John and Priscilla Lawrence’s Bouligny home was restored to its original elegance
The narrow space between the dining room and kitchen was once a back porch; the couple kept the floorboards and weatherboards to convey the feeling of its once outdoor space.
The stately 1866 raised center hall cottage on a quiet street in the Faubourg Bouligny was purchased by Priscilla and John Lawrence in 2000. Positioned behind an old iron fence with huge magnolia trees gracing the front yard, it’s a handsome house with immediate street appeal. “We loved the design of the house and the fact it was on very high ground close to the Mississippi River,” says Priscilla, Executive Director of The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC). “We could see past the fact that it had been turned into four apartments,” adds John, THNOC’S Director of Museum Programs.
Undaunted by the task of bringing the house back to its original beauty, the couple hired New Orleans architect Peter Trapolin (Trapolin Peer Architects) and contractor Barry Siegel (Bywater Woodworks Inc.) and embarked on a year-long restoration that included getting rid of the existing four kitchens and bathrooms and completely redesigning the interior spaces. “We enjoyed working with Peter and Barry because they’re both sensitive to the restoration of historic New Orleans homes,” John says.
Today the house is a showplace with a broad center hall adjoined by four large rooms, an all new kitchen and modern bathrooms. “I like the way the hall separates the living areas and how the natural light from the windows surrounds both the front and back doors,” Priscilla says. According to John, the new plan permits discrete public and private areas but can also accommodate a wider pattern of circulation. And like the hall in many center hall houses, the area becomes more than a passageway. It really functions as another room.
Both offer quick answers to the query: What do you like about the house? “I enjoy the proportions of the spaces and simple character of the architecture,” John says. “I have a painting studio in the guest bedroom upstairs and I am a happy camper when I have time to spend there,” Priscilla adds, “I also enjoy spending time in the living room because of the view of the neighborhood and the magnolia trees in the yard.”
Priscilla and John stress that their home isn’t furnished in grand antiques. “Our furniture consists of a combination of family pieces and things we’ve purchased here and there,” Priscilla says. “I love that we have a room to display John’s photographs and other artwork, and we both enjoy having a place for souvenirs of places we’ve been fortunate to visit in our travels.”
While John is the cook in the family, both of them like the 15-by-20-foot kitchen that was completely redesigned. It features three pairs of French doors and a large window above the sink to capture maximum natural light. “I like to begin my day sitting in the kitchen with coffee and newspapers while enjoying the activity of birds and butterflies in the yard,” he says. “I always find it very relaxing.”
Summing it all up, John says: “Priscilla and I see ourselves as the present custodians of a special building that has evolved over time to suit the needs of its occupants. We hope our tenancy will serve as a positive model for the next people who call this place ‘home.’”
Priscilla and John Lawrence The completely redesigned 15-by-20-foot kitchen was done by architect Peter Trapolin; three pairs of French doors and large window over the sink capture maximum natural light in the space. Built in 1866, the raised center hall cottage located on a quiet street in the Faubourg Bouligny area of New Orleans was purchased by Priscilla and John Lawrence in 2000; architect Peter Trapolin was in charge of the renovation design of the home and Barry Siegel served as the contractor. John’s library of photography and art, and photographic history books, fill the bookcase in the center hall; his collection also includes titles relating to Louisiana’s history, as well as some contemporary fiction and reference works. A 20th century cypress kitchen hutch fits neatly in what was once the back porch before it was reconfigured as an interior space between the dining room and kitchen. Both the living and dining rooms are 18-feet square, with 14-foot high ceilings and the original pine floors; furnishings are a mix of old and new pieces in keeping with the comfortable feeling the couple wanted to achieve. Priscilla, an accomplished artist, displays one of her paintings between the two large windows in the living room; the small paintings on either side of the windows are of places the couple has visited over their 27 years of marriage. The dining room table and chairs were discovered at a New Orleans estate sale by Irma Stiegler, John’s aunt, and the chandelier was purchased at Royal Antiques in the French Quarter.