Just three years ago, Shena and George’s New Orleans home was the embodiment of urban blight. The house, built in 1850 as guest quarters for the Masonic Lodge next door, was on the city’s list of neglected properties slated for demolition. Graffiti covered the exterior walls, weeds were growing out of the roof, and all but two sets of doors were missing. “Most people were scared to go upstairs,” George says. “The whole house was leaning 8-10 inches. It looked like it was going to fall over.”
Despite the building’s decrepit state, George found much to admire: the wraparound balcony, the width of the space, and the historic feel. "I first saw this building and knew it had to be saved," he explains. “It felt like New Orleans. You can look at it and tell that things happened here."
George is no stranger to restoration. He bought his first house at the end of his second year at Tulane Architecture School. He rented it to friends and became a landlord. He had just graduated when Hurricane Katrina hit, and he was forced to rebuild. While working on the house, he became intrigued by the patched-together building materials he found inside the walls. “This was my first experience with barge boards, which were the deconstructed barges that came down river. It wasn't economical to transport them back upriver, so they would use them to build houses,” he explains.
After that, George was bit by the real estate bug, and there was no turning back. “I wanted to be here to be part of one of the biggest city rebuilding efforts,” he says. He and longtime friend Albert Walsh started Bastion Works and turned their passion for real estate and historic home renovations—with an emphasis on using local reclaimed materials—into a business.
Salvaging his own ramshackle two-story shotgun was an ambitious undertaking. The house pretty much needed a new everything; even the studs were rotten and termite-eaten. The team poured a new concrete foundation, added radiant heat, knocked down walls, and redesigned the layout from a shotgun to a side-hall to make the space more fluid and livable.
George’s love of using reclaimed materials is evident throughout the home. He and his friend Parry Hardy of Five Quarters Furniture used wood recovered from the original structure to build everything from the kitchen cabinets and the stairway to the master bathroom’s hand-carved double sink. “We were inspired to push the limits of wood with this project,” George says. Before they knew it, they were building furniture using salvaged materials as well. “Allowing the historic value of the wood to dictate the design of the interior furniture allowed me to satisfy our needs while respecting the building’s antiquity.”
See Shena's personal fashion style → Fashionable People: Shena's Real-Life "Southern Bohemian" Style
Shena, a retail merchandiser who also owns COMMUNE Vintage, shares George’s natural inclination to give things new life. Most of the art and objects in their home are items she’s collected from thrift stores throughout the years. Her aesthetic blends effortlessly with the re-purposed materials George integrated into the space.
Although Shena and George are New Orleans transplants—she is from Nebraska and he grew up in Texas—the couple embodies the self-sufficient and welcoming lifestyle for which Louisiana is famous. She is a passionate cook and he is an avid sportsman; they’re a match made in gastronomic heaven. Their freezer is always stocked with meat and fish from George’s frequent hunting and fishing excursions, and something delicious is always cooking in the kitchen.
“Food is my love language,” Shena explains. “I really enjoy the way sitting at a table and sharing a meal brings people together. It's also really a creative outlet for me. Coming home from work and making something from scratch is transition from day to night, and a huge stress reliever… the whole process is calming for me, from menu planning to market trips. Being able to share the result of the process makes it all the better!”
Their love of growing, preparing, and sharing food influenced the design of their home, where it is not unusual for them to host dinner guests as often as three nights a week. A series of large double doors along one side of the house opens to an outdoor living space and a brick patio, which has a raised garden bed, a meat smoker fueled by a fire pit, and a rainwater catch basin, all built by George using concrete forms. “The smoker was finished right in time for a big Kentucky Derby party we threw,” Shena says, “so we smoked a pig, and got a band, and celebrated with 60 of our closest friends. It was a great time!”
It’s hard to imagine that a home that is so full of life today was on the brink of death just three years ago. Shena and George poured their labor, time, and talent into this house, and one hundred and sixty-five years later, they've brought it back to its original purpose, as a place to welcome friends and enjoy a sense of community. Today, you can just look at this house and see that great things happen here.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
Our Style: Southwestern Bohemian
Inspiration: We both drew inspiration from what we naturally enjoy aesthetically. Ironically, family members who have visited say our house feels like the home George grew up in (in Texas). Right before we moved in together, we took a trip through New Mexico and Texas, which really spoke to both of us. I think the house is also an expression of that trip.
