Before & After: A New Orleans Midcentury Undergoes a 20-Year Makeover
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Before & After: A New Orleans Midcentury Undergoes a 20-Year Makeover

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By Kelly Dawson
Architect Wayne Troyer of studioWTA has dedicated some two decades to sprucing up this midcentury ranch house in the Lower Garden District.

"The most important thing I learned was patience," Wayne Troyer, the design director at studioWTA, says when he thinks back on the work that’s been done on his midcentury ranch house in the historic Lower Garden District of New Orleans. 

It’s an apt description of his mindset over the last 20 or so years, which is how long he’s been transforming the property from its initial shag-carpet state into its current modern aesthetic. But while the patience to reimagine this property has been a continual exercise, the process of claiming it was almost instantaneous.

Before: Exterior

Before: "The house was a well-maintained California ranch house built in 1952 with no improvement or additions in 40 years," says Troyer.

Before: "The house was a well-maintained California ranch house built in 1952 with no improvement or additions in 40 years," says Troyer.

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After: Exterior

"The wood exterior was selected to make the house blend in with the landscape," Troyer says. "I wanted something that didn’t require painting and aged in a way that would provide a degree of richness. " He envisioned a garden that better surrounded the home, and a more modern exterior. He used ash wood slates of various dimensions from Thermory USA, which were heat-treated for a more sustainable finish.

"The wood exterior was selected to make the house blend in with the landscape," Troyer says. "I wanted something that didn’t require painting and aged in a way that would provide a degree of richness. " He envisioned a garden that better surrounded the home, and a more modern exterior. He used ash wood slates of various dimensions from Thermory USA, which were heat-treated for a more sustainable finish.

Troyer remembers that he was originally looking to buy a home with friends who desired a historic property. They found this home, which belongs to a mostly 19th-century neighborhood, but it had only stood since 1952. In other words, it was experienced, but not exactly historic.

"No one was interested in a ranch house in a historic neighborhood, especially on a street that was comprised of 1860s- to 1890s-era homes," Troyer says. "It was a for sale by owner and on the market for a long time." 

He looked around anyway, and noticed that the house had been well maintained, even if its features hadn’t been changed in 40 years. Troyer was intrigued by the idea of working on a home for himself and his wife, especially one that felt like a worthwhile secret amid the more predictable, long-standing homes in the area.

Before: Entrance

Before: The original entrance to the home was traditional—Troyer envisioned something that would better connect it to a surrounding garden.

Before: The original entrance to the home was traditional—Troyer envisioned something that would better connect it to a surrounding garden.

After: Entrance

"Except for the addition of an attached bike storage area, the existing foundation was maintained," Troyer says. He is continuing to work on landscaping, and wants the hardscape to be completed this year.

"Except for the addition of an attached bike storage area, the existing foundation was maintained," Troyer says. He is continuing to work on landscaping, and wants the hardscape to be completed this year.

"I saw the house as an opportunity to explore different ideas about contemporary design in historic neighborhoods, especially one that is part of a registered and controlled historic district," he says. "Since most residential lots in New Orleans are 30 feet by 110 feet, there was an instant appeal to a lot that was 90 feet by 90 feet, because I have always been drawn to the idea of a house within a garden."

Before: Garage

Before: This older photo of the property shows where the original garage was located, which was converted into the kitchen during the renovation.

Before: This older photo of the property shows where the original garage was located, which was converted into the kitchen during the renovation.

After: Kitchen and Dining Area

"Although the kitchen and dining room have distinct volumes, they are essentially connected to each other though the use of a full opening that shares the same ceiling height,"  he notes. 

"Although the kitchen and dining room have distinct volumes, they are essentially connected to each other though the use of a full opening that shares the same ceiling height," he notes. 

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"It was important that the kitchen was open for both entertaining and for daily use. The cook top is in the island so the cook and the food is the focus of the conversation," Troyer says.

"It was important that the kitchen was open for both entertaining and for daily use. The cook top is in the island so the cook and the food is the focus of the conversation," Troyer says.

The open kitchen was converted from the original garage, and carries the wood pattern from the exterior inside with the accented ceiling.

The open kitchen was converted from the original garage, and carries the wood pattern from the exterior inside with the accented ceiling.

So Troyer took the home as his own, and set about updating it in a series of phases. A guest studio was completed in 2013, and the exterior and kitchen was wrapped up last year. He has plans to work on the hardscape this year, as well as a roof deck. But as of right now, the 2,000-square-foot property—which has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a study, and that separate guest studio—is exactly what Troyer had in mind. Perhaps that’s because he gave himself permission to take things slowly.

"I established goals that were focused on how natural light moved through the interiors, the texture of individual materials, interior flow and function, and always the connection to the garden," he says.

"The house was already modern, so revisioning it as a traditional New Orleans house would have required tearing it down," Troyer says. "The eight-foot ceiling height of a typical ranch house can not be easily changed to 11- or 12-foot ceilings, which are typical for historic housing." In the new living area, screen doors showcase the garden. 

"The house was already modern, so revisioning it as a traditional New Orleans house would have required tearing it down," Troyer says. "The eight-foot ceiling height of a typical ranch house can not be easily changed to 11- or 12-foot ceilings, which are typical for historic housing." In the new living area, screen doors showcase the garden. 

Related Reading: A Midcentury Wrapped Around an Oak Tree Turns Over a New Leaf

Project Details: 

Architect of Record: studioWTA / @studiowta

Builder: Delta Tech, Sandra Tomasetti

Structural Engineer: Ashton Avegno