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Uncovering a New Orleans Shotgun House's 'Good Bones'

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Photos by <a href="">Alison Moon</a>.
Photos by Alison Moon.

To mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, this week Curbed is looking at how the housing, architecture, and neighborhoods of New Orleans have changed since the storm. Here, the first in a series of House Calls at renovated New Orleans properties.

When Brandon Dughman first walked into the double shotgun at 620 Clouet Street, it was clear that a healthy amount of personal vision would be required to turn the dilapidated dwelling before him into something he'd feel comfortable calling home. Dughman, who works in project management for an affordable housing developer, encountered 1960s paneling on the walls and ceiling, three layers of linoleum plywood and fake hardwood flooring over the original wood floors, closets that didn't reach the ceiling, and a general state of neglect in the 100+-year-old Bywater double.

"In my bedroom, there were mustard-colored walls, a ceiling painted to look like sky with clouds, and 2x4s with unpainted stainless steel brackets made to look like beams on the ceiling."

In addition to aesthetic issues, there were structural ones. Due to termite damage, he had to replace 50 feet of sill, an 8x8 inch-thick horizontal beam that runs the base of the house. He also found seven piers that needed rebuilding (a pier is a cube-shaped concrete or cinder-block bolster that sits under nearly every house in New Orleans). Yet despite the work that was required, Dughman knew from the beginning that the house was a gem: "It had good bones. It had all the original doorframes and window frames; original floors were underneath all that stuff. The plaster walls were in bad shape, but they were still intact; it wasn't drywall or anything. All of the fireplace grates were covered up; someone had put tile on them. It was all there; it was just a process of uncovering."

The uncovering process began with the floors. "One layer of linoleum was from the 40s; there was another one from the 70s, and the people who lived here before me covered the last layer up in the 90s with plywood and those fake snap-in floors. Ultimately, it ended up being a good thing because you can only refinish floors so many times—you sand them down, so they get thinner and thinner—so ultimately, they're stronger and in better shape because they were protected."

Read more:
New Orleans Locals on a Decade of Post-Storm Change, Part 1
New Orleans Locals on a Decade of Post-Storm Change, Part 2
Spray-Painted FEMA X Still Marks the Storm in New Orleans
Revamping and Living in a 'Love Project' of a House in New Orleans
Turning a 'Falling Apart' NOLA Colonial Into an Artist's Home Base
Using the Lessons of Katrina to Rebuild Smarter After Disaster

Of course, the floors still have their quirks. In the foyer, for instance, the hardwood slants at a noticeable angle: "It would cost me another $4000 to raise it and I said, you know what, I'll deal with the quirkiness of a New Orleans house."

Dughman's home is devoutly midcentury modern with contemporary flourishes. His love for art and design is evident in his collection of photographs, prints, and even the 1970s Avon dolls made of shampoo bottles that he found in a vintage toy shop in Bay St. Louis, MS. He has an eye for detail and a strong aesthetic instinct, made clear by the assortment of statement furniture and art pieces he has collected over the years.

"My grandfather was an oriental rug salesman in Knoxville, but he's from Palestine. So that's a really old rug. That's the one nice thing I have. Everything else was thrifted, estate sales, consignment shops. I like the hunt."

"These are part of a print series that was released by Swoon [the street artist]. [It's part of] a fundraiser for an art center that she's renovating in Pennsylvania, so she gets all of these artists to make prints and sells them, then the money gets donated."

On the wall above his desk is a portrait of Dughman by Bradley Thathiah, a friend from San Francisco.

Much of the art in Dughman's home is local or from San Francisco, where he has also lived. His devotion to sourcing local artists and artisans is also evident in the shelving and countertops he chose for his kitchen. "The wood shelving is the same material as the countertops. The countertops and shelves were made by a local woodworker named Chip Martinson. He has a woodshop around the corner called Monkey wid-a Fez."

"This was actually an open porch at some point. You can tell because this is the exterior siding. I'm guessing [they closed it in] in the 20s. This did not used to have a hallway here. This wall was not original. You used to walk in from the outside and the whole room was a bathroom. So it was bad for when I had people over because you walk in from the backyard into the bathroom. There was this little wall that the toilet was behind and the wall was all tiled—really ugly tile. And on the other side [of the house], was a drop ceiling made out of red linoleum flooring, and the walls were lime green."

Dughman enclosed the tub to create a bathroom.

"Do you like my wall of [ancestors] that are not mine?"

"I pretty much just want an eating garden. That wall [not pictured] collapsed at one point so I redid that wall, and I built this patio. The paths were already there, but they had to be raised because they were sinking. I planted grapefruit, satsuma, meyer lemon, this fig tree, lime, ponderosa lemon, pomegranate, and blood orange. A peach tree there and a peach tree in the back."

"The wall is older than the house. The property two over in the backyard used to be an athletic club, and it was one of the first athletic clubs in the city. It was actually host to one of the first heavyweight boxing matches, according to neighborhood legend. So this wall was the wall of the stables. They would drop off the people at the athletic club and then bring the horses and the carriages back around here. The wall is all that's left of the stables."

· Eye on New Orleans archive [Curbed]
· House Calls archive [Curbed]