You might say that Leila and Tommy Gamard�s house a block from Audubon Park is an oddity. The house, a double shotgun, with its Victorian ginger-bread, was built circa 1880s. It is located, however, in a neighborhood that wasn�t developed until after the turn of the century. How did it get there? Well � it sort of swam. Technically, it was moved on a barge in 1900 from �up the river,� Leila says. Precisely where up the river, though, no one knows.
Here�s something else unexpected. The shotgun double, which from the curb looks like a shotgun, is no longer a double nor does it really feel like a shotgun inside. So the home no longer is what it was; nor is it where it was.
Two of the people behind this architectural transformation are its current owners, Leila and Tommy. Leila has had a history with the house. She began renting one side of the shotgun double on Walnut Street in 1995 with a clear vision of the future: �I always knew that I wanted to own it.�
Tommy and Leila married in 1997. Every month when the couple wrote the rent check, they begged the landlord to sell. In January 1998 after heavy rains, Leila called the landlord because the chimney was leaking. He said then, �Do you still want it?� The house was theirs in August.
In 2001 the couple met with architect William Sonner, who drew up the plans to make the house something it was not�a single camelback with a double gallery�while keeping what it essentially was: a slice of historic New Orleans. The studs were cypress, the walls plaster, the ceilings high, the floors heart of pine, the windows blown glass, and the chimneys old brick.
The renovation was done to convert the double to a single. But there was another goal: �I didn�t want the house to feel like a shotgun,� Leila says. That�s because the floorplan of a shotgun house, as anyone who lives in one knows, can be a challenge to privacy. It also would have been a challenge to the Gamards� lifestyle, which includes entertaining on a large scale. In the last year, the couple has held six parties with more than 80 people in attendance. Quite simply, Leila and Tommy needed a house without bottlenecks, a house that would flow.
Adding a camelback helped them achieve this goal. The upstairs camelback would house the bedrooms. This meant the downstairs would be uninterrupted by sleeping quarters.
Leila had another idea: a foyer. �I think the reason why a lot of shotgun conversions still feel like shotguns is that when you walk into the houses, you walk into the living room,� she says. In the Gamard house, you are greeted in the foyer by an eccentric monkey chandelier (Leila made the lampshades) and a decorative Asian chest.
Also, there are few doors downstairs, except in essential places, like the pantry/laundry room, and in the Gretchen Howard-designed powder room, with its artsy metallic glazed walls decorated with stenciled gold stars.
To construct what they envisioned, the Gamards and contractor Mike Williams practically had to start from scratch. �The only thing left standing was the front wall and the side walls,� says Leila of the renovation, which took eight months.
Even though the house was gutted, the historic raw materials were salvaged. The old cypress doors with their trim work, casings and transoms were moved upstairs. The bricks from the five chimneys were used to pave the New Orleans style courtyard in the back.
The couple also added a few old New Orleans touches of their own. They integrated a double gallery into the architectural blueprint. Also, rooms are painted in beautiful colors that Gretchen Howard chose: red in the dining room, mossy green in the den, a silvery gray in the master bedroom, and key lime in the baby�s room. �I love color. I�m not a taupey person,� Leila says. Even the suspiciously taupish-colored exterior paint, Leila jokingly dubs �café au lait.�
The view from the master bedroom is a network of oak tree branches. And the upstairs balcony allows the Gamards to enjoy the scenery. But Leila explains that their bed is in the perfect spot: While laying in it, you see only the oak branches. �I wake up in the treetops every morning.�
You could almost say, looking out at the New Orleans foliage from the gallery, that the view is just the way it was meant to be�if you didn�t know the real story: that it took a lot of rearranging to get here. �