New Orleans designer creates modern Roman villa inside a mid-century ranch

Visit this and 7 other stunning homes in New Orleans’ historic Garden District and Lower Garden District at the Holiday Home Tour on Dec. 14 and 15.

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1709 Coliseum Street
Home of Fritz Westenberger & TQ Sims

To create his vision of a modern Roman villa, interior designer Fritz Westenberger found inspiration in existing exterior elements of the Coliseum Street home he shares with TQ Sims. “Because the house had the Italianate front, and it’s on a street called Coliseum, I made everything feel as Roman as I could,” Westenberger said.

The single-story house dates to 1954, one of several brick ranches built on empty lots in the area as models for homes being constructed in the suburbs, Westenberger said. Only two remain — this house and one at 1464 Camp St., which sits almost completely unchanged on the other side of Coliseum Square Park.

In the 1970s, the second owners of 1709 Coliseum St. covered the exterior in stucco and added Italianate details, including pilasters on the sides of the entry vestibule and molded trim above the original nine-over-nine windows. Most noticeable is the balustrade along the front façade’s roof line and the dentil band below the curved cornice.

Drawn to the house’s size — then one bedroom and one-and-a-half bathrooms — and its location overlooking the park, Westenberger and Sims purchased it in January 2013. They immediately got to work to change traditional finishes. “There wasn’t a single wall in the house with paint. It was all either wallpaper or floor-to-ceiling mirrors,” Westenberger said. “We thought we could tear it down ourselves and paint. We started peeling, and there was black mold everywhere.”

What began as cosmetic changes turned into a full-scale mold remediation and complete gut renovation of the interior, done by Cain Construction and Designs. “I probably replaced half of the existing studs because they were too far gone. … Then I had to put it all back together,” he said. “In the process, it allowed me to do some interior architecture changes, which it needed. I modernized it.”

Photos by Liz Jurey

Changes included opening up the 9.5-foot walls separating the living room from the connected kitchen and dining space, which had been a den. A single door was replaced by a large corner opening flanked by decorative laser-cut metal screens. They are powder-coated in the same pale gray color as the surrounding kitchen and dining walls.

Woodworker Greg Gaspard created and installed custom incised baseboards — painted a rich gray — throughout the main living spaces. New oak flooring features a custom grayish-brown stain to play off the custom gray wall color, mixed from three different companies’ paints.

While the layout of the half-bathroom, bedroom and bathroom remained the same, finishes were updated. The half-bathroom features honed slate-covered walls, a metal mesh curtain dividing the vanity and toilet, and a hanging brass oil lamp.

The kitchen’s footprint also remained virtually the same , yet it was updated with cabinets from Nordic Kitchens and Bianco Rhino marble countertops. Fun touches come through in the cork-and-steel counter stools and the tableau of Seletti’s Palace tableware and other porcelain pieces from the Italian design brand.

Leftover marble from the kitchen was used for the living room coffee table, which Westenberger calls the Farnsworth table. (Its design was inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House.) The room also features modern furnishings and artwork. There’s a piece by Walton Ford, an American painter known for his large-scale precise illustrations of animals, as well as a colored-pencil piece by Chicago artist Elijah Burgher. A Dan Cohen piece hangs on the living room’s far wall.

Commanding one corner of the room is the steel stand Westenberger designed for a sculpture by artist Kehinde Wiley, who painted former President Barak Obama’s official portrait. “That’s a piece that’s near and dear to me because I bought it when he was unknown,” Westenberger said.

Photos by Liz Jurey

The living room’s ceiling features small recessed lights laid out in the shape of Aries, Westenberger’s Zodiac sign. The shape of Sims’ sign — Capricorn — was drilled into the top of the white oak and steel dining table. A large circular chandelier from ABC Carpet & Home hangs above it.

In 2014, the couple added a master wing “to allow us to have a guest room,” Westenberger said. The 650-square-foot addition is accessed from the dining room via a bronzed mirror door to the left of an overscale image of the moon, taken from the Apollo 11 space mission. Westenberger designed a matching faux door to the right of the image to balance the wall when the master wing’s door is closed.

The wing features a built-in bedframe, headboard and nightstands made of honed slate. A large picture window looks out to the backyard pool and surrounding travertine patio installed to continue the Roman villa aesthetic.

One end contains an office and yoga practice space with built-in shelving and a niche. A curtain, hung on a track that tucks into a partial wall, divides it from the bedroom. On the wing’s other end, curtains hide the built-in California Closets that connect to the master bathroom. “I didn’t want doors. I wanted everything to be really open but still have the ability to have some privacy,” Westenberger said.

The bathroom was designed to feel like a years-old Roman bath, with Calcutta Gold marble walls and a sunken tub that makes the space feel bigger. Westenberger selected budget marble floor tiles because “I wanted a really-lived look to the room,” he said.

The home’s design elements come together to create a contemporary yet cozy retreat. “I like the idea of helping people understand modern architecture by showing them it can still be a really inviting and warm space,” Westenberger said.


Image Gallery

Photos by Liz Jurey

Holiday Home Tour presented by McEnery Residential

Saturday & Sunday, Dec. 14 & 15 in the Garden District and Lower Garden District
Advance sale tickets: $30 for PRC members, $45 for non-members. $50 on day of tour.
Buy your tickets today!