Delighting in the unconventional
By Deborah Salomon
Photographs by John Gessner
Question: How much should a house reflect its occupant’s background/taste/lifestyle/beliefs?
Somewhat, with a few pertinent artifacts, mementos?
Definitely, with unity of theme or period, palette or furnishings?
Completely, for Le-Arne Morrissett of the lilting Aussie accent.
This requires formidable juxtaposition, since Morrissett’s house is cookie-cutter contemporary, located in a cluster of villas, circa 1980s, overlooking Lake Pinehurst. The interior, however, conjures distant continents: A paella pan hangs from the wall, and a tagine sits on a rough-hewn refectory table, in front of a vast counter assembled from reclaimed wood which, aided by a massive cedar beam, divides the open kitchen from the great room containing a cream-colored sectional and two chairs upholstered in orange velvet.
“Orange is a color that has an awareness to it, and makes people happy,” Morrissett believes.
From the tagine comes chicken tagine, a Moroccan specialty redolent of preserved lemons, apricots, olives and spices. The aroma — totally casbah. From the paella pan comes Thanksgiving dinner.
Beside her front door, Morrissett planted a Buddha garden, selecting a small statuette from her collection. On the walls hang century-old woven tapestries called suzani, once included in bridal dowries.
A single swath of Uzbekistani fabric drapes a sidewall window and cascades onto the floor.
While the effect might excite a Western eye, Morrissett — having experienced Asia, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Europe — describes it as “calm,” a favorite word.
Zen abides here.
It was a former husband’s golf quest that lured this distaff Marco Polo to Pinehurst.
“I’ve always lived by the water,” Morrissett explains, looking out over the sun-sparkled lake. “I love the calmness and quiet nature of the water, the ducks and geese.”
What she didn’t love was the predictable condo layout, which cut 2,000 square feet into cubicles. So she took most of the main floor down to the studs, opened it up, then closed off the loft (accessed by a free-standing winding staircase) to make a guest suite. This created a second-story wall — perfect for hanging abstracts, one by her daughter at age 5. Other oversized décor includes two weathered barn doors attached directly to a wall. A ceiling fixture was constructed from three massive glass jars resembling light bulbs suspended from the cathedral ceiling.
The floors: What could this material be, so cool to bare feet? Puddles of bright, navy-blue-against-gray concrete, sealed with a glaze, common in Australia, replaced vinyl floors and, surprisingly, kitchen countertops. Carpet wears out, wood needs refinishing, Formica stains. Concrete is forever.
Area rugs in blue and orange Middle Eastern designs soften footsteps in high-traffic areas.
Morrissett is an artist. Her medium, hair, which she styles at Beautopia, her salon in downtown Southern Pines. But she also indulges in shoes. Remember Imelda Marcos, first lady of the Philippines, infamous for her politics, famous for her 3,000 pairs of shoes? Morrissett’s collection numbers only 100, visible from a made-to-order cabinet in the master bedroom.
“Shoes make me happy,” she says. No surprise, hers are colorful, unusual, better for dancing than office wear. So why not display?
Obviously, this lady revels in the unconventional. The remodel of her bathroom puts a tub inside the glass shower enclosure, a nod to Turkish bath houses — surely a first in Moore County. In her son’s room and throughout the house, case pieces are painted in East Indian motifs and hues. Buddha makes several more appearances. Because Morrissett loves to cook exotic dishes, the major investment went into the kitchen, now quasi-industrial, with gray walls, stainless steel cabinets and appliances.
“I live in this kitchen,” she says
The view, as seen from a large deck, remains an ungilded lily and emblem for Morrissett’s philosophies. “The lake reminds you just to breathe, to be so grateful of what is around you, to be aware of its sustainability.”
Decorating against the grain requires confidence, self-awareness, whether the result is Scandinavian contemporary in Hong Kong or Jaipur in a Carolina golf community. Morrissett has embodied both traits in this highly personal and expressive residence. “At night when you can’t see the lake I sit outside and look into the house . . . just magic,” she says. “This house was my therapy. I bought it by myself, furnished it by myself.”
Finally: “How a house lives is so much more important than how it looks.”
Now to her liking, this one lives calm. PS