It’s A Baton Rouge Thing: An artist revives a historic cottage in Baton Rouge’s Garden District

Helen Bolin remembers as a child growing up in the Southdowns area of Baton Rouge always wanting to live in the Garden District someday. Her wish came true about 10 years ago when she purchased a lovely historic cottage on Myrtle Street.

Built by a doctor in 1931 and listed on the historic registry, the handsome 1,500-square-foot cottage was one of the later homes built during the development of Roseland Terrace. Baton Rouge’s first subdivision and the oldest section of the Garden District, Roseland Terrace was developed from 1911 to around 1930 on the site of a rural race track. At the time, the most expensive lot cost $500.

When Bolin began renovating in 1996, she wanted to keep as many of the structure’s original elements as possible. She experienced the thrill of uncovering architectural arches and finding old transoms in the attic.

Bolin chose to keep the classic cottage layout of the rooms. As a professional interior decorator, she believes the trend of the last few decades emphasizing open floor plans is on the way out. “I don’t like cooking in the living room.” Bolin says, “I like the spaces defined by walls.”

Also an artist specializing in acrylic abstracts, Bolin decorated her home with a focus on art. Some of the paintings adding color to Bolin’s rooms are her own, but many other Louisiana artists are represented as well. Even the lamps and chandeliers are art objects. As she chose wall colors, Bolin kept the palette basic and neutral so that each piece in her collection stands out.

Instead of a headboard above her bed, Bolin hung two paintings of fish. “I just love fish,” says Bolin. “It’s a Baton Rouge thing.” Since she has no interest in actually fishing or other similar sports, Bolin muses that fish might catch her eye because they represent the local culture or maybe because they suggest the serenity of water. “But it is true,” she says. “There seem to be an unusual number of fish paintings in Baton Rouge homes.”

When she started work on the old servants quarters, a detached building behind the cottage, Bolin decided to leave the beaded board walls in their wonderfully weathered condition. Now the space she uses as her painting studio has a rustic, aged patina people pay thousands to have reproduced in new houses.

Bolin thinks of her home decor as a never-ending project. Although she has lived here more than a decade, one new piece of art is all it takes to inspire her to completely change the design. Unlike the experience of decorating for a client and suiting everything to their taste, Bolin loves the freedom of doing anything she likes in her own home. “If I want to stucco a wall, add a funky chandelier, or paint furniture red, then I do it,” she says.

Bolin loves living in the garden-lined neighborhood she dreamed of as a child, surrounded by art in a restored Baton Rouge historic treasure. “My plan is to never stop creating with this house,” she says. “I will renovate, add on, and redecorate.”

Helen Bolin’s stay will certainly be a dynamic and lively chapter in the century-old story of this old Baton Rouge cottage.

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