Favorite Element: Everything built with the reclaimed wood that was salvaged from the original structure; specifically, the staircase and the accent wall in the living area.
Biggest Challenge: HDLC (Historic District and Landmark Commission) The biggest challenge was to keep the history of the house while adapting it to our modern lifestyle. The house was originally built as guest quarters for the oldest Free Masons Lodge in New Orleans, which is located next door. George achieved this balance by repurposing the existing wood in a fashion that preserved the building’s antiquity while simultaneously transforming it into something entirely new.
What Friends Say: “This house looks like y’all!”
Biggest Embarrassment: The closet is always a mess; too many clothes.
Proudest DIY: Again, the use of all the wood from the original house. George did such an amazing job salvaging every piece he could to preserve what was left of the original structure.
Biggest Indulgence: Radiant heat floors, we installed them on the day after Mardi Gras 2014, and boy, were they nice by Mardi Gras day 2015!
Best Advice: Do you! We had no “theme” going into the project; we just let it project our personalities and now it truly feels like our home.
Dream Sources: A trip around the world, so we could collect interesting things from all different cultures.
PAINT & COLORS
- Walls: Benjamin Moore White
- Trim: Benjamin Moore Monterey White
- Accent wall: made by George and Parry/Five Quarters Furniture using wood salvaged from the original structure
- Coffee table: made by George and Parry/Five Quarters Furniture for one of my pop-up shops—we decided it was perfect for our living room.
- Sofa: Hurwitz Mintz
- Throw pillows: The large, colorful ones are pillow covers from an awesome alpaca store in Nevada. I went there while on a family trip to the Hoover Dam.
- Mask hanging from ceiling: another goodie we are borrowing from George's dad! He got in Bali; it wards off evil spirits.
- Runner: World Market
- Brown rug: gift from George's brother—it is leather, so it's super durable!
- Cabinets: made by George and Parry/Five Quarters Furniture using wood salvaged from the original structure
- Countertops: Nola Bamboo Company—they are a new product called Paperstone, which is made of recycled paper products. It looks similar to slate, but is more durable.
- Wine rack: made by George's brother Henry Peake
- Copper mugs: We got these in Denver at a place called Blake St. Tavern. It is supposedly where the Moscow mule was invented.
- Bar stools: I got these off of Craigslist and they were a steal! They were so perfect it was like winning the lottery when they emailed me back and told me they were available.
- Dining table: Made by George and Parry/Five Quarters Furniture using large cypress sills salvaged from the original structure. Some of the timbers they used were pulled from below the floor. They were surprised to see they had hand-carved details and believe they were probably salvaged from another building when the house was originally built around 1845.
- Magnolia Motor Oil sign: belongs to George's dad—we are technically borrowing it because he didn't want to give it up.
- Rug: World Market, my go-to source for rugs
- Dining chairs: George's mom—they have the same ones at the house in Texas and luckily there were extra!
- Bar: another Peake family heirloom—it belonged to George's grandmother.
- Cow skull: Texas!
- Wood and metal shelving: made by George and Parry/Five Quarters Furniture using threaded rods, wood framing timbers, and barge boards removed from the original structure—there are wonderful details in the wood that show old construction techniques. They also used a sheet of pressed tin George's dad had in a barn in Texas for the last 20 years.
- Pool table: Craigslist—George used Saints season tickets to negotiate the price. All the stars aligned when the seller’s son had a 16th birthday coming up and had never been to the Superdome, and George was going to be out of town for the game.
- Rug: World Market
- Round mirror: Restoration Thrift on St. Claude in New Orleans
- Bar: George's mom
- Chairs: George found these at a garage sale.
- Wooden saddle: gift from my parents—their friend in Nebraska makes them.
- Dartboard: The cabinet was salvaged from a neighbor needing help moving plywood. George's brother gave us the dartboard.
- Wall-mounted planter with horseshoe: We got this from another vendor at a local market I did at the Healing Center. The horseshoe is actually from a NOPD horse!
- Record player and speakers: The record player was from George's dad’s house and the speakers were given to him by an old roommate.
