Natalie and Donald Robohm spent three years building their Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired house, working with Coast architect Bruce Tolar to create a place simple and elegant, with a hint of the Orient and Gulf Coast. The Robohms originally designed a house to sit on the edge of a Kansas tall-grass prairie, but instead bought beachfront land in Ocean Springs that also backs to a bayou. They gathered a local team to create a house suitable for entertaining with a second floor designed with three teenaged boys in mind. For storm resistance, reinforced-concrete beams, hurricane strapping and other strengthening techniques were incorporated into the design of 423 East Beach Drive. An existing, older foundation became a surge protector.
The Robohms - she is Gulf Coast Symphony's executive director, he is in the aquaculture business - say their goal was a high-quality house that was cost-effective to build and maintain. After three years of construction, in 1990 the Robohms moved in.
"Uncluttered, simple but elegant, that's how we lived in the house," said Donald Robohm.
Then came Katrina.
"It was a well-constructed, strong house, and it still stood," he said. "Katrina dug an eight-foot hole into it, so (the design) did its job because the house would have likely been gone."
Repairing it was a different story.
"We had $1.1 million in insurance proceeds to repair, so it wasn't the lack of money. It was the lack of contractors who would follow through."
Robohm said contractors came, looked at the drawings and damage, told him his custom-made house was fixable, then never called back. After months of this, Robohm signed the dreaded demolition papers and bulldozers came in March.
"I had to put down a pet dog years ago and I felt as awkward and as tearful as signing the demolition documents," Robohm said. "You can't leave your house open and exposed. The cost of repairing just got higher and higher.
"We're going to hold on to the property. We're going to wait, as many others are, for the cost of construction of custom houses to hit reality."
- KAT BERGERON