House of spirits

The essence of New Orleans style in the Faubourg Marigny home of Lloyd Sensat and Eugene Cizek

The celebrated 1807 Creole cottage known as Sun Oak is saturated with the soul of old New Orleans, the air here heavy with history, spirituality and eccentricity, a blend absolutely specific to New Orleans and even specific to this small wedge of the city just downriver from the French Quarter called the Faubourg Marigny.

The 200-year story of the house and garden tells an epic tale of wealth, poverty, fires, hurricanes and yellow fever, with characters including the original owner, an entrepreneurial free woman of color, a Jewish Dutchman who bought the house for his Creole mistress, a judge, a priest and prostitutes.

“One of the great attributes of the Creole house is its flexibility to satisfy the needs of each consecutive generation of residents,” says Eugene Cizek, a professor of architecture and director of preservation studies at Tulane University. “It respects the important traditions of the past while incorporating just enough of today to allow for 21st-century living.”

Like other great New Orleans houses, Sun Oak seems to hold on to a bit of the spirit of all the characters who have lived within its walls, from its early-19th-century owners to its current academic and artistic pair, offering up wonderful evidence of dozens of personalities.

“Collections are common in New Orleans houses,” says Lloyd Sensat, an artist and historian. “We have lots: suns, saints, books, candlesticks,
floor-to-ceiling pictures. Catholicism is a decorative motif with a little voodoo for good measure. Everyone has a garden and exchanges plants that turn our backyards into tropical jungles. Then there are the Mardi Gras beads, Carnival memorabilia and costumes. To me, New Orleans style is a hodgepodge of all these things. We make our eccentricity aesthetic. It is the Tennessee Williams School of Design. It is to be found nowhere else in America because no other city in America is like New Orleans.”

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