On an unassuming block of Joseph Street, a former double shotgun stands, squared-off in the proportions so familiar to New Orleanians. It is the home of Lee Adler, an attorney with Phelps Dunbar LLP who specializes in business, real estate and finance, and his partner, Robert Marks, a health care consultant for BearingPoint.
The age of the house is somewhat of a mystery, but the best estimates put it between 100 and 130 years old, and it has undergone some rather drastic changes since its construction.
In the 1970s, it was converted from two efficient apartments to one single, spacious home. “The bar in the front den used to be a closet,” Adler says. “The kitchen used to have a wall dividing it from a hallway. … Also, the master bath used to have a door allowing the bathroom to be used by the bedroom on the other side of it.” Thanks to the renovations done by the previous homeowners, Adler and Marks now enjoy a larger kitchen and the privacy of a master bath that is accessible only from the master bedroom.
When it comes to decoration and furnishings, Adler and Marks take a pragmatic approach, in keeping with the practical heritage of shotgun construction. “We tend to more traditional furniture and design but with some contemporary mixed in,” Marks says of their style. “And we’re not afraid of throwing in something funky every now and then. We pretty much look to the long term, though, when buying or doing something to the house — depending on the thing in mind, will this be something we will be happy with in 10 or even 20 or 30 years?” To Adler and Marks, home décor is as much an investment as the home itself. “For us, while it is fun at times to be current with trends,” Adler says, “for the most part we generally look to what will stand changes in fashion.”
Some design decisions involved less scrutiny than others. “The colors of the living and dining rooms and the front den were chosen by the prior owners,” Adler says. “To us, they are soothing, and so we have maintained them when repainting.” On those decisions that required a little more consideration, the couple sometimes consulted the late Melanie Feldman.
Of the search for the perfect home, Adler says: “The charm and character of the home became important but also its functionality. As the house-hunting progressed, it became something of, ‘I’ll know it when I see it.’”
And as any real estate guru can tell you, there were three more very important factors in the couple’s decision — location, location and location. “One of the things that makes New Orleans so livable is that just about every neighborhood seems to have convenient access to restaurants and stores,” Marks says. “In the process of going to and from these stores, we tend to run into friends throughout the neighborhood.”
The architecture of the former double is a dream come true for Adler and Marks. “There are many assorted architectural features that we like,” Adler says, “among them being the wide floorboards, the extra storage closets above the regular closets, the see-through fireplace between the front den and the dining room and the tri-panel windows in the transoms above the doorways.”
And Adler and Marks do not have to stay inside to enjoy their home. “The backyard already was nice when the property was acquired, but over the years it has changed significantly and probably has seen more investment than the house itself,” Adler says. “When an additional 15 feet next door was acquired around 2000 or 2001, it opened up the possibilities tremendously.” The couple responded to that opportunity by adding on a driveway and side patio, as well as a shed with a porch and more garden beds.
With a little help from Bonsai Tree Service, they opened up the backyard even further by removing a sickly catalpa tree that, while lovely, was threatening collapse. In the tree’s place they redesigned the back patio and landscaping.
As with any old home — and especially any old home that has weathered some rough storms — their house has suffered from a hiccup here and there. After Hurricane Katrina, the couple was forced to replace their chimney cap and roof and was eventually forced to redecorate the master bedroom after a crack in the ceiling widened to the point of caving in the entire ceiling.
But the sturdy and historic house still stands, unbroken by weather or passing time.