Port Allen — Aimeé Rizan-English is convinced that Monte Vista Plantation found her.
“Ten years ago, I was driving down the River Road and it kinda called my name,” she said.
It wasn’t the first time. Twenty-five years earlier, she had looked at the plantation.
“At that time, I was not at the point in my life to take it on,” she said, “but it spoke to me for a long time.”
The plantation house, four miles north of downtown Port Allen, was built in 1857 as a summer house by Louis de Favrot. It was halfway between his home in New Orleans and the plantations of Pointe Coupee.
“It was only owned by the Favrot family for seven years,” Rizan-English said. “It was sold to the Wilkinson family after the Civil War.”
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The home went through a succession of owners after the last Wilkinson.
“When I purchased the home, it had been very neglected. There was no electricity, no running water. It was snake and rat infested,” she said. “Structurally it was great, but it needed restoration.”
One year and nine dumpsters after Rizan-English bought the home, she and her three children moved in for Christmas 2008.
The home is a simple Greek Revival built in the “five on five” style — a central hall and two rooms on each side, both upstairs and down. Ann Wilkinson, whose family members lived in the house for many generations, told Rizan-English that the rooms were basically “nondescript” and were used for different purposes over the decades. The home also has an unfinished third-story.
The front of the home faces the Mississippi River levee.
“There used to be 800 feet from the river to a road in front of the house, but the river changed its course,” said Rizan-English, whose six acres include the levee and batture.
The deep front gallery leads to the wide center hall with a billiard room on the right and a guest bedroom on the left.
Behind the billiard room is a modern kitchen with cypress cabinets made by Allen and Jason Schexnaildre from the flooring in the third-story attic. Adjoining the kitchen is a butler’s pantry converted from a storage area on the original back gallery.
Across from the kitchen is the library, which Rizan-English uses as her office. Upstairs is the master suite along the south side with two bedrooms on the opposite side.
Two years ago, Rizan-English, with the help of builder Michael Anthony Rumfola, incorporated the back gallery and columns to create a loggia that extends the entire length of the house.
“I added the loggia to allow the home to be more conducive to entertaining,” she said. “It was an addition, but it was important to me to make it feel like it always had been here.”
Over the loggia are a music room, a dressing room and “a sun deck with the best sunsets in West Baton Rouge,” she said.
In doing the work, Rumfola had to dismantle the galleries, take down the columns and number the pieces so they could be returned to their original spots.
“He worked very hard to make the addition sensitive to the original house,” she said.
Rizan-English picked the colors in the home to reflect the original builder’s Spanish heritage. Using Farrow & Ball paints, she selected neutrals like Clunch, a natural with a stony cast, for the main center hall and Arsenic, a strong green, for the billiard room.
The home is filled with collections including blue and white china and pottery, religious art and antiques collected over decades.
For the past two years, Rizan-English has operated the home as an events venue for weddings, luncheons, dinners and other social events. In a nearby building, she also has a custom drapery business, ARÉ Custom Works, which she has owned for 27 years.
But the house, itself, is her passion.
“The 10 years I have been working on the house are my happiest,” said Rizan-English, who says she feels a tremendous responsibility to get it right. “I feel like I am just the guardian here.”