HGTV First Look: Small House, Big Easy

In HGTV's series Small Town, Big Easy, New Orleans native Sarah Martzolf restores the small shotgun houses that are as much part of the city's history as the French Quarter and the mansions of the Garden District. Sarah restores these run-down old houses, turning them into updated, comfortable homes while preserving their period features and historic legacy. Get to know Sarah and check out the renovation from the pilot episode. It's more than just a flip, it's a labor of love.

Meet Sarah Martzolf

Sarah Martzolf  is a designer, real-estate agent and New Orleans house-flipper. Her family has lived in the Crescent City for generations, and Sarah has a strong appreciation for the city's history, homes and architecture. 

Meet Sarah Martzolf

Sarah specializes in finding, restoring and flipping the city's small but iconic "shotgun" houses, retaining many of their original features but also updating them with modern amenities and custom accents that make these modest homes feel grand.

Meet Sarah Martzolf

"I try to find run-down shotguns in up-and-coming neighborhoods that I can pick up for less than 100 grand." says Sarah. "The majority of my budget goes into a total renovation. I turn those shotgun houses that everyone wants to buy but no one has the guts to tackle into Big Easy living."

Meet Sarah Martzolf

Sarah scours salvage and antique shops, like this one in the city's French Quarter, for furnishings and additions that will match the period and historic integrity of the homes she restores.

Meet Sarah Martzolf

Sarah says she favors the small shotgun style houses for her renovation projects since, with their smaller scale, it's easier to get a vision for the entire project. Additionally, for the purpose of reselling, there's a larger buyer's pool for small houses.

The Amelia St. Project, BEFORE

This dilapidated and fire-damaged shotgun – just five blocks off of New Orleans' iconic St. Charles Avenue and a major Mardi Gras route – sat abandoned for years. Prior to the renovation the house was surrounded by a damaged chain link fence and barbed wire, and it had no landscaping and zero curb appeal. In its frightful condition it might easily have been deemed a tear-down. The house is 950 square feet and Sarah purchased the property for $67,000. She anticipated investing another $100,000 in renovations. Major costs would include new plumbing, HVAC and electrical as well as new roof and siding.

AFTER

During demo of the interior, fairly extensive fire damage and structural issues were discovered, so the house was essentially reframed and rebuilt from the floors up. On the exterior, a traditional front porch with new stairs and railing is a highlight, as well as a new privacy fence and teal shutters that offer a colorful splash against a neutral gray exterior paint.

BEFORE

Inside the front door was a large living space backed by an awkwardly placed bedroom and a non-functioning kitchen at the very back of the house. Based on conditions discovered during demo, this renovation ended up being essentially a gut job, removing walls and ceilings, and taking the structure down to the bare studs and floors. The interior was reconfigured, bringing the kitchen to the front section of the house.

AFTER

In the renovated space, Sarah took advantage of the grand 11-foot ceilings in creating the open living room and kitchen. For the kitchen, she installed three tiers of upper cabinets, extending almost to the ceiling, and added a library style ladder for reaching the uppermost storage compartments.

BEFORE

The term "shotgun house" originally derives from the simple, oblong layout with two doors – one at the front of the house and one at the rear. So, figuratively at least, it was possible to open the front door and fire a shot that would go all the way through the house and out the back. One reason for the popularity of this style home in New Orleans is that, at one time, the tax levied on properties were based on the house's width. Many measured only 12 feet in width.

AFTER

It's often the case in shotgun houses that the kitchen is located in back. That's because many of the homes are more than a century old, and there was no plumbing and electricity available at the time they were built. Kitchens were often added on later, at the rear. Since, for this renovation, Sarah took this house down to the bare studs and reconfigured the entire space, she opted to move the kitchen forward, integrating it as part of a loft-like living space. 

BEFORE

Concealed underneath the laminate flooring were the original heart-pine wood floors, probably a century or more old, and installed in long 12-foot planks – much longer than today's engineered hardwood floor components. 

AFTER

Laminate and tile flooring was removed and the original pine floors were restored. In the kitchen Sarah installed a large island with quartz countertop and bar seating, and in dimensions that would typically be found in a much larger home. The expansive island provides plenty of prep space and helps create the impression of a larger and more substantial kitchen.

AFTER

Sarah was particularly proud of the green velvet sofa she found for the living room. For the interior design, she deliberately blended coastal touches and natural colors with elements indigenous to New Orleans style.

BEFORE

Prior to the renovation, the main bedroom was awkwardly placed, opening onto the narrow hall that leads to the rear of the house. This space would be converted into a combination office/guest room, and French doors added to make the room more accessible from the main living area.

Guest Bedroom, AFTER

The small room just behind the main living area now doubles as an office and guest room. The integrated desk folds down, revealing a Murphy bed for visiting guests.

Master Bedroom, AFTER

The main bedroom is now at the rear of the house, in the space that previously housed the kitchen, and extends the full width of the house.

Master Bedroom, AFTER

The orginal heart pine floors extend to the bedroom as well. Sarah went with white baseboards and trim, chair rail molding and a neutral gray palette.

Bathroom, AFTER

The newly configured bathroom is accessible from both the master bedroom and guest room and features a combination tub/shower with dark subway tile. Sarah used contrasting palette and black-and-white floor tile in a vintage style.

The Renovation

Sarah and carpenter Justin work on the assembly of the Murphy bed for the new guest room.

The Renovation

The Renovation

Sarah stains and refinishes the antique French doors that she found at a local salvage shop. The doors would be uesed for the transition between the kitchen an guest room.

The Renovation

The Renovation

Sarah is especially pleased with a locally made lantern-style lamp she found that will be ideal for a front porch light.

The Renovation

Sarah and Justin bring in an antique wash-basin table that will be repurposed as a bar cart for use in the new kitchen.

The Renovation

The Renovation

The old porch was in such poor condition that it had to be removed and replaced entirely with an all new porch, columns, stairs and railing.

The Renovation

The Renovation

Sarah and Justin work on the hardware on the vintage French doors.

Cozy Quarters

With the renovations complete, and the house furnished and staged, Sarah prepares for an open house.

High Style

The 11-foot ceilings and high-end kitchen are two dominant features that helped turn this house from a potential tear-down into a highly desirable property. After the purchase price of $67,00 and renovations ultimately totaling around $125,000, Sarah's total investment was around $192,000.  Based on comps, the renovated home was offered and sold $270,000 for a profit close to $78,000.