LAFAYETTE — Built in 1890, there are no telltale signs Veronica Rodrigue-Redman’s home wasn’t always as it is now.
A blend of Old New Orleans and an artist’s Eden, front foyer doors that once belonged to a schoolhouse in Pennsylvania welcome visitors. The interior doors came from a New Orleans convent, and there is architectural salvage used liberally throughout, including a copper-trimmed counter in the kitchen from St. Michael’s in Crowley.
Under roof, including patio and studio in the attic, the home measures about 10,000 square feet.
And then there’s the Blue Dog, made famous by her former husband, the late George Rodrigue.
“I was teaching at USL (University of Southwestern Louisiana) and a professor came to school with a box of puppies,” Rodrigue-Redman said. “I picked her out and brought her home. She was so scruffy; she needed an elegant name: Tiffany. She was a cocker spaniel-terrier mix and lived to be 12.
“And she used to wear Mardi Gras beads.”
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There’s a portrait of Rodrigue-Redman as a young woman by French artist Pierre-Laurent Brenot, and she appears in several other paintings by Rodrigue, including "My Yellow Rolls," where she wears a diaphanous white dress standing next to a yellow Rolls-Royce.
“It was freezing that day,” she recalled with a laugh.
It’s not her only humorous recollection. Above the bed in the master bedroom hangs a huge landscape painted by Rodrigue.
“His mother was afraid it would fall on George in the middle of the night,” Rodrigue-Redman said. “I said, ‘Live by the sword, die by the sword.’ She was not appreciative.”
Among her other favorite paintings is a version of Rodrigue's "Aioli Dinner" and portraits of her sons, André and Jacques, both as men and as little boys.
There’s one of Jacques as a young boy attempting to imitate his father, holding a painting of an oak tree, and, because it was Christmas, he’d painted red stockings hanging from it. Another shows a tree struck by lightning on former Gov. Mike Foster’s land and the tree surgeons surreally pictured inside it.
In the upstairs galleries, rooms house memorabilia, including paintings done by André and Jacques when they were children. A pair of leather chairs came from the courthouse in Ville Platte, and in another, a vintage leather psychiatrist’s couch lies in repose.
Paintings are by no means the only objets d’art, which include a hand-carved wooden screen from Nigeria, elaborate chessmen and wall art made from butterfly wings.
Outside, palm trees and statuary lend a calm to the container garden Rodrigue-Redman keeps up herself. Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco once gave a speech from the outside staircase when she ran for public service commissioner.
A sugar cane kettle houses a pencil cactus, and in a corner, Rodrique’s long-ago signature appears in concrete beneath the plants.
“I love being out here with coffee in the morning when it’s cool,” Rodrigue-Redman said.
But in 1977, during the height of the oil boom, she and her former husband decided to “lift” their single story home and add the bottom floor.
The house weighed 67 tons.
“It was done on a shoestring because we couldn’t afford an architect,” Rodrigue-Redman said. “I drew the plans myself for the downstairs to scale. The first thing was to take out the coal-burning chimneys. It looked like the winter palace in Dr. Zhivago.”
The process, she said, was quite an attraction. At the former site of every pillar is an oilfield drill pipe, serving as a support for the second floor.
“This is how it looked jacked up,” Rodrigue-Redman said, turning pages of photographs in a well-kept scrapbook. “The TV crews came out. We went to dinner one night and came home to a line of cars. Codes and permits were here every day. It was a hell of a project. I lived in blue jeans.”
The family, which at the time included the couple’s two young sons, took up temporary residence in an apartment next door.
“I remember one night André woke up, got out of a window, climbed a 12-foot ladder and got into the second floor — all for a Coke,” she recalled.
André still climbs ladders, only now he works as the jack of all trades on the recent house renovations.
“Lots of just going back over things, organizing, redoing insulation, scraping, sanding, coating — handyman things,” he said.
Rodrigue-Redman still gets her hands dirty around the house and is helping with the sanding and repairs.
“The thumb recognition no longer works on my phone,” she said.
Part of modern maintenance included the upstairs wraparound veranda, which at one point was on the verge of collapse.
“The contractor said ‘I hope you haven’t had anyone out here.’ I didn’t tell him we’d had 400 people for Mardi Gras.”
And as with all old houses, Rodrigue-Redman admitted it’s an ongoing project but worth it.
“I love this old place. Love it.”