Chic in Arabi

Post-Hurricane Katrina revival created new opportunities

A clay pot serves as the base for the glass dining room table that is flanked by antique French chairs. The painting at the left is by New Orleans artist David Harouni.

Cheryl Gerber

Hurricane Katrina’s water rose eight feet in Harold Applewhite’s Arabi home, located just blocks from the Mississippi River. It was a sorry mess when he returned a couple of weeks after the storm. “When I first pushed in the front door and looked inside it seemed like a hopeless situation,” he says. But he’s not one to cut and run; he dug in his heels, determined to fix up his house and make it better than ever.

Applewhite is the owner of Harold’s Indoor & Outdoor Plants, located where Press Street and the railroad tracks cross St. Claude Avenue. Applewhite’s business has long been the place to find one of the most extensive collections of plants and flowers in the area. “Katrina also decimated my nursery and shop,” he says, adding that it was a $100,000 loss.

Two strikes, but not out. Not only did he come back with a better business than he had before the storm, he also restored his home and garden and purchased the two homes adjoining his property on a quiet residential street.

“‘What would you give me for my house?’ my neighbor asked when she viewed her hurricane damage. ‘How about $60,000?’ was my answer. ‘Sold,’ she replied without batting an eye. As soon as my other adjoining neighbor heard about the transaction, he approached me about purchasing his home for the same amount. I immediately cut a deal.”

Applewhite has created a compound out of the three Arabi homes. The unique maze of properties is joined by gardens, a brook, a saltwater swimming pool, decks, a gazebo and lush flowering gardens. There is a touch of whimsy embodied by a life-sized junk-metal sculpture of a man, and a touch of elegance provided by a crystal chandelier (from a French Quarter shop) that hangs in the gazebo.

“My backyard is a bit of paradise,” he says. He adds that he likes wandering in the gardens and meeting the short-term guests who occupy the other houses. “This is the place I love to come after working long hours.” Perry Stelly, who takes care of the plants at the Windsor Court Hotel, assisted him with his garden.

The vigorous, hardworking plant aficionado loves giving tours of his garden with Hartley, his  Jack Russell terrier, at his side. “You will notice I use pine straw as a ground cover because my yard is too shady for grass, but the front garden is always filled with blooming flowers because it gets the wonderful morning sun.”

Inside Applewhite’s home is a handsome mix of bold-colored walls, eclectic furnishings and an art collection. “I even have a wonderful original by Walter Anderson in my den, my favorite room in the house,” he says. He credits Bob Lowe for helping him select paint throughout the house.

“This house fits me like a glove,” Applewhite says. “Most of all, I love living in Arabi where the folks are friendly and look out for each other.”
 

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