When Doug Brantley and Kevin Viverata moved to New Orleans from New York City they immediately thought about buying a home. “It was too large a dream for New York City,” says Brantley, the editor of Where magazine. But the dream of owning a home in New Orleans was definitely attainable, and two years later they were moving into a quaint double shotgun on a quiet street in Bywater.
Why Bywater? “On the drive down from New York, we took turns reading the Lonely Planet’s New Orleans guide to each other, and we were particularly intrigued by the section on Bywater, which was described as ‘careworn,’” he says. “It turns out the guy who wrote the copy was living right next door at the time. So here we are enjoying living in a neighborhood that has character – and characters.”
Not a pair to shrink from a challenge, once money changed hands the work began immediately. Research revealed that the home had been a single-bay Creole cottage, dating to the 1830s, that originally faced the river. The front rooms were added later, creating the double shotgun that exists today.
“Nine years and plenty of sweat equity later we have a wonderful home,” says Viverata, a master carpenter who has become well known in restoration circles. “This was definitely a gem waiting to be discovered.”
The restoration has presented many surprises, including Viverata’s uncovering of the original back stairwell that was blocked by a closet, and the dressed-and-beaded ceiling in the four main rooms that were covered by a dropped ceiling. Brantley’s discovery was a German Catholic confirmation certificated dated two days prior to the start of the Civil War that is now framed and displayed on the bedroom mantel.
“It’s been a labor of love, and it’s still ongoing,” Viverata says. “It did take a vision to even begin thinking we could end up with such a nice house, from the dropped ceilings and paneled walls we discovered when we first visited the house. Next on our to-do list is a guest bathroom.”
Gentrification has definitely made Bywater a unique and popular neighborhood over the near-decade during which the two have owned their home. Demographics notwithstanding, the value of their property has tripled thanks to their hard work and improvements.
“We have never regretted moving to Bywater,” Viverata says. “There is much to love about our house. My favorite room is the shower, my last project in the house. It was symbolic of finishing the restoration. It has a bench, two showerheads, two jets, and in the center we placed one of Mark Derby’s water meter cover tiles. I could spend hours in there – and I do.”
It is the sunroom that Brantley enjoys the most. “It’s where our cat, Mistersippi, and I spend quality time in the mornings. It was originally a dark, low-ceiling kitchen that was gutted. We replaced the walls with the top halves of floor-to-ceiling windows from a house on Royal Street that Kevin was renovating.”
It is a long way from Manhattan to the Bywater, yet the two have never regretted the move. “Where else could you find bargeboard in your bedroom?” Viverata asks. “Or a pane of hand-blown wavy glass such as the one in our dining room’s French doors that has the etched initials of maybe the owner who lived here in the 1830s,” adds Brantley.