Bayou Beauty: A Southern Cottage Home

A little love and tenderness—and a lot of hard work—turn a dilapidated Creole cottage into a soulful, sustainable retreat.

| March/April 2007

  • Madeleine and Mark created a getaway from the summer sun by putting glass around the north porch of the addition. For ventilation, the small, lower panes open outward, awning style. Screens keep the bugs away.
    Philip Gould
  • Buster loves to loll on the porch in summer, where breezes play and the deep roof blocks intense sunlight.
    Philip Gould
  • The new (but old-looking) addition houses the kitchen and dining areas, which feature a working fireplace, including a baking oven on the right, a crane holding a cookpot over the fire and a potager on the left.
    Philip Gould
  • As visitors approach Maison Madeleine, they leave their cars behind and enter another world. The sounds of nature abound.
    Philip Gould
  • The kitchen porch leads to the garden for easy access to culinary herbs—or for daydreaming in the swing.
    Philip Gould
  • This replica of an 18th-century outbuilding, called a magazin, was made from salvaged cypress boards and houses the well pump.
    Philip Gould
  • Bousillage was left unplastered on the glassed-in porch.
    Philip Gould
  • The interior brick walls were disassembled for moving, reassembled on site, and plastered for an authentic look and feel.
    Philip Gould
  • Based on a historic model, the herb-garden border is made from used wine bottles.
    Philip Gould
  • The kitchen hearth includes this potager, what the French call a masonry stove fitted with small chambers that hold charcoal for simmering pots.
    Philip Gould
  • Careful attention to detail—and a good antique search—gives the new kitchen the look of a 1950s remodel in a 19th-century cottage.
    Philip Gould
  • Madeleine loves waking up in her antique four-poster bed with the sunlight streaming through windows that overlook her lush gardens.
    Philip Gould
  • Madeleine Cenac and her crew lovingly restored the original parlor of this 19th-century cottage. The wood floor and ceiling are original, the plaster walls were authentically replicated, and the color scheme is true to the original.
    Philip Gould
  • Relaxing on the kitchen porch of Maison Madeleine recalls a bygone era of simplicity.
    Philip Gould
  • Madeleine and Mark relax on the porch with architect Edward Cazayoux.
    Philip Gould
  • An old-fashioned hand pump makes well water accessible even during a power outage. Meanwhile, it's handy for gardening.
    Philip Gould

When Madeleine Cenac looks out her bedroom window each morning, the view into the garden fills her with joy. Throughout the day, she’s surrounded by earthen walls, charming vistas and beautiful antiques—all the result of careful, detailed planning aimed at creating her dream home. At the end of the day, she relaxes on the porch while gazing at the nearby lake through a grove of trees. “The entire house is a record of good decisions,” Madeleine says. “We really thought everything out.”

The house, Maison Madeleine, began its life centuries ago and miles away from where it now resides in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Its rescue from a dilapidated state was a full-time labor of love.

“I really wanted a sense of place for my children to come home to—to feel,” Madeleine says. “I wanted a place that would give them roots, solidity and a sense of history.” She already owned a piece of property near Lake Martin, where a rookery attracts thousands of birds each spring. Because of her love for antiques and old things, she wanted to find a historic house that she could move onto her land to restore.

Madeleine and her partner Mark de Basile hit the jackpot when they found a small cottage built during the 1800s in the Acadian style, which blends native American and French colonial influences. No one had inhabited the deteriorated structure since the 1920s. “The house was virginal,” she says. “It had never had electricity; we were the first to turn on a light bulb there. It never had indoor plumbing. It had only been painted twice. But it was easy to see it had good bones.”



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.) Interior walls were filled in with brick. The interior was finished with plaster, and lap siding protected the exterior. In accordance with the French style, a brick fireplace anchored the middle of the house, open to rooms on both sides.

In short, the cottage was a classic example of vernacular building, using indigenous building materials and techniques to keep its occupants naturally cool in southern Louisiana’s hot, humid weather. “These houses were built for the climate, so you’re not starting from scratch and trying to figure out what works,” architect Edward Cazayoux says. “It was area-appropriate, sustainable architecture to begin with. The challenge was to maintain the house’s historic charm and energy efficiency while updating it for 21st-century living.”



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