted time-honored New Orleans architectural styles, capitalized on the city’s physical and cultural idiosyncrasies, and, finally, could be built affordably in a city where the median household income is about 35 percent below the national average.

The result is a unique design that combines three distinct interior spaces on one oversized urban lot, plus four small yards, which, in typical Big Easy style, really function as outdoor rooms and gathering spaces. Mouton is a laid-back yet energetic New Orleans native who has spent a lifetime studying his hometown; this project was an attempt to update two of the city’s most common vernacular housing types. The large ground-floor apartment, designed by Gatzke as a rental unit, is a modified version of the traditional shotgun shack—a rectangular “bar” shape seen all over this city of long, narrow lots. Mitigating many drawbacks of traditional shotgun house design, Gatzke and Mouton pulled the front door around to the side of the unit to facilitate the creation of private space within. They also slid the structure to one side of the lot, allowing for an entry courtyard shared by all three units, and creating a perfect gathering space when friends congregate to boil up a pot of Mouton’s gumbo.

As Gatzke explains, “I was more interested in the horizontal relationship of internal spaces to the outside garden, while Byron was more intrigued by the vertical organization and the view.” The resulting “tower” portion of the project was designed by Mouton for himself, Charvat (who trained as an architect but runs her own architectural marketing and graphic design company), and their canine colleague, Schiele. It also boasts a local vernacular precedent. The camelback housing type was an enterprising creation of local residents constrained by narrow lots and New Orleans assessors, who historically levied tax bills based on the height of houses as viewed from the street. Pushing a second story up from the rear half of a small house allowed residents to maximize living space without enlarging their tax bills.

Byron Mouton and girlfriend, Julie Charvat watch the world go by, New Orleans style.
Byron Mouton and girlfriend, Julie Charvat watch the world go by, New Orleans style.

The base of the tower is a small studio apartment, currently an office for Mouton and Charvat. The floor above contains an open kitchen, dining, and living spaces, while a bedroom, utility hall, bath, and sitting area occupy the top floor. Although the tower unit measures only 1,000 square feet, careful design strategies maximize every square inch of the footprint. “We increased the experience rather than the volume,” Mouton relates. “[There’s] a very specific route of circulation. You always step from that route into a room and from that room toward an outdoor space. That experience makes the smaller volumes feel much, much larger.”

A three-story house risks seeming too tall for this neighborhood, but assiduous site design and a shallow roof pitch mean this structure is not much taller than nearby two-story houses with steeper roofs. From the top floor another design inspiration becomes vividly evident. “Most people live in this city and never see the Missis-sippi River, because of the levee,” Charvat points out, adding that much of New Orleans is actually below sea level. The house is just blocks from the river and the design elevates the third story high enough to breach the levee. This view, to Charvat and Mouton, has become a tangible part of the house’s acknowledgment of New Orleans’s history.
 

“The house opens a dialogue with the old and the new and within the neighborhood,” Charvat explains. “Everyone knows the house.” Dialogue and amiable boundary-stretching are critical to the project. Despite the city’s socially liberal reputation, progressive architecture in New Orleans has been almost absent since a brief flirtation in the 1950s. The house may be visually daring, but it’s also an attempt to update familiar housing typologies by adapting traditional materials and design concepts to a modern paradigm.

One perhaps surprising proponent of this strategy is architect John P. Klingman, chair of the Architectural Review Committee of the New Orleans Historic Districts Landmarks Commission (and a professor at Tulane’s School of Architecture). “Byron and Don showed a great commitment to the future of the neighborhood and the city,” Klingman notes. “I constantly see proposed new construction that is visually derivative of traditional New Orleans house types, but often underscaled almost to the point of parody. Instead, here we see expressive design with contemporary elements, but with materials and  simple massing that are compatible with the New Orleans vernacular.” The strong character of traditional local architecture has a powerful pull, and nostalgia can sometimes become paralyzing. Mouton and Gatzke’s design illustrates that residential design can be fresh and optimistic, yet still contextually appropriate.

Familiar building elements applied in unexpected ways and a strict rectilinear palette help unify the two building forms. The scale is just right for creating cozy outdoor rooms.
Familiar building elements applied in unexpected ways and a strict rectilinear palette help unify the two building forms. The scale is just right for creating cozy outdoor rooms.

Staying true to what makes a city like New Orleans so vibrant and alive is a challenge when you’re trying to be forward-thinking. The city has very few wealthy patrons for extravagant contemporary architectural showpieces, but it does have a large pool of potential clients who are young, adventurous, and urban-centric. Mouton hopes to cultivate this population by designing appealing products combining creativity, customization, and affordability for young home buyers. The Zimple Street project was his first ground-up attempt at developing a prototype.

Mouton and Charvat see the house as a small but powerful testament to the city they love so much. Mouton says, by way of explaining the project’s more subtle goals, “The trick as an architect is to think about social circumstance and physical circumstance. Here we have the opportunity to make a project that’s new, but still respectful of the scale and materiality of the place.

