A full house
If you have ever been to the world’s most sumptuous flea market, the Marché aux Puces in Paris, you know the visual feast it provides. Luxury silks, crystal chandeliers, French antiques, fine porcelains, oil paintings, silver tea urns: All are on display and available (for the right price).
But visitors have the opportunity to experience that opulence on a smaller scale Sunday, April 6, when Roy Dunn and Stephen Sonnier open the doors to their Royal Street home for the annual Bywater Home Tour. The Dunn and Sonnier home is one of seven that will be open for a self-guided tour between noon and 5 p.m.
Proprietors of an eponymous Magazine Street antique store and florist shop, the partners have been collecting furnishings for their home for more than 20 years, even before the renovation of the once-derelict house was complete.
“When we bought the house is 1996, it was boarded up and in worse condition than we thought,” said Sonnier. “It took such a complete renovation to get it to this point that we sometimes say that only original things in it are the windows and their casings.”
Although the house looks like a hipped roof double shotgun converted to a single, a photograph from 1927 indicates that it was always occupied as a single family residence.
“The Ackermanns owned the house until then, and we connected with their great-grandson after we bought it from the second owners, the Hermans,” Sonnier said. “He gave us old photos, and one of them shows Alfred Emile Ackerman, a son who is said to have drowned in the (Industrial) Canal and to have been waked in this house.” Visitors often report seeing a figure on the front porch, peering through the windows, but the vision vanishes when someone goes to check.
The house is arranged with three public rooms on the left-hand side and three private rooms on the right. In the course of the renovation, the Dunn and Sonnier removed walls on the left side separating the rooms, resulting in a single long space punctuated by mantels and an archway between what had been the first and second rooms. A guest room, bath, and master suite occupy the right side. The den and library stretches across the full width of the house beyond the public spaces.
“It’s where we spend most of our time,” said Dunn.
The den and library connect to kitchen, where an island and breakfast table supply options for casual dining.
“The kitchen was once a separate building from the house,” said Sonnier. ”There was an open space, maybe a sleeping porch, between the house and the kitchen building and it was closed in to create the den long before we bought the house.”
The parlors, dining room, den, and library are so filled with elegant antiques and artwork that it would be impossible to take everything in on a single visit. The front parlor features a crystal chandelier that the partners bought in the Paris flea market on one of their many trips, both for pleasure and to purchase goods for their store. Fortuny window treatments (rescued from a dumpster post-Katrina) frame the long windows and puddle richly on the floor.
Bergeres, settees, and other forms of seating are covered in Aubusson tapestry, silks, velvets, and every other luxe fabric imaginable, all in muted shades so that the rooms tie together visually. Chests, china closets (one holding two cache pots in Marie Antoinette’s china pattern), sideboards, and consoles hold mercury-glass lamps, silver candlesticks, and small objets d’art. Dramatic art work covers the walls: A huge painting of a man in a red robe, a small landscape, and everything in between.
“Stephen likes landscapes and I like portraits, so we have plenty of each,” Dunn said.
When Dunn finds a new piece of art (or a lamp or vase or piece of furniture) that he must have, he brings it home and makes a place for it. Remarkably, despite the surfeit of goods and collectibles, everything has a spot and nothing is haphazardly installed or exhibited.
One of the biggest surprises in the house isn’t inside at all, but in the back yard. In 2000, the trash-filled lot behind the Dunn and Sonnier house went up for sale and the couple snapped it up. They cleared away the cement rubble, weeds, and debris to create a deep garden, complete with a Koi pond, a fenced vegetable and herb garden, and an expansive chicken yard and coop for “the girls” (hens of various breeds who yield a dozen eggs a day). The back yard is a playground for Coco and Envie, the French bulldogs who also call the property home.
And if the garden and pond and vegetables and herbs and chickens and dogs aren’t enough, Dunn and Sonnier also keep bees.
“We’re really lucky to be able to have so much space in the house and yard, because Roy keeps bringing things home but never parts with anything,” Sonnier joked.
But Dunn is resolute: “I can always find a place for something I really love.”