It all began when Stephen Rosenfeld was listening to jazz vocalist John Boutte at d.b.a., a popular music bar on Frenchmen Street in Marigny. “He was taking a break,” says Rosenfeld, “and I was talking to my friends Musa Eubanks and Veda Manuel, who had once owned Laid Back Bike and Kayak Tours. They had sold their business, found a way to buy the block overlooking Bayou St. John near Parkway Bakery where their business had been, subdivided it into 14 properties and sold the lots to friends and friends of friends. I quickly made an impulse decision and joined their list of friends who wanted to live on Bayou St. John.”
It didn’t matter that the lot was skinny – just 37 feet wide (107 feet deep) – Rosenfeld thought it would be perfect for a New Orleans home. And it wasn’t that he needed to build a house in New Orleans; he already had a place in Boston, where he lived with his wife, Margot Botsford, an associate Justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. But Rosenfeld had become attached to New Orleans, where he had been spending a great deal of his time since Hurricane Katrina as a public health care lawyer.
“When I asked architect Daniel Samuels to design our house I quickly knew he was perfect for us,” Rosenfeld says. “We agreed in the beginning that there was no such thing as a ‘trivial’ decision when it came to the design of this house. Everything counted. Daniel was the genius, but he let us in as full collaborators. There was complete transparency on every detail.” He continues, “What you see today as our final home is a reflection of him hearing our original ideas – bedrooms on the bottom, open design on top, big balcony in front and side porch downstairs – and then with his own sense of design and originality, making our ideas better and beautiful.”
Samuels also feels the project was a perfect collaboration. “Steve requested a design that was contextual in its exterior, yet open and contemporary in its plan,” he says. “It is important to note that the choice to place the bedrooms on the ground floor, with living space all on the second level, was the key in maximizing the relationship between the interior and exterior living spaces and the bayou. It builds upon historic patterns of use in early Bayou St. John houses. The open entrance loggia on the side also makes reference to historic patterns of providing protected exterior space on the ground floor. The collaboration made sure that construction detailing followed best practices in energy efficient design, with natural cross-ventilation in pleasant weather carefully addressed.”
For contractor Douglas Matthews (Concordia Group LLC), it was an exciting project. He immediately loved the design and thinks it fits in very well with the local architecture. “When you sit on the balcony at any time of the day, you get a breeze, shade and a view of Bayou St. John that makes you appreciate the house,” he says. “This is good architecture, built with the best of materials. It’s a perfect new home for today.”
There is no doubt the Rosenfelds’ impulse decision was a good one. “The location is perfect for us. It pulls us out to walk every morning when we are here,” he says. “Apart from the walking, biking and occasional kayaking that starts right outside our door, this is a perfect place for us because it mirrors our neighborhood in Boston – it’s highly diverse racially, economically and culturally, with lots of kids and dogs. I started calling our neighborhood here the ‘Jamaica Plain of New Orleans,’ and now I call our neighborhood in Boston the ‘Mid-City/Bayou St. John of Boston.’ Both are places where, whoever you are, you can feel at home, and it’s just dumb luck on our part that we landed here.”
Does he love his house? “You know you have a problem when you pull out pictures of your home more than pictures of your grandchildren,” Rosenfeld jokes. “My only excuse is that my grandchildren are all teenagers now, so they’ve had their days in the sun. Now, with friends, when someone who hasn’t learned their lesson asks me about our new house, I’m fast on the draw. Which is to say, the house is a member of the family.”