A New Orleans House in Disrepair Becomes a Shining Gem Once Again

updated Apr 30, 2019

A New Orleans House in Disrepair Becomes a Shining Gem Once Again

updated Apr 30, 2019
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Name: Wesley & Levi Janssen; their kids James (6), Anders (5), and Julia (1); and the family dog Logan.
Location: Mid City — New Orleans, Louisiana
Size: 1,690 square feet upstairs; 1,200 in raised basement apartment
Years lived in: 4 years, owned

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It was the second-to-last last day of Wesley Janssen’s maternity leave when a “for sale” sign in front of a stately raised-basement Art and Crafts style home caught her eye five years ago. The real estate listing only had one picture, but the price was surprisingly low for the neighborhood. Although she and her husband Levi weren’t actively searching for a new home, Wesley’s instincts told her she needed to get inside and check it out.

“Upon touring, I understood why it was such a deal,” she explains. “There were holes in the roof, lots of mold, layers upon layers of squishy flooring, and a huge, overgrown backyard.” But Wesley was able to look past the problems —which also included knob and tube wiring, old plumbing, and bad updates like drop ceilings and vinyl flooring — and find much to admire: a large double parlor with an elegant archway embellished with decorative plaster columns, a beautiful fireplace and mantel, original wood baseboards and trim, and a sunroom flooded with light. “Even though I could only see half the house because of the mold situation,” Wesley recalls, “I knew it was the perfect home for our family. It had great bones, and with a little love and a lot of hard work, it could be beautiful once again.”

Despite the home’s serious state of disrepair, the Janssens decided to go for it. “People thought we were crazy,” Wesley says, “but the house was the perfect combo of what we wanted, including a project, so we could make it our own.” The couple hired a contractor for the structural work and sub contractors for some things, and did many of the improvements themselves. Eight months later, they moved in.

Today the vibrant, light-filled home reflects the spirit of this lively family of five. Each room is filled with colorful rugs and sentimental items like the kids’ original artwork and framed posters to commemorate the first year each of the three kids attended the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Handmade touches like butterflies cut from La Croix seltzer cans, sliding closet doors painted with a geometric pattern, and suspended bunk beds custom-built by a friend, add warmth to house. The addition of a stock tank pool to the backyard this summer gives the family a place to enjoy a cooling dip on hot New Orleans days.

According to older neighbors, the Janssen home, built around 1917, was the jewel of the neighborhood before it fell into disrepair. Thanks to Wesley and Levi’s love and hard work, the home is a shining gem once again.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Eclectic, a bit bohemian, cozy, lively

Inspiration: Apartment Therapy! Pinterest, well-designed restaurants, outdoors (nature provides a ton of inspiration for me — hence I have a TON of plants). I love old meets new in a way that honors the past architecture of a home.

Favorite Element: My kitchen and sunroom/living room area. When I initially saw the space, I knew it would be perfect for this light fixture I had had my eyes on for awhile from Rejuvenation. It was one of my first purchases during our renovation (even though we weren’t ready for it for months). The sunroom was originally a porch that was closed in many years ago. You can tell by the slightly sloped floor. When they closed it in, they did so with huge windows. I’m a sucker for natural light and these two rooms get a ton of it! My family spends about 80% of our time in this space.

Biggest Challenge: Staying on time and on budget. We bought this house after it had already fallen through contract with two other buyers. The bones were good, but it had been neglected for years and years. There were holes in the roof, knob and tube wiring, old plumbing and bad past renovations (like drop ceilings and fake wood floors over the original floors). We had a tight six-month deadline because we needed to be out of our other home, and somehow we were able to achieve that deadline (barely!).

What Friends Say: That our home is warm and inviting. After the renovation, a friend told me that when he first toured the house, he got this sad feeling. He didn’t want to share it with me at the time though. After we were done and moved in, he said the house felt happy again. We breathed new life into it with our love.

Biggest Embarrassment: I think I have a few, but the one that tops the list is not putting a washer and dryer upstairs in our main living area. It would have been easy to run the lines to our back bathroom when we were doing the renovation, but I very mistakenly said no. With three kids, we make a lot of laundry and of course our laundry room is the furthest point away from where we spend the majority of our time. Secondly, don’t put a shag rug in your entryway. It gets a lot of wear and tear and it’s not easy to clean. We had one for two years and let me tell you, lots of little things got lost in there and the vacuum didn’t do a good job cleaning it up. We’ve now gone with a low pile rug in the front room, and I’m much happier!

