Historic Retreats: Audubon Cottages in New Orleans

A collection of charming cottages echoes the French Quarter’s blend of history and culture.

The private, shady courtyard provides a quiet respite from the French Quarter. (Photos: Courtesy of Audubon Cottages)

In New Orleans’ French Quarter, hidden behind a locked door along Dauphine Street, seven 18th-century French Creole cottages set in private courtyards are shrouded by flowering ginger, wide-leaf banana trees, and soothing water gardens.

The Audubon Cottages take their name from John James Audubon, who stayed for two months in Cottage 1 and spent time in his art studio in Cottage 7 across the courtyard. A meticulous restoration completed in late spring 2012 dealt with problems such as water infiltration and insect damage, caused by poor or minimal repairs by prior owners.

“They were gutted down to the original framing, consisting of wood beams that were used from scuttled barges that came down the river in the late 1700s,” says managing partner Joseph Jaeger. “There was no way to get those beams back up the river, so most were used for buildings.”

The restoration maintained the cottages’ brick façades and charming shutters.

There are exposed beams in almost all of the cottages; many of the doors and most of the windows are also original. Exterior walls, as well as interior plaster walls and brick walls made from the local St. Joe Brick Company, were saved and restored. The cottages, courtyards, and pool area are all in their original configurations, which provides an insulated buffer to the nearby French Quarter revelry.

The restoration took 18 months to complete and was done in accordance with the New Orleans Vieux Carre Commission (VCC) guidelines and the Department of the Interior’s historic restoration guidelines. “The VCC guidelines govern exterior renovations only and include colors, shutter styles and materials, doors and windows, landscaping, courtyards and pool,” Jaeger explains, adding that the main objective of the restoration was to preserve the cottages with minimal cosmetic changes. “Additionally, new materials introduced were taken, whenever possible, from like materials of like age and style.”

Ninety-five percent of the cottage roofs still have their original slate. The minimal manmade slate scattered among the original material was replaced with natural slate. Copper gutters and downspouts were repaired and restored, and some replaced.

Original beams and brick walls are highlighted in Cottage 1, which was home to John James Audubon for two months.

Jaeger designed the entire project with attention to minute details. The bathrooms are done in a porcelain tile from Spain, with added touches that include large-print bath products, water-free bathroom shelving, and placement of the shower faucet near the entrance to the shower.

Much of the cottage furniture was reused and augmented with original antique pieces and a few reproductions from the owner’s collection. Jaeger’s wife, Becky, mastered the cottage’s design and décor, taking inspiration from the French Quarter’s blend of unique cultures and history with a mix of French, Victorian, Georgian, and Colonial American pieces.

In the two-story Cottage 4, a bedroom opens up to a balcony overlooking the courtyard.

“Where else but the French Quarter can you find a five-star restaurant next door to a hole-in-the-wall dive and have them blend so beautifully?” Becky points out. “We tried to incorporate that kind of blend in the cottages—antiques, vintage lighting, and modern conveniences to ensure that each cottage delivers that same eclectic feeling.”

Each cottage has its own personality—some formal, some casual, some romantic. In Cottage 1, a stained ceiling and exposed brick and beams are augmented by warm wood tones and a coffee table made from a former railroad freight cart. Cottage 2 boasts high ceilings and plastered walls calling for a more formal effect. Two large framed portraits hang above a long leather sofa under the glow of a crystal chandelier. Most cottages have two bedrooms, each with their own private bathroom and comfortable living area.

The courtyard’s saltwater pool was installed in the 1920s.

The pool, converted from chlorine to saltwater, dates to the 1920s and is reportedly the oldest pool in the French Quarter. With rustic brick, tropical gardens, and vintage architecture, the Audubon Cottages bring to mind a secluded chalet along a European countryside. To complete the charmed ambiance, guests enjoy the services of their own private butler. The adage “Your wish is my command” rings true in this unique hotel that only New Orleans can deliver.

Find a room here.

Tags: Deborah Burst historic hotels New Orleans OHJ February 2015 Old-House Journal

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