When Shannon French and Delaney McKee French bought their home in 2012, they were thrilled to find a house that fulfilled their “had-to” list.
It had to be just big enough to accommodate the couple and the small family they were planning, which now includes their son, Kepler, and the family dogs Lola and Trudie. It had to have an open floor plan inside and a contemporary design outside. And it had to incorporate superior environmental technology.
They found what they were looking for in the Lower 9th Ward.
“The list was a little longer, but those were some of the most important factors,” said French, director of design at WDG | Architects and Engineers.
The house was designed by Workshop APD, a New York-based firm and winners of the Global Green-sponsored competition to design a set of houses and community center in the Lower 9th Ward.
The house measures about 1,100 square feet over two floors, plus a front porch and a back deck. Two single-pitched roofs — one over the main body of the house and another over the porch — tilt away from one another at steep angles.
Inside, the structure features an open floor plan accommodating a living room, kitchen, breakfast area, powder room and play nook. The upstairs has two bedrooms and a bath. The second floor opens above the living room, giving the room below a soaring ceiling. Furnishings are contemporary, and the L-shaped sofa in the living room serves double duty as a place to sleep when guests come to visit. The kitchen island is on wheels to make the space as adaptable as possible, and a bank of closet doors serves as a canvas for art, doodling and reminders, thanks to chalkboard paint.
The most conspicuous element of the décor is a collection of percussion instruments in the living room, some hanging on the wall.
“Delaney and I are both musicians, and I have played in many bands since I was a teenager,” said French. “After we came back from the Peace Corps in Africa, I became completely obsessed with hand-percussion instruments, and I eventually formed a Latin jazz quintet. Delaney’s tradition is classical, and we both are excited about raising Kepler in a home with music.”
In many ways, the house expresses a 21st-century, post-Katrina version of a single camelback shotgun.
“When I first visited our house, the house next door was serving as an information center and a sort of model home, if you will, for the Global Green development at the end of Andry Street,” said French.
The more information the couple gathered about the project, the more they became convinced that this was the house for them. And although it was visually stunning, it was a raft of “invisible” features that sealed the deal.
“It is increasingly evident that principles of energy conservation and sustainable stormwater management are incredibly important to our future,” said French. “So, if you can, why not live in a house that reflects those values?”
Rainfall that might be a problem elsewhere in the city is managed to be a non-event at the Frenches’ home, thanks to the small rain garden in front of the house and, in the rear, a bioswale — a trench planted with native, water-loving vegetation. “Paving” for off-street parking consists of crushed stone, a permeable material that allows rainwater to seep into the subsurface, recharge the water table and bypass the stormwater system.
Using as little energy as possible was a goal of the project, so the house is loaded with energy-efficient features.
“The house is oriented along an east-west axis, with its long sides facing north and south to minimize heat gain from hot morning sun from the east and afternoon sun from the west," French said. "There are fewer windows on south façade for the same reason, but more on the north to allow in the cooler diffused light. Windows are positioned to promote wonderful cross-breezes throughout the house.
Additionally, the windows are insulated and impact-resistant, and fitted with "low-e" glass that minimizes the sun's ultraviolet and infrared radiation.
Reducing energy use in this hot and humid city requires robust insulation, such the closed cell spray foam that was installed between the wall studs, floor joists and roof framing of the house and rigid insulation wrapping the entire dwelling. All lighting is either LED or CFL; all appliances have Energy Star ratings; all plumbing fixtures are “low-flow” and, in lieu of a 40-gallon tank, all hot water flows from a tankless unit.
According to French, the house is designed to generate more energy than it consumes.
“We have solar panels on the roof and a solar power inverter in the closet: It converts the current of the electricity generated by the panels from DC to AC before it leaves the house to feed into the power grid,” said French. He added, “Usually our energy bill is about $24 a month, but it spiked this past summer up to $40.”