Styling by Matt Voelkel and Holly Biggs of Studio MV
Nestled on 1.4 acres near the Bogue Falaya River, Tracy and Baldwin Read's Covington home has a stately presence and a storied past. Built in the 1830s by one of the children of John Wharton Collins, founder of Covington, the plantation-style residence was home to Captain John Grant (engineer, inventor, railroad builder and state legislator) during the Civil War and is believed to have served as a haven for Union Gen. Benjamin "Beast" Butler.
What also resonates here is the Read family's 53-year legacy as owners of the historic house. Purchased by Baldwin Read's family in 1951 and then by Baldwin in 1999, the house has been cherished by three generations of Reads, not to mention countless friends and extended family members.
Featuring huge columns, double galleries, 12-foot ceilings, crown moldings and plaster medallions, the Read house is the oldest house in Favrotville, a 20-acre enclave of 14 houses, mostly vacation residences owned by the Favrot family. Baldwin's great-grandfather, Charles Allen Favrot, founded the community in the early 1900s. Once a thriving port area due to its deep river, Covington became a sleepy ghost town when the railroad was extended to New Orleans after the Civil War.
But with the turn of the 20th century, the Northshore once again became a busy destination. Known for its wealth of pine trees and excellent air quality, it drew people from all over the country as a place to convalesce.
"My great-grandfather rented a home nearby and fell in love with the area," Baldwin says. "He started acquiring property and later his children bought or built homes on the property."
The Read home, which in 1956 became the first Favrotville house to be inhabited full-time, still offers the quiet seclusion of the country even though it's just minutes from downtown Covington. It hosts an annual Easter egg hunt for all of Favrotville. (One year, when there were no small children, Baldwin's parents hosted the event for adults, substituting tiny bottles of liquor for eggs.) It's still alive with a profusion of azaleas in the spring, and it's a spectacular wedding venue: Tracy's daughter will be married there this May.
Some things have changed. Since Baldwin bought the house, its interior has been updated. The process, which began in 1999 with a kitchen and living area renovation, has been a slow evolution. But over time, Tracy and Baldwin, who married in 2003 and moved into the house full-time after Hurricane Katrina, have merged their two households to create a light, airy retreat.
"Most of the work was really about giving the house a facelift," Baldwin says. "It has good bones, but it was dated."
Downstairs, the renovation included turning the existing galley kitchen and informal living areas into a large, open space. Walls between the kitchen and breakfast area and between the breakfast area and sun porch (originally an outdoor porch extended and enclosed by Baldwin's father) were removed, the kitchen was remodeled and floors of reclaimed pine were installed throughout most of the first floor. Comfortable seating, neutral colors and a pared-down mix of old and new furnishings prevail.
"Both of us would be considered minimalists as far as furniture and furnishings go," Baldwin says. "We don't like clutter."
"It's fairly casual," adds Tracy, who is fond of painted pieces with a Swedish feel and has repainted everything from sofas to chests herself. "We have antiques and contemporary things and abstract art by local artists."
Baldwin's father installed the pool, which is surrounded by raised brick flowerbeds and pink azaleas, a concrete patio with potted plants and a huge oak tree dripping with Spanish moss. Inspired by the classical design of the fountain, it was conceived as a cocktail pool and is just four feet deep. Both the pool and the landscaping were designed by Baldwin's cousin, Virginia Provosty Bessent of Via Matris Landscape. The grounds include dogwoods, camellias and annuals planted by Baldwin.
"The garden today is more natural and not really manicured for a couple of reasons," he says. "I don't have the green thumb my dad had; he had a beautiful rose garden. And I tend to allow things to grow as is."
Recently, the couple consulted friend and architectural designer Matt Voelkel of Studio MV to help redesign their master bath.
"I was reluctant to move to the Northshore, but I've grown to love the quietness of the place," says Tracy, who has been fine-tuning every detail and corner of the house for her daughter's spring wedding. "I love Baldwin's stories. I understand the specialness and nostalgia of (the house)."
For the Reads, enhancing their home isn't just about layering it with things. It's also about layering it with memories. "When my parents owned the house, there was an open door policy," Baldwin says. "We try to continue that tradition."