Published: Saturday, July 26, 2008, 7:10 AM Updated: Saturday, July 26, 2008, 7:12 AM
Robert Gassiot and Michael Clement added a two-story metal ‘tower, ‘ just visible at the end of the driveway, to the rear of their historic Camp Street sidehall shotgun.
Sometimes first impressions can be misleading. Consider the case of a house on Camp Street, recently renovated by Robert Gassiot and Michael Clement. Head-on, it looks like a beautifully restored side-hall shotgun from the late 1800s. But peek down the driveway and a startlingly contemporary addition comes into view.
“It isn’t really a camelback because it doesn’t span the full width of the house, ” Gassiot said. “It’s more like a tower. We knew when we bought the house in 2006 that we needed more room, but ideas for the design of the addition developed over about a year.”
“I have always liked the contrast between the modern and the historic, ” Clement added. “Our house isn’t a museum, and I like the idea that the tower and our furnishings show a process of evolution. I think the reason it all works is that we tied the old to the new with proportion and color.”
Daring to go modern with a century-old home took experience. Clement and Gassiot had five previous renovations to their credit before tackling the Camp Street house. They were living in one side of a shotgun double on Tchoupitoulas Street and searching for a bigger space when the historic side-hall came on the market.
“I used to ride my bike past the house and would always look in the window and see the ceiling medallion in the front room”, Gassot said. “I got the feeling that this house probably had a lot of its original floor plan and materials in place. Our two favorite house types are center-halls and side-hall shotguns, and that’s what we were looking for.”
The new living room, with its spiral staircase to an office loft, melds seamlessly with the kitchen, which also got an update. ‘We went through several versions of the plan, ‘ Gassiot says. Ultimately, the addition involved going ‘up and sideways.’
Location was as important a consideration as style. “This house was perfect because it’s just a block from Magazine Street, and we liked the idea of walking to the grocery and restaurants, ” Gassiot said.
What wasn’t perfect was the structure’s condition. The exterior lacked paint and landscaping, while interiors had dropped ceilings yellowed from smoke. But Gassiot, a graphic designer, and Clement, a landscape designer, weren’t fazed by the scope of the proposed renovation.
“I guess we’ve really renovated the house three times, ” Gassiot said. “First, we got in and made the front part of the original house as nice as possible, so we would have a comfortable place to live. Then we did the addition. When it was done, it was time to redo the painting and the floors up front. Our friends thought we were out of our minds.”
“We took out dropped ceilings, scrubbed and painted everything and created the front bath by borrowing some space from each of the bedrooms, ” Clement added. “After we were reasonably comfortable, we took our time figuring out how to get the extra room we wanted.”
Gradually, a vision for the house began to emerge.
“We’re really lucky because we have a lot of talented and creative friends, ” Gassiot said. “Interior designers, architects, artists. And they all contributed something. Michael’s sister is a lighting designer, and that helped a lot.”
The ultimate plan was to maintain the signature hallway and front portion of the shotgun, which includes a parlor, two bedrooms, the new bath and an expansive dining room. The rear portion — consisting of the kitchen and another room connected by a side gallery — would be the focus of the redesign.
As the plan evolved, Gassiot and Clement decided to remove the side gallery and build the two-story addition adjacent to the rear two rooms, so that the kitchen would open onto it when complete. Both men agree that the concept of the “tower” was born of necessity.
Gassiot and Clement stand in the sliding glass doorway to the new addition. Lines of the metal siding emphasize its vertical orientation.
“We didn’t want to use up too much of the rear yard with the addition because we wanted to be able to garden there, ” Clement explained. “So if we were going to get all the space we wanted, we would have to go up and sideways.”
” The result is a metal-siding-clad rear addition a little wider than the original house and a story taller. On the side that faces the street, a trio of square windows, arranged one atop the other, increases the vertical emphasis of the new space. Sliding glass doors render the downstairs rear wall of the tower almost invisible, and offer an unobstructed view of what will be the garden.
Inside, the addition accommodates a living room off the now-updated kitchen and an office loft above, accessed by a custom metal spiral staircase.
“We went through several versions of the plan, working with architect David Dillard, until we got one we could afford, ” Gassiot said. “Once we were settled, we found a contractor.”
Dennis de Boisblanc of Decro Development oversaw construction, which began in July 2007 and was recently completed. Meanwhile, Clement and Gassiot concentrated on updating the exterior of the original shotgun, as well as selecting fixtures, colors, cabinets, flooring and furniture to tie the two generations of the house together.
“When we bought the house, it was painted white with dark green trim. There were no shutters on front and the whole front yard was concrete, ” Clement said.
Now, the house is painted a warm white with a greenish-blue front door. Custom-made shutters in a pale blue-gray provide contrast and definition.” Gassiot put his graphic design skills to use by creating a stencil that was used to etch the glass in the front door. A traditional iron fence and gates, removed from a neighbor’s home years ago, were installed.
Clement banished the cement and created a novel front garden. “I knew I didn’t want the traditional tiered front garden, so I came up with something different, ” he said. “I put in pony tail ferns for ground cover, then added the three tall pots and planted them with whatever is seasonal — coleus, grasses, anything. They are constantly changing.”
Even these veteran renovators ran into the usual home-improvement problems. “It seems as though everything had to be done over two or three times, ” Clement said. “The kitchen cabinets were a mistake, but we like them. The glass in the front door — wrong the first time. The railing for the loft — wrong. The floors up front had to be done twice. At one point we felt like the house was working against us. I got so frustrated that I threatened to stop it or else I’d . . . well, maybe I better not say.”
Having a wide support group of family and friends proved invaluable.
One place that leans to the mod is this bathroom, with a custom vanity made by Gassiot’s uncle and a sleek glass-tile floor. ‘We’re really lucky because we have a lot of talented and creative friends, ‘ Gassiot says.
“When we were in a jam with a design decision, there was always someone with expertise who’d help us out. I couldn’t get the kitchen color to work with the stainless steel hood and the color of the quartz countertops, so an interior designer friend solved the problem. Another friend helped us with the floor plan, one uncle built a custom bath vanity and another helped with trim, ” Gassiot said.
Today, the home is furnished with an eclectic array of art and furniture. Many works are by locals, such as a painting by James Michalopoulos.
Furniture ranges from traditional to contemporary. Clement and Gassiot bought items — such as an art deco bar and French-inspired armoire — “from every store on Magazine Street, ” as well as tag sales during hotel renovations.
Now that work on the house is complete, Gassiot and Clement consider the last step in their project to be the rear garden, despite Gassiot’s self-described “addiction to architecture.”
“We love this place, and we love the neighborhood and our neighbors. People are friendly here. They sit on their porches and talk to each other, ” Gassiot said. “I was walking home from the grocery after dark the other night and I could see our tower shining through the leaves of the trees. It’s home.”
Contributing writer Stephanie Bruno can be reached at email@example.com. To comment on this story online, go to www.nola.com/homegarden.
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