A House on the Bayou
Serenity, built during the first decades of the 1800s, is a classic French Creole manor house. Modest in scale, it has a broad, gabled roofline that stretches down to shade deep front and rear galleries. Perched above a brick-walled ground floor are the premier étage and a large attic. Their timber-frame walls are infilled with bousillage, a plasterlike mixture of mud, Spanish moss, and animal hair.
Even more than the adherence to Creole form, what drew Dunne was the spirit of the style. Like most Creole houses, Serenity has no halls. The rooms are en suite, cozying up cheek by jowl, with high ceilings and tall French doors. They’re casual, sociable, and grand all at once. His decor responds in kind. Gilt pier glass and silk-covered Louis XVI canapés share real estate with rustic, open shelving and a soapstone farm sink in the kitchen. Wide-plank cypress floors are unfinished—“polished by shoe leather,” he says.
Dunne’s ideas, like many of Serenity’s furnishings, have been passed down. “I’m lucky enough to have grown up with a father who was a great bon vivant,” he says. “He loved good food, loved old things, was a great collector.” But he wasn’t fussy. “We always had bulldogs. Guests would be horrified, but he thought it was hilarious to see this big old bulldog sitting in a French chair with his chin propped on the arm. I guess I inherited that.
“There’s no sense in hyperventilating over things. People and feelings are always more important, although things are important too. It’s a conundrum. I have a lot of my family’s things out in the country. I will tell you that when I stir my coffee with one of my grandmother’s silver spoons, it does make me happy. When I sit in a chair that my father gave me that came out of our house, it does make me happy. It’s a Southern thing. That attachment threads us through to our roots.”