You might think that laying gutters would be the least problematic part of the renovation process. But Ellen Sitkin’s New Orleans home is unlike most other homes. Any permanent upgrades it made to the structure around 1914 were under the purview of the Historic District Landmarks Committee. So when the graphic designer, who moved to Down South from New York with her husband and two children in 2018, and her architect, Kim Allen, of husband-and-wife-run Studio BKA, decided to attach tubes to the sides of the porch columns, they were quick to take them down. “You could see them from the street, and that broke a rule,” Sitkin recalls. This was just one of the unique limitations the practical homeowner and architect faced during the remodeling process.
Fortunately, when it came to painting the formerly beige-brown exterior, Sitkin got the green light. And because most of the other facades in her building are some shade of blue, she reversed the trend with bright pink. “Living in New Orleans, where the homes are so colorful, I was like, ‘I have to make them brighter.’ That’s ridiculous, she says. Inside, she and Allen focused on making the design less choppy while adding some much-needed charm.” Read on. For a few notable takeaways from the change.
Sitkin and Allen’s original plan to bring more natural light into the house’s second level was to add a dormer window to the roof, but when the revision board dropped them, they moved to Plan B: skylights. The room, now located above the stairs to the playroom and guest bedroom, doubles as a spotlight for the children’s art show in the entryway.
In the library, they simply removed the drywall to expose the ceiling beams. Not pictured: Tongue-and-groove board that architects added between the rafters for a touch of texture. “You see this detail a lot in homes in Cuba and the Bahamas,” Allen notes. Sitkin chose the green velvet sofa facing the large-scale charcoal drawing she made in her college days because it reminded her of who she grew up in her grandmother’s house. “This room is my entire room,” she says. “Everything there is very personal.”
All the while, Allen scaled the doorsteps of the house to speak to what the place likely looked like when it was originally built. (Throughout the gut, they discovered that the oldest and tallest openings had been closed by a previous owner.) “In New Orleans, when skilled workers come and turn these houses over, they don’t set the historic size of the door opening,” she explained. They promoted the renovation by framing the openings with traditional Greek Revival-style casings.
full nine yards
For Sitkin, the driving factor for buying a shotgun-style home was primarily the yard (it’s technically a duplex, meaning another home could be built on the land). Studio BKA made the most of the outdoor space by building a 52-foot by 8-foot balcony that is now lined with doors that lead to different interior spaces. “We’ve already made a bid for a nearby house with a kitchen open to the balcony,” Sitkin recalls. “That was the atmosphere I was walking in here.”
The fireplace dividing the dining space from the family room is a reminder of the house’s double history (there was a wall running through the center of the house, effectively dividing it into two dwellings). But the days of visual barriers are over. The architects installed a 14-inch-thick LDL beam in the ceiling so they wouldn’t have to put any pesky beams anywhere. This left them with an open concept kitchen, where a long island with benches is at the heart of the room. “We never use the dining table,” Sitkin notes. Cabinet frames were a budget-friendly option (it’s IKEA!), but when Sitkin spotted the Copenhagen-based repair company, they swapped out the standard door fronts with smoke-stained oak doors and rustic oak.
Above the vanity, an IKEA medicine cabinet is framed by two mirrors to make the piece look more substantial (the attached sconces are vintage Sitkin candlesticks sourced from Etsy). Exaggerating the height of the ledges from 3 feet to 6 feet means they can fit pegs around the top plate for hanging towels.
But Allen not only wanted the basic bathroom to look good, she wanted it to feel like it had a story. “I didn’t want anything in this house to be just job-related,” she explains of her decision to go with a curved, metal-glass shower enclosure and upturned legs. This space got everyone’s seal of approval.