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Revamping and Living In a 'Love Project' of a House in New Orleans

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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 second in a series of House Calls at renovated New Orleans properties.

How Amanda Helm found and purchased her St. Roch home is, as she puts it, a "classic New Orleans story."

"We run into this guy, Shelton, on the street, and he's like, I have this house on St. Roch, but it's under contract by word of mouth; you guys go take a look, and I'll show it to you if you think you're interested. So we drove past, and we're like, oh my gosh: this thing's amazing. But it's on this side of St. Claude, which was, four years ago, much different than it is today. We said we want to see the inside, but we didn't want to fall in love with the house."

Two days later, Helm and her then-husband, Dustan Louque (the two have since divorced), toured the house—and, as the story inevitably goes, they fell in love. "He let us in and opened all the windows, and it was dark, dark, dark in here, like the paint was green or navy blue with all this wood, but we saw through that. We were like, we want this. If it falls through, we want to try and get it."

Helm's home is a spacious, two-story house off-set from the road, and its size and placement make it a unique fixture on the block. As a result, the house did not initially appraise at Shelton's desired rate, and ultimately the hand-shake deal fell through. "Shelton gives us the key and says, move in: see if you like it; see if you feel safe on this side of St. Claude. We moved in on a mattress in the bedroom in the winter, and this house gets so cold. We started renovating the house without us even owning it yet. Because we knew we were going to have put some work into it for it to appraise, he was cool with us doing that for rent. We lived in the front room and slowly renovated that room first. Then we started downstairs and slowly made our way through."

And there was a lot to do to get the house in shape. Encountering extensive water damage, a crumbling ceiling, and walls that needed re-plastering, among other things, Helm and Louque wanted to renovate the house "the right way." "Our mission was to try to preserve it the best we could without going with sheetrock, like really doing it the right way. It just takes time. Time and technique. It's these old school ways of plastering walls."

Read more:
Uncovering a New Orleans Shotgun House's 'Good Bones'
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
Turning a 'Falling Apart' NOLA Colonial Into an Artist's Home Base
Using the Lessons of Katrina to Rebuild Smarter After Disaster

Despite the amount of work required to renovate the house, work that very much continues on, Helm knew this house was the one for them. "I was doing ancestry at the time, and my grandfather's draft card is 2216 St. Roch, and this is 1434, so I just felt that there was some sort of connection. My grandfather had passed away in 2010, and I was like this is interesting that my family had been up and down this street. And that World War II picture was looking for: my grandfather's mother and uncles and aunts are in that photo, and that was in St. Roch. Something about being on St. Roch felt right. It's been a love project."

Helm is a dental hygienist with a passion for vintage items and curating spaces. Her decor is comprised of souvenirs from her extensive travels and trips to local estate sales.

"That club chair is Art Deco from France. I got that at an estate sale."

"I just love textiles. Probably the thing I'm most passionate about is fabric."

"He [Dustan] found this [table] under a tobacco shed; it's an old biology lab table, back in Grand Point, where he's from. He just loves working with his hands. It's rewarding. That's been the best part of the house. It will always be a project, but it's extremely rewarding when you get to have a party and be in it. It's like a massive art project. That's what these old houses are, though."

"The piano his grandmother bought him. His grandmother had bought that for him for like $50 because it was just a mess. Another love project."

"We try to keep with the period of the house, or try to the best you can, with the hex tile and the subway tile, just try to be as classic as possible. Even though it's trendy right now. It just wouldn't make much sense to have weird modern tile."

"This old sink I found at the little corner store next to Satsuma. It was a disaster, and I had it in my old house, just sitting in the living room. So I had that restored and Dustan restored all the brassware. It's an old barber's sink."

The kitchen "is something I will want to rip out and completely re-do. But you just can't get too precious. You start to weigh your options: do you want to travel, or do you want a new kitchen? It's functional and it's fine—I'm very much an aesthetic person—but I try not to get too carried away."

"I feel like every room, there's still something to do. And that's frustrating, but you just get over it. Like I said, you can't get too precious."

"We did that room first because we needed one little place to go where it felt okay."

"We left [the paint over the fireplace], and it reminded us of a painting, so why not just leave it?"

"This is a dentist's [kit] from dental school, and I turned it into a jewelry box. I was like, this is so cool and beautiful, and the wood's amazing and he [the dentist at whose practice Helm works] wasn't using it. That's what you used to have in dental school with all your instruments."

"Because of the stairway, all of the furniture has to be pulley-systemed in [via the balcony]. If it's going upstairs, it's going to be a pain."

"I've always dreamt of owning a bed and breakfast. So the lot behind the house is for sale in the auction, so we're trying to get the lot. The dream is to own the lot and maybe have a little guest house in the back."

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