Oz Sullivan’s House

The following piece originally appeared in St. Charles at Dusk. Despite the vivid descriptions and colorful setting, Sarah decided it fit better as bonus content, rather than a part of the novel.

So, in Oz’s voice, here is his description of his cottage on Seventh and Coliseum, in the Garden District of New Orleans:

Claiborne Cottage, an example of a center-hall style cottage in the Garden District

My home since finishing my undergraduate studies had been a raised center-hall cottage where Seventh Street met Coliseum in the palatial Garden District. It was a style that embodied the Uptown influence on the Creole cottage of the Vieux Carré, notably the showiness and high style of architecture that exemplified the Americans of antebellum New Orleans. It was built in 1853, presumably for the daughter of a wealthy Mississippi governor as a wedding present and had seen seven owners since, myself included. Although seemingly modest when one considered my Garden District neighbors, the richly painted Greek Revivals or Italianate townhouses of the Garden District, it was nevertheless both graceful and assuming.

One and a half-stories, the house was raised about three feet from the ground, supported by strong brick piers. It remained its original color, the color of a flesh white peach before it has ripened. A full-width front gallery graced the front, framed by six Corinthian columns that supported an ornate entablature. Five ceiling-to-floor olive green shuttered windows spanned the iron-wrought gallery, with a long French front door in the middle. A curved side-gallery was added in 1860, sitting off of the master bedroom and facing riverside.

Inside the front door was a broad central hall that led to the back of the house and the staircase that went to the attic, which really wasn’t an attic but actually habitable living space that housed two modest-sized bedrooms and a full bathroom. The larger room I made into my office. The other, smaller room served as a storage area for mementos from my college days and childhood past.

The downstairs was entirely different. Five large, gracious rooms down there, each with twelve-foot cove ceilings, ornate plasterwork, and elaborate moldings throughout. On all sides of the house stood the same ceiling-to-floor windows that were found on the front gallery, rendering the house in a perpetual bright and airy aura.

To the left of the central hall, just inside the front door, was the sitting room with the dining room just across the hall on the other side. Original period-pieces decorated both rooms, mostly obtained from the antique dealers that lined Magazine Street, including a Rococo parlor table that I paid more than I probably should have for.  Others came from my family’s own collection.

The name “sitting room” was understated; it happened to be the biggest room in the cottage. In it was my personal library with books I had collected over the years filling the six ceiling-to-floor Queen Anne bookshelves, many first editions and out-of-print or limited edition press. I made a point to visit the Garden District Bookshop on Washington and Prytania at least twice a month for new additions. Especially of interest to me were Southern writers, both past and present. This is where I kept the books I had hidden away in my youth, books like Julius Caesar’s The Conquest of Gaul and Civil War. Aside from my historical pieces, I also collected works by local authors.

Also in the sitting room were just a few of the many canvasses of my ancestors that my family owned. One of the advantages to a family remaining in the same area for years was that the family heirlooms were not lost in moves. Beautiful paintings they all were, most done locally but some commissioned overseas, the majority of them hanging in my parents’ house on Prytania. My mother bestowed a collection of pre-war renderings to me just after they purchased this house for me. They hung side-by-side over the marble fireplace.

The first, and oldest, was of Aidan O’Súilleabháin Sr., the patriarch who had brought my family from Ireland in the late 1830’s. His wife, second cousin Áine Kavanagh, hung by his side. The third in the trio was of his son, Liam, who was the only surviving Sullivan male in New Orleans when the city was captured by the Union.

The kitchen was just behind the dining room and I had shamefully modernized it. Gone were the antique cabinets and the porcelain sink. It was a stainless steel work of art, this room, right down to the diamond backsplash and the cold, lifeless, steel refrigerator that could house enough food for a third world country.

At the back of house past the stairs were two cabinets, or small service rooms, if one could call them that, that housed various and sundry pantry items as well as access to the serviceable areas of the house for plumbing, electrical, and so on.

My bedroom, the master bedroom, was the last room in the house. It was easily as large as the sitting room, and was the only room with a skylight, made of hand-crafted stained glass. My bed was an old oak rolling-pin style, passed down through the years from my second-great-grandmother Claire Sullivan from child to child. A set of double French doors opened up to the curved side gallery and to the lush and beautiful gardens that surrounded the house and filled it with the rich and fragrant scents of the magnolias and Bird of Paradise.

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