Never mind about "Too Many Cooks." When Emeril Legasse and his wife, Alden, decided to serve up a decorative feast for the eyes and the spirit at their newly purchased home near New Orleans, they called interior designer Tara Shaw. Working together for more than a year, the three of them cooked up not only a kitchen fit for the master chef-restauranteur but a reinvention of the entire house to accommodate the couple's growing family and their desire to entertain frequently.
"We wanted the house too look friendly, open and very tasteful, which is why we went to Tara. I love her style," recalls Emeril, who bases his cooking empire in New Orleans. At the same time, the popular host of the Food Network shows "Emeril Live" and "The Essence of Emeril" knew that privacy was a priority since he and Alden had started a family: son Emeril Jr. and their soon to arrive daughter, Meril. "I was an admirer of the house prior to buying it. It is kind of surrounded by water, so you can't get to it unless you approach from the front." But he wanted the house to be welcoming. "I like to entertain. I cook. That's how I relax. I love to catch up with family and friends by doing that. This kitchen is about half the size of my old kitchen, but that one was very closed in." For thenew one, he removed a wall and added a window looking toward a lake. "The kitchen is now very much a part of the living room and TV room. We love sports." He can talk back and forth with guests as he cooks amid Gaggenau and Viking appliances and Bulthaup cabinetry. "That's where we hang out. We have a beautiful food bar, too. It seats six or eight. Besides a formal dining room, we also have a dinner table in the kitchen. So I can have sit-down dinners for twenty-eight during the holidays."
Says Alden, "My husband doesn't sit down, ever. He even eats standing up. He's entertaining all the time, towel over one shoulder."
Shaw understands priorities. "Life starts in the kitchen and it just filters through the rest of the house," she says. "Once you enter the foyer, it's very comfortable but elegant. The house has a great flow."
"Tara already knew my taste," Alden adds. "She took the beautiful pieces we already had and married them to the pieces she found. We want to be able to walk in and take a deep breath and say, 'We're home,' because our schedule is so hectic."
Shaw worked with architect Jim Farr and general contractor Joseph R. Labadot as rooms on the two existing floors were enlarged and a third floor was added. The designer seemed to be everywhere at once. "I did everything from the Italian door knocker to wall treatments to flooring to bathrooms – the most kicked-up master bath I've ever done – to upholstery." She says with a laugh. "We upholstered everything in the house except the pots and pans." Shaw, who scours Europe for antiques on a bimonthly basis for Tara Shaw, Ltd., knew the house had to be a soothing refuge for Emeril. Besides his cooking shows, he has nine Emeril's restaurants as well as his retail food/cookware operations and his ten – soon to be eleven – cookbooks to promote. "He was looking for serenity in his life," Shaw says. "He wanted to be able to go into the loggia and have a glass of wine, enjoy a view of the lakes and relax."
The Lagasses are dream clients, the designer adds. "They just trusted me because Alden's known me for so long, and they loved my own house. They have rare things from Sweden and Italy and France mixed with contemporary, yet it does not feel like an ecclectic mix. It feels like a collector's home."
Emeril is trying to spend more time in New Orleans. He loves coming in the front door. "I'm away from all the craziness. When I close the door, everything else goes away. It's just family time." He chuckles. "I head right for the kitchen and then it's" – he raises his voice – "What are we having for dinner?"