For an avowed modernist like architect Marty McElveen, the 1850s double gallery house on South Rampart Street might seem an unlikely choice.
But buying the house meant a world of opportunity to the first-time homebuyer and a chance to live in the burgeoning Faubourg Lafayette neighborhood of Central City, no more than a block from Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.
“Just because I am a modernist doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate history,” McElveen said. “I do, but I don’t want to replicate it.”
When McElveen’s home opens to the public today, Saturday, Nov. 15, during the Faubourg Lafayette home tour, visitors will have an opportunity to understand why the house offered McElveen the best of both worlds.
“When I bought the house from Felicity Street (Redevelopment) last year, I learned that it had been vacant and without a roof for at least 10 years before they got it,” he said. The nonprofit had stabilized the house, put on a new roof and unenclosed the signature front galleries after acquiring the house in 2001.
When McElveen purchased it from them, they had not yet restored the entablature and parapet on the façade and had only just begun framing the new service wing at the rear.
“It was up to me to complete the renovation. That’s where the opportunity came in,” McElveen said.
Although plenty of people would shy away from renovating a badly deteriorated 3,000-square-foot house, McElveen likes to get physically involved with his projects.
He estimates that he and his dad teamed up to do about 40 percent of the work on the house to date.
McElveen, who also teaches a design studio at the Tulane University School of Architecture, found design alone to be unsatisfying, so he began a fabrication business in order to make what he designs. Hands-on is an apt descriptor.
The original portion of McElveen’s almost-finished house maintains a classic double gallery, sidehall floor plan. The front door leads into a hall where a gently curving stair leads upwards.
To the left of the hallway, the living room, dining room and kitchen are connected via a wide opening surrounded by Greek Revival millwork. Despite having been roofless for a decade, the house retains its heart pine floors.
Although the house retains its original elements, McElveen has thoughtfully updated some elements, best exemplified by the sleek kitchen which flows directly into the living and dining rooms.
“The kitchen cabinets are from IKEA, and so is the farmhouse sink. I tried to economize where I could, but that’s very hard for an architect to do — we want things to be perfect,” he said.
For an example of a minor splurge, McElveen pointed to the three pendant lights in the kitchen that came from Restoration Hardware. A bigger one was having the white quartz countertops cut to order and then installed in the kitchen.
Upstairs, the house has two bedrooms and a full bath with a salvaged clawfoot tub. A second full bath is tucked in at the end of the first floor hallway, partially under the stair.
“I have been renovating the historic front part fairly faithfully,” McElveen said. “But because the rear wing of the house was new construction, it’s offered me creative opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Although the addition resembles a traditional rear service wing in its configuration and proportions, it departs from a predictable script in a variety of ways.
The first is the “butterfly” roofline, consisting of two portions of roof that slope toward one another, forming a V shape. Additionally, in lieu of installing traditional overlapping weatherboards, McElveen has sheathed the rear wing in a rain screen — an impermeable membrane that keeps water from infiltrating the structure’s walls — and covered the screen with horizontal oblongs of Hardie cement siding.
The most distinctive feature of the completed wing will be the perforated metal screens that McElveen plans to install along the upstairs gallery for shade and privacy.
One way that McElveen has been able to wring style out of a modest budget when renovating the front of the house is by using use subway tile in unconventional applications in both of the baths. Instead of creating a horizontal running brick pattern with the tiles, McElveen applied them vertically and in a grid. He used fields of both black and white tiles in each of the baths for visual interest and emphasized the grid lines on the tile fields by using contrasting grout.
When work on the renovation of the interior of the front part of the house wraps up in a week or two, McElveen will move to the rear contemporary addition and plans to find a tenant for the front. It’s all part of the vision for the place that the designer and fabricator has held on to throughout the demanding project.
“After the rear is finished, I’ll get started building my workshop and office in a standalone building in the rear yard,” McElveen said. “And one day, when I have enough money, I’ll even restore the parapet on the façade.”
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on twitter @rstephaniebruno.