When Bryan Block and his partner, Jeff Keller, were ready to leave the bed-and-breakfast business after 11 years, they wanted to downsize but still live in style.
“We had restored a house designed by Thomas Sully on Carrollton Avenue, then sold it and bought the house that would become our B&B on Canal Street,” said Block, an architect on staff at the Historic District Landmarks Commission. “Those were huge projects, each one many thousand square feet, so we wanted something smaller but distinctive that we didn’t have to put so much work into.”
They found what they were looking for on Burgundy Street in Faubourg Marigny in the form of a single-family residence that resembles two conjoined shotgun singles, one cozied up to the sidewalk and the other set back about 15 feet.
Their home and seven additional historic buildings will be open tomorrow for the 43rd annual Faubourg Marigny home tour, from noon to 4 p.m.
The tour includes private residences plus the former McDonogh 16 School, in the process of being converted to senior housing.
The Étoile Polaire Masonic Temple, built in 1814 after having been granted a charter in 1794, will also be open.
Although Block’s home may resemble a shotgun double with an offset, he said his research indicates it was always intended to serve as a single-family residence.
“I researched the house in the real estate conveyance records and found that the property was described as having ‘improvements’ when it was sold in 1840. The original portion of the house at that time was just one room wide and two rooms deep,” he said. “The 1908 Sanborn maps show the offset condition of the two halves and also that each side had been extended farther back on the lot.”
Not only did the size and configuration of the house change between 1840 and 1908, but the house’s facade was updated sometime in the second half of the 19th century, when it gained milled brackets and Italianate windows.
A working library
“A letter in our files at the HDLC office says that 18 people lived in the house as recently as 1980 and that they kept 18 to 20 animals in the backyard,” Block said. “It’s unimaginable.”
Luckily for Block and Keller, the house had been meticulously renovated by the time they stopped in at a Realtor’s open house when it was on the market four years ago.
Although Block said he was not immediately enchanted by the house from the outside, one step in, and both men were hooked.
“The first thing we noticed were the cabinets and bookcases on the far wall as we walked in,” Block said, referring to the built-ins that stretch from floor to ceiling and extend the full length of the living room. “We are both big readers, and so it really grabbed us. Now, it’s a true working library. I did a lot of research for my master of preservation studies degree from Tulane right here. We never really organized the books the way we should have, but I can find exactly what I’m looking for when I need something.”
View of the garden
The long living room and adjacent dining room — divided by a freestanding brick chimney — occupy the left side of the house; two bedrooms and two baths are situated on the right. In the living room, mission revival furniture, oriental rugs, stained glass lamps and Indonesian art mix seamlessly with one another to create a comfortable and visually arresting environment.
The built-in library also includes glass-front cabinets in which are displayed Indonesian carvings, a legacy of Block’s parents who lived in Sumatra for a several years.
Beyond the dining room, with its wainscoting salvaged from an old building, are a large kitchen and informal dining area that extend the width of the rear of the house. Oversized windows offer a view of a metal-roofed shed at the rear of the lot and of the garden situated between the house and shed.
A large elm provides shade for an expansive deck where Block and Keller enjoy entertaining friends. A wall of jasmine along a side fence affords privacy and fragrance.
The partners have carved garden beds out of the brick paving between the deck and shed, then planted them with colorful combinations of coleus, pentas, ferns and rosemary.
Glitter and glue guns
Although most rear yard sheds harbor assorted cast-offs, the one on Burgundy Street has far more to offer.
“Jeff works in finance, and the right half is his home office,” Block explained. “The left side is what we call the costume shed.”
That space could easily be mistaken for a room in a sultan’s harem. Exotic, glimmering fabric billows from the ceiling, from which hang jeweled lanterns. An animal skin rug covers part of the floor, which Block painted deep blue and sprinkled with lots of glitter. A faded, velvet divan occupies the center of the room, ringed by racks of costumes, wigs and other finery. Hot glue guns and a sewing machine are absolute necessities.
“Jeff and I already have a concept for our Mardi Gras costumes, and pretty soon we plan to start working on them,” Block said. “The theme always remains secret.”
Translation: Don’t bother to ask, because he’ll never tell.
The Faubourg Marigny Home Tour is Sunday, May 17, noon to 4 p.m., starting at Washington Square, 700 Frenchmen St. Admission is $20. Call (504) 701-7297 for information.
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.