Brent Rosen and Caroline Nabors left New Orleans after graduating from Tulane University and eventually earned law degrees. Something was always missing, though.
“It took us a while, but we started to realize that we were trying to recreate New Orleans wherever we lived,” said Caroline. “So, we finally figured it made sense to return.”
When chef and restaurateur John Besh invited Caroline to manage his charitable foundation in the city, the fantasy became a reality.
Now married, Caroline and Brent Rosen live in a Creole cottage on Pauger Street in the Marigny Triangle, one of the houses featured on Sunday's Faubourg Marigny Home Tour. The self-guided tour runs from noon to 4 p.m. and begins at Washington Square Park (700 Frenchmen St.), where tickets may be purchased.
While renting a home in the French Quarter and serving on the board of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, Caroline learned about the Rosette Rochon house, an early Creole cottage built as a rental property by an enterprising free woman of color. According to preservation architect and historian Gene Cizek, Rochon owned as many as 16 properties and amassed great wealth in her lifetime.
“She was a very shrewd businesswoman — bought and sold properties, rented some out, had grocery stores. The house on Pauger declined, and then, in 1995, Don Richmond bought it to save it. I helped him stabilize it,” said Cizek. “When Don died, he left the property to SoFAB with the hope it would become a museum (Musée Rosette Rochon) or event space for the nonprofit.”
When zoning issues discouraged the original plans for the house, SoFAB sold it to Caroline and Brent to raise capital for programming.
“We were in the right place at the right time,” said Brent, a lawyer and business consultant. “We are so unbelievably lucky to get to live here.”
Creole floor plan
As is typical of the Creole cottage floor plan, the house consists of four square rooms. In Rochon’s era, there would have been “cabinets,” or small rooms, at the rear, separated by an open loggia or covered porch. These spaces now accommodate the kitchen on the left and stairs to the second floor on the right. A small courtyard separates the rear of the main house from a one-story outbuilding where guests — and parents — often stay.
Four sets of French doors on the façade open inward, making it possible to enjoy the recent cool spring weather. A pair of handsomely detailed dormers on the roof allow light into the former attic space, now two additional guest rooms.
The brick-between-posts walls (a historic building technique) are exposed in most places inside, with only remnants of plaster remaining. Fireplaces in each of the four rooms in the main house feature wrap-around mantels (or remnants of them), characteristic of the early 1800s when the house was built. Rafters are exposed in the bedroom and kitchen, but are covered by a floating or suspended ceiling in the dining and living rooms to conceal air conditioning ducts and electrical service.
Striking islands of vivid-blue paint appear on the remaining patches of plaster, vestiges of the past. There’s green and black on the wood ceiling in the kitchen and slivers of pale green on the heart-pine floors.
“My favorite piece of plaster has a bit of wall paper attached,” said Caroline. “Who knows how long it’s been there and who put it up?”
Furnished with style
The couple’s furniture looks like it was designed for the house, when in fact just one or two pieces were purchased expressly for their new home.
An enormous Baroque-style gold mirror on the dining room wall reflects the sun, bathing the room in a glowing light. A square dining table, used previously by the couple as a desk, suits the square dining room, to the extent that one guest thought the table had been commissioned for the space.
In the living room, a bright green velvet sofa — a deal from IKEA — and a mid-century modern coffee table keep company with artwork that ties the rooms of the house together and injects an element of wit into the sophisticated esthetic of the décor.
“My favorite painting might be the portrait of Terrence Sullivan in the living room above the mantel,” said Brent. “Terrence used to sit in the lobby of the building where artist Joel Sidney Kelly painted, and one day, Joel called him in to help cast a shadow in a portrait he was doing. But Terrence had such a presence that Joel painted him, too.”
Art and artistry
Several works by folk-artist Butch Anthony appear in the house — a skeletal version of "Blue Boy" by Gainsborough, for example. A large portrait of a man against a golden background commands attention in the living room, hanging on the wall between two sets of French doors.
“My mother painted it of William Spratling,” said Caroline. “He was her uncle ... and he might be part of the reason that I have this attraction for New Orleans.”
Spratling, who earned an international reputation as a designer and businessman after moving to Taxco in 1928 and resurrecting Mexico’s silver industry, lived in New Orleans in the early 1920s after graduating from Auburn.
When he was here, he roomed with author William Faulkner and worked as a professor at the Tulane School of Architecture.
Caroline said, “That’s the thing about New Orleans, the sense of opportunity. People come here and live the life they were meant to live.”
Faubourg Marigny Home Tour
WHEN: Noon to 4 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Washington Square Park, 700 Frenchmen St.