Powerful color coupled with vintage keepsakes and salvaged lumber make the Smythe home a one-of-a-kind showplace. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, March 03, 2014 11:58 AM
The abundant use of real wood, most of it reclaimed, punctuated with surprisingly appealing bursts of color isn’t the only concept that makes the Smythe Big Lake home unusual.
That it is the work of three distinct personalities is pretty amazing, too, when you consider that input from too many people can sometimes muddy the result of the final product. Not in this case.
Finally, the décor is wonderfully and wildly varied, hunting and trapping trophies combined with vintage keepsakes and materials salvaged from family camps and the homes of previous generations. One of these homes is featured in the Lloyd Barras book, “Early Homes of Lake Charles,” the home of Dr. Mark and Louella (Maggie) Quilty on Moss Street, built in the late 1890s.
Homeowners Marck and Paula Smythe have had careers not typically considered artsy or creative. He served 17 months in the Marines, but the training and demeanor stayed with him. During the interview and home tour, he wore a marine shirt that read: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Later, his daughter and wife said that he had extensive back surgery only six days ago. When Marck came home from the Vietnam War, he went to dental school. Now retired, he was for a time the only dentist in Cameron Parish.
Paula is a proud wife, mother and grandmother — and a certified public accountant. Laidback and smiling, she is more than willing to let others be in the spotlight.
Husband and wife bow hunt and trap. In the room that doubles as a man cave and guest suite, a bleached bone hog head is displayed on top of the cabinets, along with other trophies. “I killed that with my bow,” Paula said nonchalantly, as though she forages the forest on a daily basis for the family’s food.
The couple traps alligators, too. The hides are on display. “My girls are good skinners — fast,” Mark said of his wife and daughters, Tara Olivier and Lindsay Smythe.
This is, after all, Cameron Parish, and though the annual Fur and Wildlife Festival does not feature alligator skinning, it does feature muskrat skinning contests.
The outdoorsman motif was carried throughout the home in animal hide area rugs and table coverings. Whitetail deer “sheds” are used for cabinet handles in the man cave/guest suite.
Tara is an interior designer. She is the first to say that she didn’t drive the design concept of the home. However, she was called on to mediate differing opinions from time to time.
“If Marck didn’t want to do something, I would call Tara and ask her what she thought about the idea,” Paula said. If Paula got Tara’s buy-in, Marck would usually acquiesce.
The aquarium blue for much of the kithcen cabinetry was one decision that Marck didn’t think would work. It’s no wonder. The color is nearly neon. But Paula and Tara hit upon the idea to lightly antique the finish, melding the bold and modern hue with the natural woods, vintage accessories and rustic flourishes throughout the house. “It warms it up just enough,” Paula said.
Lots of windows in the family room and kitchen bring in the beautiful surroundings of the eastern exposure, including a large pond that was dug years ago by a previous owner to help create the Creole Highway.
The countertop is concrete overlay, which Tara said can cost less than other options. The finish is high-gloss and nonporous. In Marck’s bathroom the countertop looks like alligator hide under glass.
The kitchen island is stainless. At its center is an old cast iron kettle resting on a slab of cedar. Part of the island is wrapped in what looks like old tin. It was broom or whisk-painted a shade of white by Paula. Otherwise, the stainless combined with the tin would have been too much, according to Tara.
“We looked for old tin but we couldn’t find any,” Marck said. So he used hydrochloric acid to age the tin used on the island, on the upper wall above the cased opening into the adjacent room and on the ceiling in Marck’s man cave.
This upper wall features an old barn door and looks remarkably like a barn loft exterior.
Below it is a doorway that uses reclaimed wood from a camp that Paula’s grandfather, Laddie Richard built in the early 1940s in Kinder. A photograph of the camp, in a frame made of the same weathered board, hangs nearby.
Paula’s mother is Leola Richard Daugereau and her father was the late Glen Croker, one of the lead singers and the electric guitarist of the Grammy award-nominated Hackberry Ramblers. The rocker where he sat to watch the news is in the family room.
Marck’s mother was Ann Quilty Smythe, an American Press editor whose section was referred to as “the society page.”
“That always made her uncomfortable because it sounded highbrow,” Marck said. She was also the first woman to work for the Lake Charles Police Department.
