A Garden District manse becomes one family’s home for all seasons
They purchased the house in 1991, the week before their wedding. The idea was to convert the circa-1895 double into a single home with a little TLC and renovation.
Fifteen years, four boys, two English mastiffs, several hens, many gallons of paint, plus countless hours with contractors and restoration specialists later, the house is home, stately not stuffy.
A large armoire was the only piece of furniture original house to the house. Moving it from a second floor to a downstairs parlor set the tone for the furnishings, which run from Victorian, Renaissance Revival and Empire to just plain comfortable.
In an effort to save every original element, wood from three staircases became part of the grand staircase in the center hall. Master craftsmen cut and placed massive baseboards in place, molding and fretwork was opened and revealed. Even beams removed from walls between a casual family room and a big open kitchen were transformed by Charbonnet & Charbonnet into a harvest table.
The wife loves antiques and, in fact, once owned an antique shop. Her husband is a doctor with a passion for animals and his farm in the country, which includes goats, miniature ponies and a John Deere tractor. Both are inveterate collectors: clocks, monkeys, antique Carnival invitations, swords and so on. Every piece, from the Empire walnut daybed in the living room—their first antique purchase—to the statues of a Hindu God, a reminder of a medical mission in India, has a story. Into all this mix came her father’s partner’s desk and a few swords of various backgrounds. Some of their most treasured items have been collected together.
Rooms flow from a formal to a country feeling with the help of paint, wallpapers and borders from Helm; the valences and pelmets and much of the upholstery fabric are from Calico Corners. As for furniture, they scoured auction houses: Neil, New Orleans, and the nowdefunct
Morton Goldberg. The family uses the entire space, which is rather grand but certainly comfortable, year-round. Certain areas, however, seem destined for particular seasons: In the garden, shaded by centuryold trees and enormous elephant ear plants, a fountain, reminiscent of one at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, gurgles a song of summer as overhead moss-covered monkeys dangle playfully in the tree limbs. A room painted a lovely light green and centered with a red velvet tête-à-tête, a Récamier and Victorian parlor set, seems the perfect setting for a Christmas tree, a cozy winter
cup of tea, and a nostalgic look at treasured sailing trophies of old. In the formal living and dining rooms, with brass and glass chandeliers, hundreds of Carnival invites line the walls. “We figured we’d never have money to buy great art,” says the wife. “My mother gave my husband an old Mardi Gras dance card for a special occasion and that grew to a large collection. To keep it consistent, we’ve had Enoch’s frame all of them.” The rooms certainly speak to Carnival and Easter eggs hidden under a grand piano, in mantelpieces and atop buffets . . . springtime dinners complete with an epergne, which changes with the season.
The kitchen, in close proximity to the family-room TV, is the heart of the house. With its huge harvest table, it shouts “autumn.” In late October, the table is set with butternut squash and pumpkins from the farm. The cabinetry is Louisiana cypress. Countertops and cooking services were designed so everyone from toddler to grandpapa can visit and enjoy the bounty of the season. (The couple strongly believe in eating in-season fruits and vegetables, much
of which they grow on their farm.) From its exterior, the house seems grand, but the people who live within are close to the earth. Instead of “Louis this” and “Goddard that,” they have old and old that’s newly minted; football and basketball equipment is crammed into closets, gym equipment occupies an entire room upstairs. Outside, one of the two hens has just laid eggs. So as I leave, I’m handed a dozen seriously farm-fresh eggs from a couple who are at ease in one of the Garden District’s loveliest mansions.