Renovation of the Year

photographed by sara essex bradley
The entry hall hosts a settee|!!| coffee table and painting by Louis St. Lewis from AKA Stella Gray; sconces are from Dop Antique. New wood floors from Liberty Lumber were added to original floors throughout the house.

The same Irish Channel family owned a grand-looking Creole cottage for years – the last family member to live there was 90. The house had become glorious in its decrepitude, one of those decadent wrecks so beloved in New Orleans. Not a lick of paint remained on the old cypress clapboards, weathered to a silvery-gray that was quite beautiful. The large backyard was neatly stacked with junk. The owner regularly mowed the small patch of front grass and kept the property looking neat. It was a stately home on a magnificent tree-lined street that had every dreamer salivating over the idea of renovating it.

Finally the owner, Mr. Stanley, could no longer care for his home, so his sons and daughters relocated him to a senior living residence. Everyone on the street stills the home “Mr. Stanley’s house.” Sometime after he left, the house went on the market for a fair price. Many potential buyers looked at it, but as grand as the house was, it had serious issues, and many contractors advised that it be torn down.

House-flipping was in full swing in the Irish Channel. The house was sold to a couple that wanted to do a quick renovation and planned for a quick sale. The new owners were in such a hurry that they neglected to get proper permits, and soon the construction site shut down. The house stood empty and neglected for nearly another year. Finally it went back on the market and was sold again in one day, purchased by Aaron Taravella and Rachel Hall Taravella.

Homeowners Aaron Taravella and Rachel Hall Taravella.

The Taravellas love old houses with a passion, and they both work in the business of renovating and restoring blighted homes. They generally live in the structure for a year or so after renovations are complete and then sell the house and look for another project. Rachel is an architect and designer, and Aaron is a mortgage broker. They had their eye on the Creole cottage for some time, and the minute it went on the market, they bought it.

They created a new kitchen and dining room in the original footprint of the house, and the dining room opens out to a new back porch overlooking a garden. Because the whole back of thehouse had rotted out to the sills, the entire back of it was rebuilt. They used the old bargeboard that had been taken out during demolition to make furniture, including the dining table, the barstools and a breakfast table in the kitchen. The pantry door is made from the old exterior front door of the house. It had a huge peephole, so it was cut down the middle to make a pair of doors fitted for the pantry.

The breakfast table is made from bargeboard fabricated from salvaged wood from the demolition by The Benjamin Collection. Lighting fixture is from Restoration Hardware.

Architect Rachel Hall Taravella added arches and beams.

 The pantry door is made from the original front door; pendant lights over the island mimic the shape of the window installed between kitchen and dining room. Kitchen cabinets are from Schaeffer Cabinets. R.J. Jenkins of Baton Rouge installed the marble countertops and backsplash. Pendants over island are from Echo.

Another highlight of the home is a large wine rack that was “invented” out of the desire for a window between the kitchen and dining room to create a visual connection and a focal point. The dividing wall is 10 inches thick. The couple found a 19th-century Gothic church window to fit the opening. A slanted wine rack was retrofitted behind the antique window. The wall is substantially thick and intended to represent the wall that once divided the duplex. The entire house was designed around this axis as a way to be respectful to the way the house was built.

Outside, two dormers were added to complement the classic Creole cottage roofline. New historically correct wooden windows were installed throughout the home. The Taravellas reconfigured the former double shotgun into a single. They also added an interior stairway with forged iron balustrades and a new second story at the rear of the house, where the master bedroom is. The square footage increased to 3,680 from 2,900. Currently there are four bedrooms, one on the main floor, and three on the second level. The house now has 3.5 bathrooms. The main floor also has a laundry room next to the kitchen. A large entry hall and sitting room occupy one half of the house, and the other side offers a spacious, comfortable living room. One can still feel the symmetrical way the house was once divided into a double.

On the first floor, they salvaged old beams and added a new one. When possible, the Taravellas salvaged the old floors, and any new flooring was stained to match. They also saved two brick fireplaces. New walls went up, and a clever archway was added to visually marry a top line at the ceiling. Everything that is new on the first floor was fitted into the original footprint of the house.

The interior design of the house is spare, with white walls and dark floors, but is it not without warmth.

Framed fine art photograph is by Lisa Conrad; table lamps, pillows on couch and coffee table accessories are from Eclectic Home; coffee table is from perch.; couch  is from Pottery Barn; swivel chairs are from West Elm.

19th-century church window from The Bank is retrofitted as a wine rack; the table was made from salvaged bargeboard from demolition of the back portion of the house fabricated by The Benjamin Collection. Chandelier is from Horchow. 


Hand-forged iron stair railing and balustrades were designed by Rachel Hall Taravella and fabricated by Budget Ironworks.

Furniture and window treatments are neutral. As an architect, Rachel sees the bones and form of the house as the beauty, and furnishings as a necessary distraction. The couple chose high-quality finishes and paid great attention to detail.

When asked what their favorite things are in the house, Rachel says, “The archways and beams and symmetry of the home. I love how the scale of the home appears much smaller from the street than the home actually is.” Now that the couple has lived in the house, Aaron says, “I really do not think I would change anything. I am extremely happy with the way it came out.” He advises future renovators to have “patience and time. In order to do a great renovation, you really have to enjoy the process and have love for historic homes.”

Top left: Drawers are built into the walls in the master bath and master bedroom; tile in all bathrooms is from Floor & Decor, tub is from, bathroom vanity is from Schaeffer Cabinets. 

The master bedroom features a table lamp and gilded wreath from Eclectic Home; sidetable from West Elm; chandelier from Horchow; bench from One Kings Lane Lane.

The guest bedroom hosts a vintage bed, nightstand, and metal trunk; artwork by Louis St. Lewis from AKA Stella Gray and a bedside lamp from Eclectic Home.

What was once a decadent fading beauty is now a standout on the street. The old bare clapboards are now painted a refined neutral. The exterior features new shutters, gas lanterns, iron fencing and landscaping under the live oak out front. The back garden is French-inspired by design, with four distinct outdoor rooms. There is a “jardin potager,” the traditional kitchen garden in a space that is separate from the rest of a residential garden with ornamental plants and lawn areas.

The added dormers look as if they have always been there. The double entrances at the front of the house still remain along with a pair of brick stairs. Two sets of cypress French doors replaced the old single exterior doors. The Taravellas hope Mr. Stanley would love it.

This renovation was wrought with the usual issues, problems, delays and setbacks. Originally estimated to take eight months, it took a year to complete. But the Taravellas were in love with this old house and wanted to do better than good by it. This is the one they want to live in and raise a family in. Don’t look for it to go on the market anytime soon. In the meantime, they’ve found another project to work on: a house around the corner that they are also bringing back to life.

The exterior of the house features new dormers and plantings throughout the front and back gardens installed by Freshcut Landscaping. Best Millwork did all the doors and windows. A pair of Bevelo gas lanterns grace the front of the house. The iron fence is by Budget Ironworks.

One of the four outdoor rooms created by the Taravellas. Furniture is from Ballard Designs, toss pillows from Eclectic Home, outdoor rug from perch.

Rachel in her office with artwork from Eclectic Home.

If you would like to see the inside of this house, it will be on the Preservation Resource Center 2015 Shotgun House Tour taking place in the Irish Channel on March 28 and March 29.




Categories: LL_Home