The house on Milan Street announces its presence with an elegant par terre garden, cheery plantings along the fence and immense Carnival-style flowers affixed to the facade.
It’s the home of Mark Carbon: emergency room physician at Children's Hospital, Crossfit devotee, uncle to more than a dozen nieces and nephews and New Orleans native. When he bought the house more than 20 years ago, he was still a med school resident with, as he put it, no business buying a house.
“But I fell in love with the place," he said. "When (the previous owner) Dr. Adolph Flores died, I spent hours with his family. He was one of six kids, like me, and they said they wanted me to have the house and to come back the next day.
"When I did, they gave me a torn-out piece of paper with a price on it,” he said. “It was a blessing and meant to be.”
According to Carbon, the house dates to the 1870s; it has a gracious porch with turned columns and a cast-iron railing.
In the local terminology, it's a sidehall shotgun (a term that architectural purists consider an oxymoron, because a “shotgun house” is defined as having no hallway). The hall is especially wide, more like five feet than the traditional three or four. The extra width makes it less like a passageway and more like a linear room, as does the collection of religious objects, many acquired from the now-closed Bush Antiques, that fill it.
The hall extends along the right side of the house the length of three rooms. In the first room on the left, a square table that unfolds like a handkerchief occupies the center of the space, topped by a giant shell.
The table belonged to the film and TV star Walter Pidgeon, Carbon said. "I figure that Barbra Streisand probably sat at it ... At least I like to think she did.”
The second room serves as a parlor and features built-in bookcases and a long sofa filled with Fortuny covered pillows. Artwork fills the two public rooms and contributes to their dramatic atmosphere. In the front room, a portrait by David Harouni hangs above the mantel; on a wall nearby is a small Michalopoulos painting. Harouni’s work also appears in the parlor above the sofa, this time in a palette of dark rust colors.
Both rooms and the hall feature wall “treatments” that Carbon devised himself, by accident.
“The house interior was covered with 1960s wallpaper, and when I began peeling it back, I found old wallpaper underneath. I decided I liked the way it looked, and I left it,” Carbon said. He also left a ceiling stain untouched long after the roof leak that caused it was repaired, because “it's part of the history of the house.”
The third room on the left side of the hallway used to be Carbon’s bedroom, before he completed a camelback addition a couple of years ago. It features a collection of antique furniture and contemporary art, including a work by Robert Gordy and some by Douglas Bourgeois. The en suite bath is simple, in keeping with the style of the house.
“I didn’t want to slick new bath in there, so I kept the pedestal sink and other fixtures and added a shower. There’s no need for glass because of the way the shower is designed,” Carbon said.
Some of the most surprising art in the house was created by Carbon‘s mother, the late Mandeville artist Beryl Carbon.
”My family lived in the city until I was about 10; then we moved to a farm across the lake,” Carbon said. “Many of my mother’s paintings relate to that.” As a result, cows and sheep fill large, colorful canvases, while others depict flowers such as geraniums or sunflowers.
Beryl Carbon was almost 50 when she began taking art classes at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.
“One of my brothers and I would take classes with my mom back in the mid-1980s,” Carbon said. “We’d sit behind her in class and then leave 10 minutes into the lecture and use her notes to study. She would frown about it but we were really close.”
The hallway terminates in an intimate sitting room where art work, as in other rooms, covers the walls. Carbon attributes his superb art collection to having a good eye and not being afraid to go to consignment shops or auctions searching for pieces.
“I never could’ve afforded this art if I had had to pay market price for it. I either got lucky because I bought the piece early before the artist became famous or else I found pieces in unusual places and had the good sense to buy them,” Carbo said. A crucifix by glass artist Mitchell Gaudet, for example, was found at Heirloom Furnishings on Saint Charles Avenue.
About two years ago, Carbon worked with architect Corbett Scott to reconfigure a warren of rooms at the rear of the house, install a new kitchen and add a camelback.
“We straightened everything out and made the kitchen bigger and better for entertaining,” he said. “I don’t cook all that much, but I do love to entertain.”
Carbon hosts friends for almost two weeks nonstop at Carnival, when he rides in Orpheus. The new kitchen is well suited to feeding a crowd, having an 8-foot-long island with a white quartz top that doubles as a serving station.
The walls and cabinets are painted “Oystershell,” a Sherwin-Williams hue Carbon likes because it changes depending on the time of day. It also serves as a muted backdrop for the open-shelved hutch holding a colorful collection of Fiestaware.
Full height glass doors across the back bring in sunlight and offer a view of the rear garden, chicken coop (a replica of the barn on the Carbons’ family farm) and guest cottage.
Upstairs, Carbon’s new bedroom soars above it all, accompanied by a contemporary-style bath and big walk-in closet.
“I haven’t finished decorating upstairs but I do really like sitting outside on the porch; I spend a lot of time out there,” he said. “In the winter when the trees limbs are bare, I can see the lights of the Crescent City Connection."
It seems improbable the Carbon’s astonishing collection of artwork, antique furniture, and religious artifacts can survive his frequent entertaining without damage, but somehow it works out.
“I will have family members over with kids, people will bring their children at Mardi Gras, and they’ll run up and down the hallways but nothing ever gets broken,” he said. “I guess if they survived hundreds of years in a church or someone’s closet, they can survive children at Mardi Gras time.”
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