Visit this and 6 other stunning homes in New Orleans’ historic Garden District and Lower Garden District at the Holiday Home Tour on Dec. 8 and 9.
1221 Orange Street • Jimmy & Vicki Lee
Usually, Champagne corks aren’t popped until a renovation is complete. For neighbors in the Lower Garden District, the arrival of Jimmy and Vicki Lee to the neighborhood was cause for celebration. The couple bought the house at 1221 Orange St. in 2010. After years of neglect, the Greek Revival mansion would finally be restored.
Built as a country house in 1852, the antebellum property has a rich and storied past. In 1859, it was sold to New Orleans businessman Lloyd Coleman, and it remained in his family for a lively and tumultuous 145 years. From its Civil War occupation by Union Army officers to its prominent role in the controversial 1979 film “Pretty Baby,” the house has been a backdrop to the city’s cultural history. Once known as “one of the most haunted houses in New Orleans,” over the decades, it played host to decadent parties, from debutante balls to days-long dinners.
By 2010, though, its precipitous decline was matched only by its potential for an architectural resurrection. Enter the Lees — and their secret weapon. “If I had one piece of advice for anyone restoring a 19th-century home in New Orleans, it would be this: hire a contractor that specializes in historic restorations,” Jimmy Lee said.
M. Carbine Restorations, one of the city’s leading contractors, immediately saw the house’s potential. His team of sub-contractors, painters, electricians, plumbers and more swarmed the property, creating a fully up-to-date home within the 1850s framework. The project was completed, remarkably in the span of a single year.
Salvageable elements were reintegrated into the new space. An original floor-to-ceiling pier mirror and striking gasoliers anchor the house’s downstairs living space. In what was once the servants’ quarters, the guest bedroom features 19th-century original brickwork and beams. The transom window that once divided the open double parlor now hangs in the central kitchen, and innumerable windows, doors and decorative elements were reconfigured for the home. “We reclaimed everything that we could,” Jimmy Lee said.
The house is now filled with artwork that spans the centuries, helping to tell its story, said Vicki Lee, an accomplished painter. Severe portraits of the original owners, Lloyd and Betty Coleman, cast a protective eye over the first floor; upstairs, the Colemans’ granddaughter Browning’s sultry gaze embodies the privilege and mystery of a New Orleans socialite in the 1920s.
A wall-size mural of a 21st-century Magazine Street streetscape hangs in the open landing; it is a collaborative piece by painters from the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art, including Vicki Lee. On the grounds, a newly constructed, free standing art studio allows her to work from home and blends seamlessly with the surroundings.
Today, 1221 Orange St. stands as a testament to the passion that New Orleanians have for historic restoration and how the architecture is inextricably woven into the city’s history.
“With this restoration, we wanted to be able to tell the story not only of this house but a bit of New Orleans itself,” Jimmy Lee said.
Photos by Sara Essex Bradley
Saturday & Sunday, Dec. 8 & 9 in the Garden District and Lower Garden District
Advance sale tickets: $30 for PRC members, $45 for non-members. $50 on day of tour.