The House that Niki and David Built
When Niki and David Rubenstein decided to build a house, they knew the details of such an undertaking. They built their previous home, where they raised three daughters. This time, as empty nesters, grandparents of eight grandchildren and world travelers, their needs were different.
"Our last house was a lot of upkeep," Niki says. "We wanted to downsize, but we didn't want to go into a condo. So we tried to make this house as maintenance-free as we could."
In addition to wanting a family-friendly, easy-to-care-for house, they wanted it based on the raised center hall cottages indigenous to New Orleans.
The couple found a large, vacant lot and called in architectural and interior designer Matthew Voelkel, founder of Studio MV, with whom David once worked on a retail venture.
"It was kind of a leap of faith to leave our quiet neighborhood and move to a busier street," Niki says.
The Rubensteins conceived of a two-story house with a downstairs that worked like a single-story condo and an upstairs with room for guests. The master suite and living spaces are on the ground floor; two additional bedrooms, a full bath and extra storage are on the second.
Though their previous house had formal gardens, the Rubensteins did not want to tend to landscaping or grass. At the new house, there are minimal flower beds and no lawn. Permeable crushed limestone and potted plants complement the white exterior and concrete walkway.
With backyard space to spare, the Rubensteins incorporated amenities for outdoor living. Family room doors open to a spacious porch, a sizable, paver-tiled patio bordered with trees and shrubs, and a pool.
"The backyard works as another room," David says. "The kids play, swim, sit on the porch and can have a Sunday picnic when the weather is nice."
Inside and out, Voelkel accommodated Niki's antiques and art collections, as well as her preference for clean lines, a white backdrop and neutral surfaces and upholstery. Niki opted for washable cotton and linen slipcovers.
"Matt and I were kind of on the same wavelength," Niki says. The couple also credits builder Tommy De Rose with making the process a smooth one. "He's a good, quality builder and he had great resources for everything," David says.
A photographer and sculptor, Niki has collected photography for more than 30 years. The couple's collection includes works by Robert Mapplethorpe, Frank Relle, David Halliday and Sandra Russell Clark, and prints of local scenes from the Library of Congress's extensive collection.
Niki researched the library's collection after finding a 1930s photo by Eudora Welty, which depicts a crowd awaiting a Mardi Gras parade in front of Rubensteins on Canal Street. David and his brother Andre own Rubensteins men's store, which was started in 1924 by their uncle Morris, father Elkin and uncle Sam. Niki is sportswear buyer at Rubensteins.
Niki's eye for art is obvious in every room. But the house's livability was every bit as important as its aesthetics. While Niki fashioned the space with practical choices where possible (the living room's carpet consists of Flor carpet tiles that can be replaced), nowhere in the house is off limits to children. She mandated that the center hall be wide enough for grandkids to ride their scooters from one end to the other.
The minimalist, catering-style kitchen connects to the central living area, so the rest of the house gets used and enjoyed. The end result is a house that's cozy enough for a couple and spacious enough for three generations.
"Most of the time, the house is for two," Niki says. "But on Sundays, it's for 11."