"Decay on Display" in a Grand Historic New Orleans Home

"Decay on Display" in a Grand Historic New Orleans Home

Name: Timothy Sheehan
Location: Treme-Lafitte — New Orleans, Louisiana
Size: 2,300 square feet (second floor living space)
Years lived in: Owned 6.5 years

When Tim Sheehan first entered his home in 2010, a hand-scrawled sign that read "KEEP OUT" was taped to the front door. The house, used as a rectory for the church next door, had been abandoned since the congregation held its last service in August 2004, a year before Hurricane Katrina. The windows were left open, the walls were covered with mold, and a dead pigeon lay on the floor. The property was what Tim describes as "marginally livable," and didn't even meet the requirements for financing. He would have to pay out of pocket to get a hot water heater installed, the electricity turned on, and have the mold re-mediated in order to secure a mortgage.

Tim was undeterred. The Ocean Springs, Mississippi native had seen his parents resurrect his family home, an 1880s property they lovingly renovated throughout his childhood, after its destruction during Katrina. Their success helped him see this property's potential. Despite its rough condition, this was the kind of stately Southern home he had been waiting to hit the market for five years. "I have always been interested in architecture on this scale," he explains. The Greek Revival building had the grand features he wanted in a home: 13-foot ceilings, original architectural details, floor-to-ceiling windows, a double gallery, and a rich history.

Like the Mississippi home he grew up in, this house had a story to tell. While it was built as a single story structure in 1868, it was moved to an adjacent lot —its current location — and raised to accommodate a first floor in 1924. It became a rectory for 80 years for the church erected on the original footprint. The 1920s ground-floor addition was built in an Arts and Crafts style that differs greatly from the original structure, which is now Tim's second-story living space. When the former church was sold and converted into a recording studio in 2013, Tim was able to reclaim a large stockpile of discarded cypress trim and doors removed from the sanctuary. He traded use of his utilities during construction for the pew in his entryway.

The renovation began the day Tim closed on the property. He carved out a livable space for himself upstairs and began working late into the night, after returning home from his day job as a geologist, and long hours on the weekends. He lived without a proper kitchen for about a year while renovating the downstairs. He made do with a mini fridge, cooked in the hallway with an electric plate, and used the bathroom sink for cleanup. Once the downstairs was complete, he found long-term tenants to rent the space. Next he shifted his focus to the 19th century second floor. As he tore through sheetrock and drop ceilings, he made unexpected discoveries. He found walls made of 5 1/4" wide tongue and groove heart pine. He sanded the wood and kept some of it exposed to achieve a warm, rustic look and save money. He hired local woodworker Jeremy Gresham to build kitchen cabinets using heart pine salvaged from a wall removed in the back hallway. He uncovered a hand-carved cypress medallion in the kitchen, and, most strikingly, found two layers of pine flooring — wood from the 1924 renovation overlaying the original 1868 flooring — throughout his 2300 square-foot living space.

While Tim has dedicated most of free time over the past 6 years to renovating his large property — which includes a smaller house that once served as slave quarters that he completed last year and uses as a rental — he has still found time for fun. Over the past four years, he's created an unconventional outdoor living space that's become a popular gathering place for friends. He transformed a lean-to he built as a covered outdoor work and storage area into a hangout space and stage for small concerts. The last show included a burlesque dancer and a juggler. He uses two clawfoot tubs he removed from the main house, installed side-by-side on a platform, for outdoor soaking. "They get heavy use, though bathing suits are typically in the mix," he says. An Airstream he purchased to live in for about six months during the renovation adds yet another unique space for backyard socializing.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Decay on display

Inspiration: Industrial revolution/homesteading

Biggest Challenge: Termites

What Friends Say: "Very nice back yard" and "tubs?!"

Proudest DIY: Lean-to hut in back yard

Biggest Indulgence: Collecting wood

Best Advice: Live within reasonable means and learn to wield an ax

Dream Sources: Western frontier; creole architecture


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More resources:

ENTRY:
Church pew/room divider from Third Presbyterian church next door
Art on wall - hand painted signs from Ocean Springs, MS, my hometown; Oil on canvas – Chris Long

LIVING ROOM:
Grey Sofa (No longer available)
Coffee/dining table/green couch —World Market
All other furniture is thrift hand me down.
Jazz Fest poster by Maria Laredo
Oil painting of Tim's childhood home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina by Stig Marcussen
Pen and ink watercolor (above desk) by Stig Marcussen
Record player - Crosley

MASTER BEDROOM:
Iron bed frame – Restoration hardware
Print over mantel – Michalopoulos
All other furniture is thrift/antique stores
Bed spread – Target

KITCHEN
Medicine cabinet (red cross metal cabinet) – IKEA
Art – oil paints by Chris Long
Pottery collection: Shearwater Pottery

BACK BEDROOM
Iron bed frame – IKEA
Dresser – Gresham Woodworks custom milled
Bed spread – Target

BATHROOM
Original fixtures

Thanks, Tim!


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