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Throwback Thursday: A Romantic French-Southern Cottage

10/19/2011 5:00:09 PM

Tags: vernacular building, French building techniques, local building techniques, Southern vernacular building, historical restoration, Jessica Kellner

It's time again for Throwback Thursday! This week, I'm revisiting one of my favorite past houses: Maison Madeleine in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. The story of this home is fascinating. It's an 1800s cottage that the owner purchased and moved to her Louisiana land in hopes of creating a sense of place and home for herself and her children. One of the reasons I love it so much is because it's a perfect example of vernacular architecture, which is a subject that fascinates me. Not long ago, all homes were built with a deep consideration for the climate and site. We didn't have air-conditioning back then, and the long, thin homes common to the South kept breezes moving in the hot summers. Those romantic big, Southern porches weren't just there for looks or for sitting and sipping a glass of sweet tea on an August afternoon—they also shielded homes' interiors from the summer rays.

This home, to me, is particularly fascinating because the owner went to such great lengths to preserve and honor her home's history. It had served as a hay barn for its previous owners for several years, so much care had to go into cleaning it out and restoring it to be suitable to live in. It was then painstakingly disassembled, moved and reassembled, the 1800s windows, shutters and plaster restored. Even in the addition to the small cottage, Madeleine honored the past, creating a separate building to house the kitchen (also a classic Southern heat-management technique).

I also love the fact that all the terms associated with the building of this home are French, but they're also all reliant on whatever local materials were available. It shows how, in the past, historical building styles were brought to this country and adapted for our climates and available building materials:

The house’s structure was a heavy timber frame called colombage, with strong, simple mortise-and-tenon joints. Exterior walls were filled in with bousillage, a type of wattle-and-daub made with local mud and cured Spanish moss. (Wattle-and-daub is a construction technique in which a woven latticework of wooden stakes is covered with a clay- or mud-based mixture to form a wall.)

For me, the combination of Old World building techniques and traditional Southern vernacular design lead to an ultra-romantic cottage, one that seems as if it would transport its inhabitants to a simpler time.

Maison Exterior

Maison Porch 

Maison Kitchen 



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