High school sweethearts Matt and Christina Meisner lived in Austin when they visited New Orleans for their second wedding anniversary in 2013. “[We] basically couldn’t stay away after that,” Christina says. The couple, who also lived in Melbourne previously, found a lot of similarities. “Our time in Melbourne … solidified our appreciation for historic homes, walkable neighborhoods and tight-knit community,” Matt adds.
As the couple started planning their stateside return, their dreams of living in New Orleans shifted from idea to reality. Matt began researching neighborhoods and looking for the right home. “We saved recently sold historic homes we liked and got in touch with the Realtors behind those sales, which led us to Jonathan Maki and Brent Talavera at McEnery Residential,” Matt says.
When a 1852 Greek Revival double-gallery townhouse designed by Henry Howard hit the market, it was time. The Meisners closed on the nearly 4,900-square-foot property, which includes the main house and a garçonnière, in May 2020 and immediately began renovation on the main house. Their primary goal was to make improvements while still being respectful of the home’s history. That meant keeping a timeless style highlighting the layers of the home’s past — easily seen in the existing patina of the multicolor plaster and paint layers throughout the home.
The Meisners worked with King Cole Construction to address immediate repairs and improvements. They also worked with Lauren Taylor and Kakin Nichols at Austin-based Curated Studio to create an initial vision for the fireplaces, the living and dining rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms. “They were instrumental in bringing our vision to life when everything felt so daunting in those early days, especially when it came to finishes,” Christina says. “We intentionally chose materials that would wear over time and add to the home’s story, like the honed marble in the kitchen and the brass fixtures in the primary bath.”
“With the help of King Cole Construction and Mark Derby at Derby Pottery and Tile, we restored all six fireplaces with new tile, hearths and summer fronts,” Matt adds. “That collaboration set the tone for the rest of our journey.”
The couple also worked with Sweeney Restoration to oversee most of the general interior renovations and repairs.
Shortly before their first child was born, the Meisners (who were still living in Austin) realized two obstacles: They needed to renovate the kitchen prior to moving in, and they couldn’t continue to manage the process from out of state during a pandemic.
The couple researched architects whose house portfolios they liked and were pleased when they found Leslie Raymond, vice president and principal, and Dan Akerley, senior project manager, at Albert Architecture. Raymond and Akerley oversaw general maintenance and repairs to the home’s existing historic elements, and conceptualized the design — from drawing production to assisting with custom interior details and coordination of contractors and subcontractors — during construction. They also acted as the Meisners’ onsite representation while the couple was still living in Austin.
“The homeowners had some initial selections for bathroom finishes, and Albert Architecture worked with them to integrate these selections into a cohesive design approach for the entire house,” Akerley says.
The biggest transformation came in the form of the kitchen, which had an odd layout that made it feel small. “The range and vent hood jutted out into the center of the room, so, when you walked in the front door and looked down the hall, all you could see was this giant vent hood,” Christina says. “There wasn’t much natural light, and the space felt heavy. We wanted to open things up where we could, let in as much light as possible and celebrate these incredible spaces (and tall ceilings) by giving them room to breathe.”
In the kitchen, the team changed the courtyard door into a window, which allowed for more counter space, doubled the amount of natural light and allowed more freedom in the redesign. Meanwhile, Matt’s main goal for the kitchen was to have built-in cabinetry with a library ladder that would make full use of the ceiling height. Local carpentry company Pomar Gutierrez Renovation built custom kitchen cabinets on-site (some have the added touch of rattan detailing in lieu of glass for added texture and warmth).
The Meisners kept the original patina pantry door and renovated the rest of the kitchen. It now features pine wood flooring stained to match the rest of the house, a dramatic window wall and floating walnut shelves with integrated light coves, weathered white Zellige tile that showcases the height of the space, a custom walnut island, honed Calacatta Vagli marble countertops with unique veining patterns in tones of pink, green and blue, and a walnut ladder with brass rail.
Pomar Gutierrez Renovation also created a built-in with rattan doors for the living room, a vanity for the primary and guest bathrooms, an office bookshelf on the third floor and a new bedroom closet.
Of course, the Meisners kept some of the original details, including the aging faux bois trim and doors, and the double-hung pass-through windows with operable upper sashes. Some of the plaster walls were salvageable, and Sylvia T. Designs repaired those in the second floor hallway. She also added new plaster to the master bedroom with a patina to complement the rest of the home. Additionally, some of the original Henry Howard fireplace mantels were intact. For those that were not, the Meisners hired Picardie Timber Frame + Millwork to create custom reproductions.
The Meisners allowed the home’s framework to determine the color palette. For example, they built the kitchen around the plaster fireplace, the powder bath around the green door’s patina, the primary bath around the mossy green clawfoot tub, and both the second floor guest bedroom and nursery around the weathered fireplaces.
“We also wanted moments of fun to keep things from feeling too stuffy or formal,” Christina says. “So there’s the Schumacher wallpaper in the powder bath that reminds me of my favorite Dr. Seuss book growing up, the House of Hackney wallpaper in the water closet that’s a nod to our travels across southeast Asia, the blue and yellow mosaic tile in the guest bath, and the unusual Derby Pottery grass and gator tile for the nursery fireplace.”
Overall, the Meisners found it paramount to honor the history of their home while adding to its character. “The house has been through a pretty incredible transformation in the last two decades,” Christina says. “Matt found a Flickr album that indicated the house was up for demolition by neglect before Katrina hit, and it documents some of the painstaking, five-year restoration work the previous owners Matt and Barb Ryan, the sellers we purchased the home from, completed post-Katrina.”
“We can only imagine the stories held within these walls,” Matt says, “So we liked the idea of capturing what remained rather than fully restoring it back to the 1850s. A century’s worth of patina is hard to recreate. It’s art to us.”