Proudest DIY: I’m a DIYer by birth. My dad used to bring me to the dump with him and would jokingly say “what did the dump gods leave us today?” He’s amazing at turning trash to treasure and instilled in me the passion to do the same. We’ve done so many of the projects in our home ourselves. I find a lot of joy in the ceramic oyster shells that I made and hung in our bathroom and the $10 barstools that I got at a thrift store and cut down to counter height and painted.

Also, the copper bar in the dining room added a lot to the room. We needed to put a header in so that we could have stairs going from upstairs to downstairs that wouldn’t require ducking. We ended up cutting out a bit of the floor in the dining room for this purpose and were left with a sheetrock box. My dad and I cut a piece of MDF to fit the top of the box and covered it with copper sheeting. One more: our closet doors were (I guess you can say are) these terrible ’80s-style plywood doors. I detested them from the second we bought the house, but our budget didn’t allow for us to replace them. I thought about adding trim to them, but that wouldn’t work because of the way they slide behind each other. After many nights spent looking at them, I decided to paint them with a geometric pattern. It was a cheap fix that turned something I couldn’t stand into something I really like!

Biggest Indulgence: Probably our Serena & Lily counter stools or my leather couch (which I still got a deal on from Overstock). It’s much better than having to change out white slipcovers weekly (which we used to do!)

Best Advice: Don’t let fear of it not being perfect stop you from decorating. Try, tweak, but above all, try. If you don’t love it, you can change it. Also, if you love a piece of art and can afford it, buy it. My family and I collect pieces from local artists on each one of our trips. Sometimes it’s something as small as an ornament, but each item brings us happiness and lovely memories. Lastly, you’re capable of a lot. When in doubt, Google! I’ve learned so much through Youtube tutorials!

Dream Sources: Design Within Reach, Serena & Lily, Anthropologie


Paint – Benjamin Moore, Revere Pewter
Club Chairs – Overstock
Rug – All Modern
Table – Antique
Lamp – Salvation Army (purchased a new lamp shade at Target)
New Orleans Houses Art above mantel – New Orleans Art Market
Color Pastels of the Family – Dana Lombardo Fine Art on Etsy
Brass Birds on the Mantel – Levi’s Grandma
Yellow and White Striped Pouf – Tuesday Morning
Bench – Antique

Paint – Benjamin Moore, Revere Pewter
Table, Chairs, Credenza and China Cabinet – Antique
Rug – Antique
Copper Bar – Made with my Dad. Took MDF and covered with Copper Sheeting.
Mirror – Bergeron Woodworks
Curtains – Made by me with painters drop cloth that I dyed with RIT. It’s super expensive to find curtains for 11-foot ceilings! These ended up costing $20 a set.
Chandelier – Antique – I got it for a steal at only $250. I later found out that it’s solid bronze and worth at least $1500!
Textile Art in Embroidery Hoop – The Monsters Lounge on Etsy

Paint – Walls – Behr Polar Bear; Trim – Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White
Light Fixture – Rejuvenation
Rattan Counter Stools – Serena & Lily
Yellow Stools – Thrift store
Olive Oil Pourer – Rachael Depauw
Utensil Holder – From a local potter on our honeymoon in Oregon
Salt and Pepper Holder – A gift from a friend from her family in Ukraine
Brass Dish Rack – World Market
Striped Wood Cutting Board – Michael Humpheries
Couch – Overstock
Rug – DOP Antiques New Orleans
Chair – Walmart
Custom Wood TV Center – A family friend, Michael Humpheries and I created it together as trade for staying with us in New Orleans for his vacation. We got the idea to use the window pulleys to make it looked suspended after finding a nice rusty one in my backyard.
Orange Kid Chairs – Overstock
Table – TJ Maxx
Velvet Ottoman – Overstock
Pillows – Tuesday Morning and Home Goods
Artwork – Significant days for us – Walter Anderson
Charcoal of boys – Etsy Dana Lombardo, frame by Silvarum Woodworkers in the Bywater

