If you're expecting Aunt Beulah's decor when you walk inside this historic home built in 1895, you'll be in for a big surprise.
- by Rheta Grimsley Johnson
- photos by Ellis Anderson
“People sometimes work too hard to fit in the original mold,” Micah says when I ask what the most common mistakes in French Quarter interiors are. “We personalized the house to meet our own lifestyles.”
That says it all. No antique parlor furniture or Gone with the Wind lamps. No dark patterned rugs and burgundy walls.
Nothing says French Quarter like creativity, however, and this open, light-filled house has morphed from mirror shotguns to one big living space, three bedrooms and bathrooms, and a television and playroom for 11-year-old, Logan. He is one lucky boy, who has his own bathroom and washer and dryer. Eventually, the garçonnière on the property will become his domain, the perfect solution these days for a teenager who needs privacy.
When you walk in from the street of the former working-class neighborhood – the building once served as a family grocery - you’re going from a scene in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 A Space Odyssey.” No books, no bowls, no boilers on the stove. It’s the kind of house that confounds me; I always wonder where the occupants store their flotsam and jetsam, the obligatory bric-a-brac.
The original heart pine beams are exposed, along with new high-tech ones wrapped in pine burned to approximate age. Brick from the top of an old chimney rests on a wooden ceiling stage to add texture and interest. You can see the heating and cooling duct work. Stained glass once visible only from the attic throws a pattern of soft color over the new oak floors laid in a herringbone pattern.
Micah's vision kicked in when he and Jonathan first viewed the property. He never had a doubt. “When I walked in," he said laughing, "I saw this."
“I love gray,” Micah says. There is the gray of tree trunks, bunny fur, steel girders and owls. Variations on the calming theme. The color family unites all interior walls except the master bedroom. It is a deep blue, something called Moscow Midnight, a dramatic departure from the gray. The biggest splash of color in the large living area comes from two chairs upholstered in an apple green.
The muted gray is perfect to showcase paintings by Heather Gauthier of Gallery Orange and Alex Beard of New Orleans. The clutter-free main room, in fact, could be a gallery setting with good light and comfortable seating from which to study the paintings.
The kitchen is huge, perfect for Micah’s cooking passion, something he learned from both a German Jewish grandmother and a Southern Baptist Cajun one. “I don’t use recipes, and I don’t bake.”
Until finding this Quarter prize, Micah and Jonathan moved every four years and have lived in Lakeview, Metairie and, until two years ago, a Quarter condo. Jonathan, who had to be persuaded that Quarter living was conducive to family living, now wants to live nowhere else.
“I was very hesitant,” he says, “as I liked my home and felt the city would come with so many hassles, traffic, noise, festival congestion. I think the people here are what changed my viewpoint... The Quarter is such a tight-knit community. I think people forget that this is an actual neighborhood.
“Many people think it is a little crazy to raise a child in the Quarter, but it provides Logan with a unique perspective on life. You have so many amazing things to see right outside your door – from parades, second lines, festivals, music, food and art. Logan gets to meet and interact with so many people; I think it is a wonderful thing to teach him to appreciate what makes everyone different.”
During the renovation, the couple would sit on the little porch and random people would stop by, weighing in about the progress. Jonathan says they have met four different people who either lived in or owned the home. They’ve also heard stories about the restaurant of red beans and rice king Buster Holmes that was located just across Burgundy Street.
During the Patio Planters Christmas Home Tour on December 22, the couple is opening their double doors to welcome long-time Quarter denizens, new-found friends and anyone who appreciates historic homes. The tour helps fund the annual Caroling in Jackson Square held later in the day that’s produced by Patio Planters.
During the Patio Planters Christmas Home Tour, French Quarter residents open their homes on December 22 for the self-guided walking tour between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. A limited number of $25 tickets remain available the day of the event (children under 12 free) and can be purchased at Creole Delicacies, 533 St. Ann Street (at Jackson Square) (cash or credit card) and French Quarter Gem & Lapidary, 527 St. Philip Street (near Decatur) (cash or credit card).
Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a veteran reporter and former syndicated columnist for King Features Syndicate of New York. She is the author of eight books, including "Poor Man's Provence; Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana" and "Good Grief," the only authorized biography of "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. She is the recipient of the Ernie Pyle Memorial Award and the National Headliner Award for commentary. She is also managing editor of French Quarter Journal. Write to her at editor@FrenchQuarterJournal.com.