Fred Heebe is known to keep a window open on his computer in New Orleans monitoring the weather and water conditions in the east. And if all goes well, he could just jump out of the office after a morning meeting, take the short drive to the family’s waterfront retreat in St. Bernard Parish, get out on the boat at lunch time to fish and return to town for dinner. “It’s really the place where you can enjoy Sportsman’s Paradise,” he says. “It’s right there.”
Heebe and his wife, Jennifer, like to call the house a “fishing lodge,” but that’s a bit of a misnomer. The house can accommodate a dozen people and has several lounges for groups of guests to comfortably chat over a drink. “Instead of a hard-core fishing camp, we wanted to make it a vacation home and include an element of entertainment in it,” says Jennifer, beaming with a wide smile that reflects both laid-back hospitality and a deep familiarity with the finer elements of accommodation. Which is also a balance that the designer Melissa Ruftywith local architects Hopkins Companyaiming to achieve for the Heebes: a home that could function both as an adventure base camp and as a place for everything from family reunions to fundraisers.
“We knew a beach pattern would have been very inappropriate,” recalls Fred, who also flirted with the idea of a nautical feel, with lots of high-gloss polished wood, before deciding that too would be too heavy. . Then Rufty presented a British colonial look inspired by a trip she had taken to Mustique. It was perfect, from its sense of history and friendliness to its architectural suitability for the pleasures and dangers of life on the water – something this hurricane-prone part of Louisiana certainly shares with the Caribbean. “I loved that it all felt very tropical but was also handsome and masculine,” Rufty says of the style. “He had a soul.” It also naturally lent itself to a layered approach that drew inspiration from different parts of the world and mixed the casual with the formal. “It doesn’t look like it all happened on a truck on the same day.”
On the ground floor – a large open-plan space that encompasses the kitchen, a long dining room, a bar and three separate vignettes of sofas and chairs – Rufty has incorporated some recurring elements, such as burnt bamboo furniture , tortoiseshell artwork, reclaimed cypress trees on the walls, and black chinoiserie accent pieces. But throughout the house, she’s also mixed together a seemingly effortless range of textile and wallpaper patterns. A zebra skin rubs shoulders with a vibrant Persian rug. Rich red paisley pillows adorn a tropical floral print sofa. In the powder room, Pierre Frey wallpaper depicts a sugar mill in Martinique, and a ceramic parrot is perched atop an 1815 English gentleman’s dressing table converted into a vanity. Alexander John Drysdale’s Louisiana landscape paintings are paired with images of seashells the Heebes brought back from their summer trips to Nantucket.
While most homes in the area are built on stilts to tower over hurricane floodwaters, the Heebes chose to simply design the first level of this structure to flood. They chose brick for this first floor and placed all the electrical outlets high up. They used outdoor fabrics on the upholstered surfaces and made sure all the furniture was light enough to carry upstairs in an emergency. When Hurricane Ida passed through last August, “we had 12 inches of water,” Fred says. Security footage showed a nutria trying to swim in the back door. “But about a week later we were back in business.” He had to give up FEMA assistance, of course, but he’s comfortable with the risk because of the unusual design.
Another interesting feature of the house comes straight from New Orleans. At one end of a sitting area opposite a wall of waterside windows, Fred had a wood-fired brick oven built into the wall, designed to mimic the one that award-winning restorer James Beard , Donald Link, uses at New Orleans Seafood Temple. Peach. (The Heebes built a similar oven in their country house, which Rufty also designed.) Here, facing a view of historic Fort Beauregard and the passage of shrimpers and oyster farmers, the oven acts as an element fundamental of the house: this was one of the first requirements that Fred gave to his design team.
Which brings us to the real purpose of this retreat. However useful the house may be as an artist’s paradise, Fred enjoys his time outdoors the most. “The beauty of this place,” he says, “is that it contains all the boats that can go from very shallow water in the swamp to thousands of feet offshore. So you can react to the weather. On a typical day at Heebe Fishing Camp, everyone will get up before dawn and load up the Viking to head out to the gulf to catch red snapper, wahoo or even tuna. If the water is choppy, Jennifer and the couple’s twins, Anna and Sarah, could stay at the pool, or everyone could take the boat out into shallow water in the marsh and fish for speckled trout.
“A lot of times you can come back in time for a late lunch and then do another errand in the late afternoon,” notes Jennifer. By the time everyone showers and is hungry again in the evening, she says, “the fire is good, and you can grill fish and watch the sunset, everyone tired and telling each other stories. That was the purpose of this house. When it happens, you realize it’s worth it.