We wanted our project, in some ways, to be consumed by the context, but on the other hand to challenge our expectations of the context.” For these two, what’s really important are the historical factors that shaped their city and the ways in which this project responds to those factors. If the neighbors’ favorable reaction to the chartreuse newcomer is any indication, Mouton and Charvat’s home just might serve as an inspiration and model for other progressive and contextually sensitive projects, not only in New Orleans, but everywhere.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

senses smell products
The nose knows: Though fleeting and immaterial, scent is the lifeblood of Proustian memories, both evoking and imprinting visceral associations.
February 06, 2016
design icon josef frank villa beer vienna
Josef Frank: Against Design, which runs through April 2016 at Vienna’s Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, is a comprehensive study of the prolific architect, designer, and author.
February 06, 2016
senses sound products
From an alarm to a symphony, audio frequencies hold the power to elicit an emotional call-and-response.
February 06, 2016
Italian Apline home with double-height walls on one facade.
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 05, 2016
A built-in sofa with Design Tex upholstery marks the boundary between the two-level addition and the bungalow. Leading up to the master bedroom, a perforated metal staircase, lit from above, casts a Sigmar Polke–like shadow grid on the concrete floor.
From a minimalist Walter Gropius design to a curving sculptural stair, these six stairways run the gamut.
February 05, 2016
distant structure lakeside prefab norway facade stones green roof
Dwell has traveled all over the world, from Tasmania to Indonesia, to report on modern houses.
February 05, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment master bedroom atrium
Get ready for a weekend of rest with these sleepy, little cocoons.
February 05, 2016
lamp show 99 cent plus gallery 0
At Brooklyn's 99¢ Plus gallery, 30 artists and designers re-imagine the lamp in an illuminating light show.
February 04, 2016
Hidden storage stairwell with raw brass hardware
Having ample space to stow items is a daily struggle—peep these modern homes for some ideas on maximizing your square footage.
February 04, 2016
modern fairhaven beach house blackbutt eucalyptus living room Patricia Urquiola sofa
Whether it's along a coast in Australia or the French Alps, wood provides a natural touch in these interiors.
February 04, 2016
Glass and steel sculpture in Printemps store of Paris.
In the Paris' venerable Printemps department store, two Toronto-based firms were tasked with enlivening a new atrium and creating a unique experience for visitors. YabuPushelberg, partnering with UUfie, designed this stunning steel "sail" embedded with vibrant dichroic glass.
February 04, 2016
Monochromatic Master Bedroom in Copenhagen Townhouse
Whether it's to maximize limited light or create a soothing interior, these five projects go white in a big way.
February 04, 2016
EQ3 Assembly quilt by Kenneth LaVallee
The new Assembly collection from EQ3 celebrates up-and-coming figures in Canadian design. Discover this newly appointed class, which debuted at Toronto's Interior Design Show, here.
February 03, 2016
The Greenhouses of Half Moon Bay
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 03, 2016
Deck of Australian addition to Edwardian home.
A 1,500-square-foot home in Melbourne welcomes a modern black and white kitchen, dining, and living area.
February 03, 2016
open plan concrete home in japan
Embracing the organic, imperfect material, these raw concrete surfaces are a step up from exposed brick.
February 03, 2016
Renovated DC Row House loft space with Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair.
The classic designer's signature and comfortable forms continue to be popular in homes today.
February 03, 2016
Zinc-roofed cabin France.
An architect builds an energy-efficient home near one of France’s most popular pilgrimage sites.
February 03, 2016
1973 Palm Springs home
Made for casual design enthusiasts and Palm Springs connoisseurs alike, Unseen Midcentury Desert Modern offers a peek into 51 buildings—some not open to the public—in that Southern California mecca of modernism. Begun in 2008 by photographer Dan Chavkin, the book is set for release this February 9th and will be available on Amazon and at multiple venues of Modernism Week in Palm Springs, February 11 - 21. Here we preview some of its images.
February 03, 2016
Millennial concept home with an outdoor living area
A concept home aims to reflect the requests of the Millennial market.
February 03, 2016
The two twelve-by-sixteen-foot bedrooms, directly above a comparable pair on the first floor, feature a glass transom that follows the pitch of the roof. “The stair and railings were very simple,” Depardon observes. “We added a bit of design, with panels
Skylights needn't be simple overhead daylighting; sometimes they can truly define a room.
February 03, 2016
Modern small space Rhode Island cottage with landscaping and cedar cladding
Surrounded by nature, these cottages are tranquil retreats from the city.
February 03, 2016
The couple kept original touches, including the arch.
Historic archways belie these contemporary homes with physical reminders of each structure's storied past.
February 03, 2016
modern guesthouse in norway with angular facade and cutaway patio with spruce cladding and ikea chair
These houses make room for nature, not the other way around.
February 02, 2016
Modern kitchen with yellow sectioned walls and monochrome appliances
Whether it's a splash of color or bold strokes, this collection of interiors brightens up these homes.
February 02, 2016
Rust-washed concrete wall in Moscow apartment renovation.
This 590-square-foot apartment was stripped down to admit sunlight and dramatically reveal forgotten surfaces.
February 02, 2016
Nendo's collection of objects inspired by Star Wars
In a galaxy not so far away, Japanese studio Nendo has released a versatile collection of objects inspired by classic Star Wars characters.
February 02, 2016
Monti catered to his mother’s love of cooking by giving her ample storage areas along the 70-foot long walnut wall-slash-cabinet. The refrigerator, kitchen items and other goods easily disappear into the wall when not in use. The nonporous, stain-, scratc
Sometimes the earthy colors and vivid grain of a wood like walnut is all you need to make a space.
February 02, 2016
renovated modern home in Austin interior kitchen
From California to Connecticut, these midcentury interiors still shine through thanks to the careful attention of architects and residents alike.
February 02, 2016
Outdoor dining area at a Saigon home.
A city home honors the local culture with communal outdoor space and reclaimed materials.
February 02, 2016