Some people just don’t know when to quit, but real estate agent Tim Armstrong isn’t one of them. After he and his partner, Mark Hensgens, bought a house in 2300 block of Camp Street and began renovating it, Armstrong took the project just so far before calling on designer Shaun Smith to finish the job.
“I knew my luck wouldn’t hold out and that if I gone any farther, I would have messed it up,” Armstrong joked.
He may or may not have been correct, but the house that Armstrong and Hensgens bought, and which Smith styled, expertly blends elements of the old with the new, the traditional with the unexpected. Next weekend, it and six additional homes in the Garden District open their doors to visitors during the Preservation Resource Center’s Holiday Home Tour.
Built between 1908 and 1937, the double camelback house (and its twin next door) replaced an earlier home on the lot. It mixes features of the Craftsman era with those of older homes, including ceilings that are 10 feet high rather than the nine feet that are more common in Craftsman homes. Windows (except in the front) adhere to the late 19th-century 6/6 configuration.
When the renovation got underway, Hensgens and Armstrong were adamant about honoring the historic qualities of the house and avoiding a common error made today: renovating all of the character out of the house.
“The same family had owned it for more than 50 years when we bought it in 2015, and they maintained the house meticulously,” said Armstrong. “The last thing we wanted was to eliminate the feel that this is an old house.”
Hensgens and Armstrong already were living in the Garden District on Philip Street near Magazine when the house on Camp came up for sale, and they had been looking for a larger place, closer to Prytania.
“We knew this house would be a good investment; what we didn’t know was that we would fall in love with it,” said Hensgens, a Crowley native whose family is involved in rice and other agriculture.
The renovation goal was to update and refresh without altering the original floor plan. With a tenant in place on one side, the couple planned to live on the opposite side and continue leasing the other. Work on the owners’ unit was almost finished when the tenant announced plans to leave.
“We had to rethink our original plan of keeping the house as a double. The more we grew to love the house, the less we wanted to share it with a tenant,” said Hensgens. “We decided to just use the opposite side as guest quarters for family and friends.”
The departure of the tenant also precipitated a new approach to the den in the rear of the house.
“We had already furnished the den on our side with Shaun’s help when our tenant told us she wanted to look for a place of her own,” said Armstrong. “I started imagining what the den would be like if we were able to take over the back room on the opposite side of the house, too, to make one big place. We called Jeff (Hamilton), our contractor and asked him if it was possible to take out the dividing wall.”
It was possible, they learned, but would require a structural header where the wall used to be.
“I see houses on the broker tours every week that are doubles converted to singles and there’s always that header,” said Armstrong. “I came up with the idea of a coffered ceiling to disguise it, and Jeff knew exactly how to make it look.”
When Smith was called in to help furnish the house, he already had a lot to work with.
“One of the wonderful things about working with Shaun is that he was willing to use a lot of the things that we already had from our trips to Atlanta for the Scott Antique Market,” said Armstrong. “Shaun could visualize uses for furniture in ways I had never thought. For instance, I would never have thought of putting a television on top of something so ornate as the console in the den, but Sean recommended it, and it looks great.”
Smith is also the talent responsible for adding just enough pop to perfect the interior, courtesy of accessories such as two large orange and white vases atop a glass front cabinet in the den. Some of the most colorful accents in the home come from large paintings by local artist Kevin Gillentine, a friend of the homeowners.
The home’s gracious environment extends beyond the rear wall of the house, through glass doors and to the back porch.
“Before we put the roof over the porch, it was a deck that simply baked all summer long,” said Hensgens. “Jeff and Tim went to look at a house on Washington Avenue and noticed the back porch had a gabled rather than shed roof over it and we decided to do that here. The rear porch is about 14 or 15 feet deep so it’s like having another room. And now that it is covered, we use it.”
Powder rooms on both sides of the house are distinctive, filling spaces occupied originally by side entrances to the house. On the guest side, Hunt Slonem’s black and white bunny wallpaper covers the walls, but on the owner’s side, weatherboards remain.
“We struggled over whether to remove them and make the walls smooth but I’m glad we didn’t,” said Armstrong. Painted a dark mossy green, the weatherboards are complemented by a weathered mirror at one end of the space and a lavabo (used to wash a priest’s hands during a religious ceremony) in lieu of a traditional sink.
“It’s from Crowley,” noted Hensgens, “as so many good things are.”
The PRC’s Holiday Home Tour
10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 9 and 10
1329 Jackson Ave. (headquarters and boutique)
$40 advance, $45 day of
(504) 581-7032, prcno.org