Text by Margaret Zainey Roux | Photography by Jean Allsopp
For many, the idea of water views, blue skies, and warm sunshine calls to mind a mental snapshot of a tranquil island retreat. For Tara McGowan, they conjure up an image of home. Built in 2012 on a private plot of land overlooking a swan-filled lake, McGowan’s 12,000-square-foot house combines the easy, breezy ambiance of a five-star Caribbean resort with the elegance and tradition that innately exists within the walls of a Southern home.
“Tara was born in Louisiana and is passionate about her heritage,” says designer Lisa Palmer, who helped create the remarkable interiors. “The state is truly a cultural melting pot with many global influences. In some ways, this house is also a melting pot. We incorporated various authentic European architectural elements and materials into the design and based the palette on the hues of the Caribbean beaches.”
At the start of the three-year design process, Palmer and architectural designer Bruce Bunger purchased the home’s exterior materials and painstakingly installed them on a scaled-down structure to observe how they would weather as the seasons changed. Their efforts resulted in soft white stucco walls and a slate roof, evoking an Old-World, European feel. Inside, custom French doors with seeded-glass transoms, heart pine floors, and limestone mantels add to the enchantment, while cypress cove ceilings and paneled walls further enhance the European flair.
Because the home’s architectural framework is so substantial, Palmer chose a light-and-airy interior color scheme to maintain a fresh feel. The designer unified rooms by painting them Benjamin Moore ‘Linen White,’ a hue she refers to as “chameleon-like” because it flutters between crisp and creamy to complement the surroundings. She then wove threads of blue into each space for interest and depth. “Tara once told me that blue makes her happy, so I used it as the starting point for the fabrics and finishes,” Palmer says. “When working with a limited palette, in this case blue and white, you have to get creative to avoid a look that’s flat or monotone. To do this, we went with varying shades of blue—from sapphire to cerulean—and layered them with prints and patterns.”
For the furnishings, the designer assembled a curated collection of tables and case goods crafted from metal, wood, and stone. Each piece has a classic profile but is contemporary in scale to keep the open, generously proportioned rooms from feeling hollow. Custom skirts on both a console and an entry table—one of Palmer’s signature touches—soften the edges. Oversized sofas and chairs in nubby linen, supple leather, and smooth velvet beckon relaxation with their stylish silhouettes and unadulterated comfort. “Tara insisted on having ample seating that was both cozy and chic for casual and formal entertaining,” the designer says. “Whether she’s hosting a football-watching party for 10 or a black-tie charity event for 100, she wants everyone to feel at home here. That’s just how she is.”