Big-Easy Living in 1000 Square Feet or Less

In New Orleans, a city known for its beautiful architecture and grand mansions, those old and oft-neglected little shotgun houses need love, too.  

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In New Orleans, a city known for its beautiful architecture and grand mansions, those old and oft-neglected little shotgun houses need love too. And lifelong New Orleans resident, designer and expert house flipper Sarah Martzolf is there to deliver it. Here's a sample of her handiwork from the premiere episode of HGTV's Small House, Big Easy. 

Sarah Martzolf in the renovated kitchen of a New Orleans shotgun house

Sarah Martzolf in the renovated kitchen of a New Orleans shotgun house

Meet Sarah Martzolf

Sarah demonstrates her skills with a reciprocating saw as she helps with demolition at the Amelia Street renovation.

Sarah demonstrates her skills with a reciprocating saw as she helps with demolition at the Amelia Street renovation.

Sarah has a place in her heart for shotgun houses. The high-energy real estate and renovation pro, whose history with the Crescent City extends back for several generations, is drawn to these structurally simple and modest houses and finely tuned to their historic role in the city and its culture. Sarah seeks out dilapidated and neglected ones and updates them for modern buyers while retaining as many of their original and historic features as possible. It's a case of cherishing something from of the city's past that's distinctive and unique.

But as a house-flipper, she has pragmatic reasons for liking them as well. For one thing, because of their size and scope, demo and reno can be done quickly. For another, they can be turned around and offered for resale, at a healthy profit, to a particularly receptive pool of buyers. Finally, in aesthetic and design terms, in these diminutive and straightforward structures, it's easier to envision the renovation as a whole. 

The Amelia St. Project

BEFORE

BEFORE

The history these narrow, rectangular little home in New Orleans dates back to the 1830s, and it's theorized that the style may have migrated there from Haiti and West Africa. Many of the ones still standing in New Orleans were built in the early 1900s. Sarah found this sad and distressed house just about five blocks off of St. Charles, the iconic street with some of the city's most stately Southern mansions. The house – hich might easily have been slated for demolition – had fire damage, structural issues, was surrounded by chain link and barbed wire and had sat empty for months. Renovation would require new plumbing, electrical, HVAC, a new roof and essentially a complete interior gut. The house was 950 square feet and Sarah purchased the property for $67,000. She anticipated spending $100,000 or more on the renovation.

AFTER

AFTER

Because of fire damage and structural issues with aged joists and headers, 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 offering a colorful splash against a neutral gray exterior paint. Restored shotgun houses in New Orleans are frequently painted in bold colors that highlight their ornate trim and ornamentation, drawing on island and Caribbean style. Sarah went with a fairly neutral gray background, but did add teal shutters and front door offering a colorful splash and bright white trim and railing.

Small Space, Big Feel

In the pre-renovation floor plan, the living room is followed in order by the bedroom, bath and kitchen.

In the pre-renovation floor plan, the living room is followed in order by the bedroom, bath and kitchen.

Because of their extremely narrow dimension, shotgun houses were traditionally laid out with three to five rooms arranged one behind the other, with doors connecting one room to the next rather than by a central hallway. It's often the case that the kitchen was located in back  since 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 a later addition, built on at the rear of the house – as in this case with the kitchen located behind the bedroom.

The renovated living space and newly relocated kitchen

The renovated living space and newly relocated kitchen

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. Superstar features in the new kitchen and living area are the grand 11-foot ceilings, three-tier upper cabinets with library style ladder and an oversized island that helps create the impression of a larger kitchen.

HGTV First Look: Small House, Big Easy

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Get to know Sarah Martzolf and see the full before-and-after gallery.

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Other highlights of the renovation include an all-new bath with vintage style hex tile as well as and a combination home office/guest-room with a Murphy bed that converts to an integrated desk when the bed is in stored position.

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