Paint – Behr, Peacock
Bathtub – Craigslist – I painted the outside with Rustoleum
Hanging Bowls – Costco – I have a friend who says “Costco may not have it now, but at some point during the year they’ll have it.” I had wanted these woven baskets for awhile and then ah-ha! Costco had them for a short period of time!
Baskets – TJ Maxx
Shelf Above Toilet – Amazon
Pottery – A gift from a friend
Shelf for Tub – made by my friend Barry Himel out of salvaged wood
Dip dyed stools – Serena & Lily

Paint – Benjamin Moore, Cloud White
Crib – Pottery Barn
Rug – Ebay
Bookshelf – IKEA Expedit (now discontiuned)
Butterflies – Handmade by me out of La Croix sparkling water cans. I was inspired by something similar that I saw across a wall in a restaurant and thought, “I can do that.” I had friends save cans for me until eventually I had enough. I still feel like I could use a few more.
Bird Mobile – Handmade using this tutorial
Curtains – Made them using drop cloths from Home Depot and dip-dyed them.
Curtain Rod – Amazon
Juju Hat Over Crib – This hat is perfect for Julia’s room because her nickname is Juju! It was from the Etsy store African Heritage Art, which looks like it doesn’t exist anymore. Old World Shoppe has similar hats at a similar price. Swan Artwork – Street artist in Montreal
Framed Chalkboard – found the frame on the side of the road with a really bad painting in it. We painted a piece of wood with chalk paint and attached to the frame, which is also painted.
Coral Dresser – Hand-me-down, painted coral and added replacement knobs from Amazon

Paint – Benjamin Moore – Pale Oak
Bunk Bed and Trundle Bed – A custom piece by our amazingly talented friend Matt Thompson, from Silvarum in the Bywater Neighborhood of New Orleans. He and James and I dreamed it up and he made it a reality.
Bookshelves – Ikea Expedit
Comic Book Wall – Framed from my husband’s extensive collection
Stormtrooper Planter – Ordered the stormtrooper helmet off of Amazon and cut off the top to turn into a succulent planter. I was inspired by Plant the Future in Miami
Rug – Allmodern
Duvet Covers – Pottery Barn Kids

Paint – Benjamin Moore – Gray Owl
Oysters on the Wall – Made by me
Coy Fish Mask – Yard Sale Find!
Undine Print – Antique Store
Marble for the Sink – Our real estate agent gave it to us. It had been sitting in her shed for years from an old credenza top. We got it polished and had a hole cut for the sink and voila!
Shower Curtain – Serena & Lily
Dhurie Rug – Serena & Lily
Closet Doors Outside Bathroom – Painted by me in Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy

Rug – Target
Runner – West Elm
Bed – Overstock
Tall Dresser – DOP Antiques
Short Dresser – Hand-me-down, we painted it grey and replaced the hardware
Mirror – An old window from the house’s first floor (they had already replaced the windows when we bought the place), we took it to a glass shop and had them put glass in it.
Artwork around Mirror – Original pieces by my 4 and 6-year-old boys, with frames from Amazon.
Spoleto Poster – This is from the art festival in Charleston, SC. It came to Charleston from Spoleto Italy in the ’70s. I interned at the festival while in college and scooped up this vintage poster during my time there.
Ceramic Dog Planter – It was my husband’s grandmothers
Jewelry Tree – One of my dad’s dump finds
Duvet Cover – Serena & Lily (got it on sale and don’t believe it’s available any longer)
Bird’s Eye Maple Side Table – Antique
Wood Inlay Picture – Yard sale for free (since I was buying other things and it had a scratch – that I was able to buff out!)
Ceramic Side Table – It’s a outdoor planter from Costco

Outdoor Rug – Target on super sale
Wood Chairs – World Market
Metal Glider – We inherited it with our old house. Levi had it painted at an auto body shop in the same color as our back door for a birthday present to me.
Metal Table – Yard sale find
Side Table – Side of the road find. I painted it with leftover spray paint
Purple Metal Chairs – Overstock

Thanks, Wesley, Levi, James, Anders, & Julia!

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