If designer Tanga Winstead has a singular talent, it’s problem-solving.
Take the space-saving ideas she incorporated into her shotgun house on Annunciation Street across from Wisner Park.
“I made use of every square foot,” Winstead said. “I had to, if I wanted it to feel spacious.”
To get a sense of her design ingenuity, visit her double shotgun — converted to a single — Saturday and Sunday when the Preservation Resource Center hosts its annual “Shotgun House Tour” from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.
The tour includes Winstead’s residence plus six additional shotgun houses, ranging from singles to double camelbacks. The event aims to showcase the variety and livability of shotgun houses, the architectural common denominator of every old New Orleans neighborhood. Headquarters for the tour are at St. Katharine Drexel School in the 5100 block of Magazine Street.
Winstead bought her home in 2005, just before Hurricane Katrina sent a small tornado skipping over her roof. The damage it did was minor compared with the other work she had to do on the bargeboard house.
“Everything had to be rewired and replumbed,” she said. “The wood ceilings were a terrific find, but every time a truck passed, black grit would shower down from the ceiling. To solve that problem, I had to get up in the attic and clean out decades upon decades of grit and grime, some of it from between the bricks in the chimneys that had been cut off at the roof line.”
Winstead decided to take down the chimneys to the attic floor and reuse the bricks to create a small courtyard on the side of the house.
She also figured out that using two “mini-split” systems (ductless air conditioning and heating units) made the most sense for keeping her home comfortable.
The house, 1,300 square feet total, still functioned as a double when she bought it, and she kept it that way as she renovated one half at a time.
“When I joined the two sides, I did it in a way that it can return to being a double if I ever need rental income or want to live in a smaller space,” she said.
Winstead has learned a lot about the history of the surrounding neighborhood and how it affected her house. In the 1930s, there were houses on the square where Wisner Park is today, she learned. They were moved to vacant lots nearby to create the park.
The enterprising former owner of Winstead’s house decided a “sweet shop” — once ubiquitous near schools and playgrounds in New Orleans — would be a money maker across the street from the park.
To accommodate the business, a corner entry was created on the side of the house by tacking on a tiny addition, removing the floor and joists in the front room, and pouring a cement floor so the floor would be at ground level. A short flight of steps led from the business to the family’s living quarters.
Some buyers might have been tempted to remove the corner entrance and restore the floor to its original height, but not Winstead.
“It was more fun and more challenging to work with the existing conditions and figure out how to make it feel like a house instead of a commercial space,” she said. “Plus it gives the house so much personality. It was something I wanted to preserve.”
There was just one issue: the cement floor. Winstead had planned to stain and score it until it became evident that it was in poor condition and needed structural reinforcement.
“I had to lay down rebar and repour it," she said. To dress it up, she installed elegant gray, black and white patterned Spanish porcelain tiles that set the mood for the house and introduce the principles of the interior color scheme.
There is a large opening between in the wall between the front room and the room at the top of the steps, Winstead's dining room. She kept it to transmit light and create a feeling of spaciousness.
“I installed shutters over the windows for privacy since the house is on the corner,” she said. “But they also let in light.”
When Winstead first bought the house and renovated it, she kept it a double shotgun with the tenant on one side. Each side had a bedroom, living room, den, bath and kitchen. Doors in the center wall connect the two sides today, but Winstead kept both kitchen spaces when she made the house a single.
“I turned the second kitchen into a laundry room,” she said. “If I ever want to turn the house back into a double, it will be easy to make it back into a kitchen again."
Furnishings are elegant and au courant. There are marvelous chandeliers of beads (the front living room), shells (above the dining table), and glass bubbles (the sitting room) hanging from the wood ceilings.
A Swedish buffet in the dining room is a treasured antique. A white dresser in the bedroom owes its style to Julian Chichester; Oly Studio is responsible for Winstead’s bed.
“Some people are surprised when they visit me because they find that I’ve used a lot of large pieces of furniture, which seems counterintuitive in a small house,” she said. “But I think large pieces work best in a house like this and make it feel larger.”
To save space and create a free-flowing feel, Winstead removed some doors completely, made pocket doors elsewhere and installed canvas curtains as a screening device.
She said it is also important when trying to make a small space seem bigger to keep a tight rein on the color scheme.
“None of the rooms are the same color, but they feel tied together because there’s an accent color — silver or gray — that appears in every room,” she said. “I have also used white as the trim color everywhere. It’s important to have continuity in a small house like this. You can see from room to room, so you don’t want anything too jarring.”
Throughout the house, artwork, both functional and decorative, makes each room memorable. Treasures include lamps by Fifi Laughlin, Mario Villa and Paul Gruer. An immense French poster in the front room serves as a focal point as does a painting by Gretchen Howard above the Gustavian sideboard in the dining room.
The sitting room features a banquette by Erika Larkin Gaudet. An Ashley Longshore triptych brightens a corner of the guest room, and a small work by Alex Beard adds color and whimsy.
The baths are nothing short of spectacular. One has a sculptural tub surrounded by marble tile wainscoting, above which the wallpaper is in a pattern that resembles cast iron panels. The other bath has pale blue walls above white wood wainscoting plus a seamless glass shower with a gently sloped floor that makes a shower door unnecessary.
Winstead believes — and has demonstrated — that living large is possible anywhere.
“You don’t have to sacrifice style just because you live in a small house,“ she said.
Shotgun House Tour
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
TOUR HEADQUARTERS: St. Katharine Drexel Prep, 5116 Magazine St.