Restoring Your Home After a Natural Disaster

When Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of this New Orleans family’s home, they got to work rebuilding and redecorating, room by room. HGTV Magazine takes you through the before-and-after photos.
By: Alyse Harral Stevens

Photo By: David A. Land

Photo By: David A. Land

Photo By: David A. Land

Photo By: David A. Land

Photo By: David A. Land

Photo By: David A. Land

Photo By: David A. Land

Photo By: David A. Land

Photo By: David A. Land

Photo By: David A. Land

Photo By: David A. Land

Photo By: David A. Land

Photo By: David A. Land

Preparing for the Worst

Two days before Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, Sam and Jeff Burkhardt (an elementary school tutor and owner of a security consulting company, respectively) grabbed stacks of family pictures, some sentimental pieces of art, and a hard drive filled with digital memories, then fled with their then 11-year-old son, Johnston, (and Shih Tzu Rex) to a friend's house five hours away. They had no idea how their home had fared through the storm until they were permitted to return two weeks later.

Back and Better Than Ever

"It was pretty much what we’d feared," Sam recalls. The house was still standing, "but inside there was nothing but mildewed furniture and furry white mold growing everywhere." The big question: Was their home, badly in need of repairs that flood insurance wouldn’t fully cover, worth saving? The family decided it was, then got to work sifting through rubble, hauling destroyed furniture to the curb and having the mold sandblasted. Two years later they moved back home, only the second family on their block to return, feeling lucky to be alive and fortunate to be able to start over.

Before: Outside

Flooding from Hurricane Katrina rose 11 feet in the Burkhardts’ neighborhood, causing destruction to their home, which was built more than 80 years ago.

After: Outside

Remarkably, the outside of the house needed nothing more than a fresh coat of paint, some shutters and new brick pavers for the steps. The yard was another story: Even two years after Katrina, "everything was dead and gray," says Sam. They replaced the grass, planted new oak trees and lined the house with boxwood hedges. It's a family tradition to paint the front door a new color every year, so after the storm, they kept up the ritual and made it vibrant green (Paradise Green by Benjamin Moore).

Before: Entryway and Front Room

Floodwater settled inside the house, which ruined the floors and caused mold to grow on the walls, but the family tried to find a silver lining. "So many people in our neighborhood had to sell their homes,” says Sam. “We tried to be optimistic about starting from scratch."

After: Entryway and Front Room

The new entryway is airier and less formal than its pre-Katrina self, with white IKEA slipcovered chairs that are easy to clean (in the wash, with bleach) and pale blue Roman shades that match the interior color of the front door (Sleepy Blue by Sherwin-Williams). The rug, lamp and round side table are from antiques shops in the French Quarter. Since their floors were destroyed by the hurricane, the Burkhardts put in new flooring made with wood salvaged from local homes that were condemned.

Dining Room

The painted wood table and 200-year-old French cane chairs are some of the only surviving furniture from the home's first floor. The chairs were found floating inside the house; the table was heavy enough that it stayed put. Jeff bleached and sanded the chair frames, but instead of repairing them fully, he left some of the caning frayed. "They tell a story," says Sam. The crystal chandelier was salvaged from a house in the Ninth Ward that was torn down after the hurricane. The fixture was restored at an antiques shop.

Before: Kitchen

The storm left the spacious kitchen unusable. The refrigerator was found leaning on its side, but despite the damage, the family is still attached to the space. "We want this to be our forever home," say Sam. "We have so many good memories here."

After: Kitchen

Nothing in the kitchen was salvageable, so the family gutted and redid the space with hardwood floors, Carrara marble counters and new white cabinets — plus French doors where a wall used to be. Mirrored cabinet fronts inspired by French doors at the local Omni Royal Orleans Hotel bounce light around the room. The Plexiglas stools from brickellcollection.com have velvet cushions that Jeff sewed himself.

Sunroom

The sunroom previously had splashes of pink, and Sam wanted to revive the look. “The house was always bright and sunny,” she says. “We were set on bringing that back.” She painted the floral rose canvas above the Pottery Barn sofa and added hot-pink pillows across the couch and the window seat, which lifts up for extra storage. Jeff built this window seat and four others in different spots around the house. "I’ve always loved window seats — it’s so nice to read or sit and have drinks with someone in a sunny spot," says Sam. The scrolly light fixture is from Renaissance Interiors, a local consignment shop.

Master Bedroom

The floodwater never reached the second floor, so the Burkhardts’ master bedroom — and all of the furniture in it — was one of the spaces spared. They decided to add painted beadboard paneling (Pure White by Benjamin Moore) to the plaster wall, which had cracked before the storm. The wood headboard, side tables, mirror and bench are all from a local antiques store.

Before: Backyard

Since the hurricane took out the oak trees the family couldn’t bring themselves to cut down, they seized the opportunity to build something they’ve always wanted: a pool.

After: Backyard

They added a 20-foot-by-40-foot blue tile and white plaster pool, even though some designers didn't think their yard was big enough for it. "Everyone told us not to use the white plaster, and not to let the grass go right up to the edge, but we went with what we loved," says Jeff. He designed the cabana-style pool house and had it built with reinforced concrete-Styrofoam blocks, which means it's energy efficient and can withstand strong storms.