- Metal-framed side table: found in the trash outside the chemistry lab at Tulane
- Skull: We got it in Texas; skulls are abundant out there.
- Art: thrift store in Mississippi—I love the pop of red!
- Side table: made by George and Parry/Five Quarters Furniture using what was left of the 12” base boards from the original structure
- Wall shelves: made by George/Five Quarters Furniture—George used an old 4x4 and cut in barge board shelves.
- Sewing table: same garage sale that the game room chairs came from
- Painting above sewing table: thrift store in Colorado
- Sofa: Comeaux Furniture
- Rug: Tractor Supply—it’s a horse blanket.
- Mounted horns: a display prop from my old job at Urban Outfitters
- Sink/cabinet: made by George—he used his old outdoor fish sink and built a new cabinet for the bottom.
- Shower: George got the idea from his family’s house in Hunt, Texas. The simple style eliminated the need for tile and incorporated the shower into the concrete floor.
- Tree branch pulls: We used twisted wood brought to George by a friend from Pennsylvania years ago.
- Stairs: George had the design for the stairwell years ago but was unable to convince the client to let him build it, so the design sat on hold. Using scraps from other projects, he and Parry were able to create a code-compliant stairwell using different dimensions of wood.
- Map: gift from George's friend in Dallas—he used it at his work after Hurricane Katrina. They were going to throw it, so he saved it for us. That was the first thing we hung when we moved into the house!
- Painted cow skull: George's friend Leighann painted it; she does a lot of art on skulls and they are really beautiful!
- Bed: Both of our beds were made by George’s real estate partner, Albert Walsh, using repurposed doors leftover from projects.
- Bedding: Ikea
- Painted dresser: This is a very old English antique from George's family.
- Wood dresser: found in the trash in Texas—it was the perfect size so we took it! We like to mix high and low.
- Nesting tables: Craigslist find, same place as the kitchen stools—score!
- Geometric print: Red, White and Blue on Jefferson Highway—it was 50% off, so it was a double steal!
- Asian prints: thrift store in Denver—I’ve had them forever!
- Pelican painting: gift from George's friend—George loves pelicans! It's an Audubon print, so it seems fitting for New Orleans as well.
- Remaining art: random thrift stores
- Bedside lamp: another amazing Peake family heirloom—our house would be empty without them!
- Bedside rugs: They were originally one super-long runner George found on Craigslist. It was too long for anywhere in our house, so we cut it in half to made two!
- Furry rug: the amazing new TJ Maxx on Claiborne Avenue
- Double sink shelf: made by George and Parry/ Five Quarters Furniture using large cypress sills removed from the house—after weeks of searching for the appropriate porcelain sink to inset into the cypress, they finally decided to carve the sinks into the wood and seal them with Waterlox, a tung oil sealer.
- Shower curtain: Ace Hardware on Rampart Street—it has an amazing home and kitchen section upstairs.
COVERED OUTDOOR LIVING AREA:
- Chairs: World Market
- Round table: made by George
- Lamp: This was a horse trophy from George's grandmother that was made into a lamp.
- Macrame hangings: thrift stores in Colorado—I found both of them within a week of each other at two different places.
- Graffiti: This was a You Go Girl piece that was originally on the back of the house. George saved the siding and put it back together like a puzzle so we could preserve it. We both really love this particular graffiti artist, so it's one of our favorite parts of the house.
- Coffee table: George made it!
- Outdoor rug: World Market
- Sofa: Craigslist
- Storage unit: made of the few old shutters left from the original structure—we keep tools and a mini fridge for curing meat inside.
- Tall antique chair with coat hooks: George's former shopmates had it and George bought it from them because I was obsessed with it. I've never seen a chair quite like that!
- Doors: There were two sets of existing French doors in the house. George’s brother Henry had just set up a wood shop in Texas while we were renovating. We brought one set of doors to him to replicate, and became his first clients.
- You can see more of George and Parry’s furniture made of reclaimed wood at Rampart Collective, 1214 N Rampart Street. The collective includes Five Quarters Furniture, Requiem Oddities, a taxidermy and oddities vendor, and a new shopmate who makes custom voodoo dolls.
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