Marck’s father was Howard “Red” Smythe, a veterinarian with the Quilty Smythe Clinic, founded in 1902 by Marck’s grandfather and great-uncle, Drs. Mark and Paul Quilty. It was the first veterinary practice in Louisiana. Several old medicine bottles from the vet clinic sit on the windowsill of the laundry room.
Hacberry Rambler Croker’s rocker shares space with Marck’s grandmother’s wicker rocker. These antiques are grouped with a red leather sofa and a bold modern ottoman that doubles as a coffee table.
Paula covered it herself. Previously she had painted it with an animal print design in the family’s last home. The colors in the ottoman are used throughout the interior and represent a good jumping off point for beginners and experienced home-improvement enthusiasts alike.
Start with something you really like and go from there.
Everywhere you turn in the house there is something that’s been salvaged and put to creative use. One set of French doors is draped with vintage lace and is used as closet doors. A second set is used for the kitchen’s baking storage center. For these, Tara came up with the idea for adding a radiator screen between the glass and built-in shelves.
The job of stripping and sanding salvaged items usually fell to Marck. According to him, Paula and Tara, the most recurring phrase throughout the entire project (used by the ladies) was, “All you gotta do is…”
Marck said that many of the requests weren’t that simple, but he complied and now the phrase is one that immediately causes sideways looks and snickers.
The most time-consuming project in the home was the floating staircase. The heart pine stringer is a 19-feet long, 13-by-16-inch reclaimed beam. (These reclaimed beams are also used overhead in the kitchen and family room.) The heart pine treads are 3 inches thick, 11 1/2 inches deep and 4 feet wide.
Newel posts were created from cedar trees knocked down during Hurricane Rita. The balusters are untreated cedar fence posts from West Texas that Marck washed with a 4,000-psi washer to knock the bark off. It took him longer than he thought, “15 hours,” he said.
There’s no place in the home that isn’t personalized.
The guest bath has a barn funnel that was converted into a light fixture. Paula made use of the space that’s sometimes wasted around the bathtub plumbing. It’s trimmed-out and painted, but shelved and left open, the perfect size for rolled bath towels.
The walls are shiplap — face-nailed but not puttied, as are the walls in the guest suite and master bedroom.
The pedestal sink was reclaimed from the Richard camp, as was the door behind it. The Smythes did it for the vintage look. They said they also intended for it to look like a covered passageway of a primitive remodeling project.
Cabinet facings from Marck’s grandmother’s breakfast room were repurposed with hardware wire and chicken wire to hang photographs and a collection of decorative crosses in the foyer. One was also used to frame a mirror in Marck’s upstairs bathroom.
In the master bath, salvaged antique frosted glass shutters — old door transoms — are used over the garden tub. A salvaged ceramic kitchen sink/counter combo is used for the lavatory.
In the master bedroom, Paula hung reclaimed windows flush to the ceiling.
The sheetrock covered by the panes is painted a very light blue. (Marck said this was one of the more challenging “all you gotta do is…” projects.)
One of the many practical ideas implemented in the Smythe home is the prefabricated countertop surface over the washer and dryer. It’s perfect for folding.
The master bedroom bedside lighting makes good sense too. The articulating stem lights are wall mounted and wired so that Paula can turn off Marck’s light from her side.
It solved a few problems: There’s less fumbling around for the switch, it cleared the bedside table and it makes it a snap for Paula to turn off the light when Marck falls asleep reading.
But with five children and 11 grandchildren the Smythes thought the best idea that they implemented was to have a guest suite, which can be closed off for privacy that also doubles as a man cave with its own complete kitchen.
“Marck likes to cook. With two kitchens we don’t get in each other’s way. When we don’t have company, then Marck has his man cave,” she said.
Husband and wife didn’t agree on everything. When Marck questioned Paula’s choice for her office light fixture that looked like it came “straight from a brothel,” she stood her ground.
“We just made sure it couldn’t be seen from downstairs,” he said.
Other highlights of the home include:
The light fixture in the man cave/guest suite was fashioned from real deer antlers after the Smythes figured out they could build it for less than buying one.
The kitchen light over the sink is made of an old ox yoke with wooden buckets purchased at a garage sale.
Reclaimed red metal roofing — broom-painted white — is used in the ceiling of the guest bedroom and bath. The ceiling molding is notched-out to accommodate the ridges on the roofing material, adding even more interest.
Why not? “All you gotta do is…”