Tanga Winstead and the Bargeboard house redesign
The dining room walls are Venetian plaster; a new construction table made from old wood is paired with Oly chairs, buffet is a Swedish antique; abalone chandelier by Oly.
Time, neglect and hurricane Katrina conspired to make Tanga Winstead’s job of renovating a century–old bargeboard house – purchased just four months before Katrina – a tangled web. The attic was filled with soot that had become muddied with moisture and was seeping into the house. The slab of a 1930s addition was cracked. When it rained, runoff from an adjacent church parking lot was washing away the earth surrounding the house. And those were just a few of the challenges she faced. But for Winstead, saving something of historic worth outweighed the myriad problems.
“This was a labor of love,” said Winstead, a North Carolina native, who has lived in New Orleans for 23 years. “They don’t build houses like this anymore. She’s still standing and she’s come through it smelling like a rose.”
When Winstead purchased the bargeboard house (such houses are typically modest working class structures found near the Mississippi River because they are constructed of wood from dismantled barges), it neither looked nor lived like it does today. Built in 1910, it was originally a double with simple bones and no real architectural character. In the 1930s, a neighborhood park was built across the street and the then-owners bumped out a corner of the house, laying a slab and using the small one-room space as a corner store, known as “The Sweet Shop.” Eventually, the store, which sold popsicles, gum, soft drinks and the like, was absorbed into one side of the double. By the time Winstead purchased the house in 2005, it was in serious need of repair. As an interior designer with a background in marketing, fashion and retail, she knew she could turn the house into something special. She converted it into a single that lives larger than its predecessor and spent more than a decade fine-tuning the details. She designed the remodel, some of the furnishings and even did some of the work herself.
Winstead updated the property with new plumbing, sewerage, and air conditioning, improved the attic, reinforced the slab under the 1930s addition, put in new sheetrock, replaced doors and windows and put up crown molding for architectural interest. “I basically rebuilt the house,” she said. She opened the flow of the house by enlarging passageways and changed the use of certain rooms. While the footprint and layout of the 1,500 square foot house remained the same, the breakfast room is situated where the kitchen was originally, for instance. The kitchen now occupies what was probably a porch addition.
Along the way, Winstead discovered things that told the story of the house. As she worked on walls, she found layers of cheesecloth that had been used to provide a smooth surface for wallpaper. When she uncovered the original bead-board ceiling of the kitchen, she decided to leave the original paint in its weathered state.
To stay true to the house’s age, she used Venetian plaster for some walls, faux finished ceilings, and replaced the concrete floor of the family room (once the Sweet Shop) with Spanish porcelain tile. She also incorporated modern comforts and contemporary designs. The key to marrying the old with the new was the use of organic materials, which connected everything back to the modest bargeboard origins of the house. Though the kitchen has sleek stainless appliances, open shelving and a modernist light fixture, it doesn’t look out of place thanks to the rustic, indigenous quality of the sinker cypress selected for the shelves.
Winstead worked on making the most of the small space. She used large-scale furnishings such as armoires and a full-size slipper tub in the tiny master bath to create the impression of roomier proportions. The exceptions are the minimalist kitchen, where she opted for simple open shelving instead of overhead cabinets, and the guest bath where she used a zero-entry glassed-in shower with the feel of a wet room.
Winstead also filled the house with colors she loves, antiques she’s collected and designs by talented locals whom she’s come to know over the years. “I have a passion for history and for paying it forward,” said Winstead. “I want the next generation to learn about New Orleans and Louisiana and how people lived.”