When Jackie and Chuck Stern were looking for a home for their large family 17 years ago, they knew they had found the ideal place at Palmer and Freret.
“It was just the right size for us and our four daughters and had so many original architectural features,” said Jackie Stern. “I loved the huge yard and all the porches — especially the screened-in porch on the back. And the two oldest girls were grown-up enough then to have opinions, and they wanted a place with personality. We listened to them.”
Little did the Sterns know at the time but they were expecting a fifth daughter. Although Emma, the youngest, was a joyful addition to the tight-knit family, her arrival caused a minor dilemma: How to fit five girls into two bedrooms?
“We considered some changes, but in the end all it meant was that three girls had to share one room for a while, but not too long. They had already adjusted to having roommates by the time they went to college,” Stern said.
Today, Erica (the oldest) lives in Chicago with her husband and new son, Jonah. Following her in age are Rebecca (28), Lily (22), and Eleanor (18). Only 17-year-old Emma, a student at Benjamin Franklin High School, lives at home full time.
The family’s Hanukkah celebration began on Sunday night with the lighting of the first candle on the menorah. It continues until Monday, Dec. 14, with the lighting of the eighth and final candle.
“We’re pretty casual when it comes to Hanukkah because it isn’t really a significant Jewish holiday. I tend to decorate with store-bought banners and lights and I might put out dreidels,” said Stern. “For major Jewish holidays like Passover, it’s much more formal.”
In the dining room of the Sterns’ centerhall home, an assortment of menorahs tops the tablecloth and “Happy Hanukkah” banners hang across windows. Lights twinkle in the living room, which connects to the kitchen through a wide-cased opening.
The farmhouse-style kitchen table is covered partially by a blue and white runner woven with a pattern of six-pointed stars and dreidels. Small mesh bags holding faux “gelt” (gold wrapped chocolate coins) serve as a centerpiece.
Across the hall from the dining room and living room are a library, guest room and project room, where Jackie sews and the girls practice violin and piano. Upstairs are the master suite and two more bedrooms.
“We didn’t do much to the house when we bought it because it didn’t need it,” Stern said. “But we did vault the ceiling upstairs in the girls’ bedrooms and that made them feel bigger. We also added closets — but not enough.”
After the Sterns had lived in the house for seven years, Hurricane Katrina blew through and caused water damage to the hallway floor from a broken window.
“But that turned out to be a good thing because we found the original heart pine underneath when we pulled it up,” said Stern.
A city landmark and individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Sterns’ home is immediately recognizable to anyone with an interest in old houses.
It is one of the few “Carpenter Gothic” style houses in the city and was designed and built in 1873 by Captain Toby Hart, a Confederate veteran and a painting contractor. Hart was the first to bring a professional sports franchise to New Orleans in 1887 (with partners) and was a founding member of the Phunny Phorty Phellows.
In addition to the distinctive millwork on the home’s façade, fanciful windows — having borders inset with squares of stained glass — appear in many rooms. The “sawn” (instead of turned) balusters in the front porch railing are another rarity. These elements of the porch railing were cut from flat pieces of wood in a shape that matches the silhouette of a turned baluster.
Furnishings selected by Jackie Stern rival the home’s architecture in originality and appeal. Many of the vintage and antique armoires that appear in nearly every room came from Antiques on Jackson, operated by Maria and Simon Hardeveld.
“I never thought of myself as an antiques person, but when I started looking for furniture for this house, I found that I really love these old pieces from Maria and Simon’s,” Stern said. “They just feel right.”
A blue armoire in the centerhall complements a blue crystal chandelier, from Villa Vici, that Tanga Winstead helped Stern locate. On the opposite wall, painted panels hang like artwork, but are actually parts of a room screen that Stern disassembled and converted. Lamps flanking a swan-neck sofa were originally vases that a relative was going to throw out.
“Everyone thought they were ugly, but I thought they would make great lamps,” Stern said.
Every space in the large home has seen plenty of use over the past two decades. Stern homeschooled Eleanor and Emma for a long time, and lessons were sometimes conducted at a table on the front porch. An antique metal bed (from Bush Antiques) at the other end of the porch serves as a favorite spot for reading. The library, with its ceiling-high bookcases, also draws readers, and the sofa in the kitchen/breakfast area is Emma’s favorite spot for doing homework.
Most cabinets are either glass-front or open because Stern likes to be able to see — and access — all of the lovely china she has collected.
“I keep a kosher kitchen, so I need separate dishes for milk and for meat,” said Stern, whose family belongs to the conservative Shir Chadash synagogue in Metairie. “I like upholding the traditions of Judaism. It’s important to me.”
Although her kitchen is not traditional in terms of an island or cabinetry, Stern said she is happy with it the way it is.
“Except for the appliances,” she said. “If I were going to make changes, I might change them out, but that’s about it.”
R. Stephanie Bruno is a contributing writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.