Located on the banks of Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Tensas Tower seems perched like a spaceship ready to launch. The young caretakers of the house – Chandler Morvant and David Allain, both graduates of Louisiana State University’s School of Architecture – tell the story of how the property was named and how they came to live in such a unique structure. “It was named for the shipwrecked U.S.S. Tensas, a Civil War ship which was discovered along the banks of the property during construction of the site,” Allain says.
The project was conceived and built by Allain’s father, Paul J. Allain, a well-known architect who employs the couple. The three-level metal structure reaches skyward with a deck on the lower level joining the architectural offices on Weeks Street in the heart of downtown New Iberia. Balconies are featured on the second and third residential levels, with a rooftop deck providing an entertaining area complete with a hot tub. “The floor plan is compact,” Allain says. “Every inch of space is imaginatively utilized.”
Floors are joined by a steel circular stairway. A steel deck on the second level protrudes 30 feet from the building, offering a dramatic view of Bayou Teche and the rooftop of the neighboring Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation. The balcony also provides ample space for a table, six chairs and a grill that they use frequently.
Because the deck adjoins the kitchen and living room, it simply extends the living area of the floor plan.
“We enjoy the second level’s transformable space when the glass doors open to bring the inside kitchen and living area onto the balcony,” Morvant says.
“It creates a continuous entertaining area when the weather is mild,” Allain adds. “And we often consider the balcony to be our dining room.”
The couple selected yellow painted wrought-iron furniture, wanting to incorporate tradition with a twist.
“The colors are important throughout the design of the tower as a playful and modern way of expressing the bold liveliness and often colorful aspects of Louisiana folk art,” Allain says.
With the living room, kitchen and a bathroom located on the second floor, the bedroom on the third floor seems like a private master suite, complete with its own bathroom.
The bed was custom-designed by the couple and made from leftover cypress wood that was used in construction to provide added detail to accent walls throughout the home. “The light boxes that flank either side of the bed are dimmable, thus acting as nighttime lamps,” says Morvant.
“I particularly like the overhead track doors in our bedroom that were made with my father’s collection of salvaged materials which he acquired over the years in his practice as an architect,” Allain says. He also likes the Lapeyre steel stairway that leads from the master suite to the rooftop deck. “The stair and roof hatch are compact in order to have minimal impact on the floor area, which results in more usable space on both the roof deck above and the third floor below. The stairway is from Lapeyre Stair Company in Harahan, and it is mostly used for industrial and nautical applications, but we felt it would be a perfect fit for its space-saving and aesthetic value,” says Allain.
“The rooftop view of the boardwalk shows how much thought and care Paul, David’s father, has paid to the entire site,” Morvant adds.
“Here you are standing nearly 60 feet up in the air from the water’s surface. The setting is beautiful with a sculpture garden on one side and the U.S.S. Tensas wreckage discovery outlined in white markers the other. It makes you appreciate how much thought and effort has gone in to creating this property.”
“It all sums up as the amazing vision of my father,” Allain says. “We never cease to be thankful for having the opportunity to live in such an amazing house and to work directly next door under the guidance of a true architectural innovator.”
Exposed structural steel and beams are examples of the connection between the building’s design concept and the industrial/nautical/automotive industries. Bamboo flooring was used for its durability and sustainability. A magnetic surface above the stove provides the ideal space for mounting spice canisters.
The picture window is framed by exposed structural cables that form the structural X-bracing for the building. The bed was custom-designed Morvant and Allain from leftover cypress wood that was used in the construction to provide added detail to accent walls throughout the home
Morvant and Allain, both graduates of Louisiana State University’s School of Architecture, sit in a swing in front of the PJ Allain Waterfront Development that includes the Tensas Tower, their home, and the Paul J. Allain, Architect APAC, office.
Looking somewhat like a spaceship getting ready for takeoff, the Tensas Tower has a 30-foot cantilevered balcony on the second level, with an additional balcony on the third floor, and a rooftop deck. The large blue tank on the first level is a water cistern. The boon crane on the rooftop functions as a way to move large and heavy objects such as furniture to various levels of the tower. The large red metal sculpture on the left was done by architect Paul J. Allain, David’s father.
The view from the top balcony provides a panoramic view of Bayou Teche. The red metal statue on the right was made by David’s father, architect Paul J. Allain.
Chandler Morvant sets the table on the second-level balcony for a meal. The couple often cooks on the grill and eats on the balcony overlooking Bayou Teche.