Artist Jamie Grace-Meeks rescues a Marigny cottage
Jamie Grace-Meeks is no stranger to the challenges of renovating. She began renovating properties 30 years ago, and since then has remodeled numerous homes on both the north shore and in New Orleans. Her latest project stands out, however. It was the first time she renovated an historic property. “Although I’ve done renovations, and one on my own, I’d never done anything like this,” she says. “The difference was the terrible condition of the house and the fact that it was historical. I wanted to bring it back to life, but I knew it was going to be a big job.”
When Grace-Meeks first saw the house, it was in a state of decay. A tree had fallen on the roof during Hurricane Katrina, causing water damage, which had not been repaired for years. Termites had taken a heavy toll. Plaster was falling from the ceiling. There was only one bathroom in the house (a second with separate outdoor access was attached to the rear of the house) and no closets. The windows were shuttered and the interior was dark. Nevertheless, the cottage, built in the 1880s by a tax assessor, then sold and kept in another family for generations, still had its original architectural character.
Its 14-foot ceilings, old doors, ornate plaster work, wood carvings, and floor to ceiling windows spoke to Grace-Meeks. “A lot of people had approached the owner over the years, trying to buy it,” she says. “It is beautiful, historical and the size of the land it sits on is unusual. And it had great bones.”
Grace-Meeks’s experience, creativity and patience gave her the winning edge. The owner googled her, found articles about her previous renovations and decided she was the person for the job. After months of negotiating, she closed the deal.
Left: The façade of the 1880s Victorian features brackets, cornices, a porch with balustrade and a bay window.
Right: Artist Jamie Grace-Meeks at home in her studio.
Her mission was to hold on to as much of the home’s 19th century design as possible, while also making it comfortable and stylish by today’s standards. With help from Architect William Sonner, she gutted the house and began to piece together a new iteration that combines elements of the past – elegant medallions, old wood floors, antique light fixtures, original hardware – with her own brand of clean, refined and modern, unadorned cabinets, smooth slabs of marble, contemporary statement lighting and European-style doors of steel and glass.
Permits, challenges, and delays aside, the fusion of old and new is seamless and striking. Passersby and buyers are once again approaching, but this time for different reasons. “There’s always somebody stopping and photographing or commenting on how glad they are to see the comeback of the house,” says Grace-Meeks. “The neighbors admire the transformation and have thanked me for saving it.”
Not long after Grace-Meeks began renovating homes, she found another calling as an artist. She and her former husband had outgrown the first renovation they’d completed and were in the midst of a second. She began looking for art for their home, but prices were high for a young couple in the process of raising a family. Grace-Meeks began experimenting with the idea of creating her own. “I picked up my kids’ paints and started to work with them,” she recalls. Neighbors and friends were immediately supportive and Grace-Meeks has never looked back.
Left: The master bedroom is a contrast of clean white and dark ebonized woods accented with organic elements, such as plants and animal hides; suspended pendant light fixtures by Alcon Lighting.
Right: Italian marble was used for the master bath’s counters, bath, floor and shower; a storage area above the shower is lined with baskets.
Local designers and buyers have embraced her work, which includes commission and non-commission paintings. Fittingly, the veteran renovator makes her textured, layered, multi-media canvases using what she knows best – building materials such as sheetrock mud and caulk.
Large works by Grace-Meeks are part of the home’s edgy, urban, yet peaceful persona. Her current art collection, as important to her aesthetic as a home’s architecture, also includes pieces by David Halliday, Paul Balmer, Gretchen Howard, Ann McGee and her children. Thoughtfully edited objects with special meaning, such as a collection of rocks, shells and sea glass found during her travels, finish the sophisticated, simple interior.
Having accomplished what she set out to do, Meeks savors her home’s new life even when carrying out daily tasks like watering her yard. “It was a challenge for many reasons,” she says, noting that her eldest daughter has named the house “Patience” after the virtue that the renovation required. “But the end result provides many rewards.”
Top Left: A ceramic wall hanging by Grace-Meeks near the stairs.
Top Right: Vessels and paintings by Grace-Meeks in the dining room.
Bottom: A table purchased from Karla Katz Antiques is surrounded by vintage Arne Jacobsen chairs in the dining room (originally, the kitchen).