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A converted New Orleans firehouse gets a fresh start

A French Quarter home mixes periods and styles in a renovated firehouse

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When Linda Huffman sought a major life change after raising her children in Miami, moving to New Orleans came to mind. Born in Texas and raised in northern Louisiana, Huffman always felt lured by the Crescent City. After spending a year in North Carolina with her sister and perusing New Orleans real estate online, she finally found a historic property in the French Quarter and purchased it right away.

 "I always loved New Orleans," she says. "I always wanted to live in New Orleans, and in fact I met my ex-husband two months before I had plans to move there. We met in Florida. (Thoughts of moving to) New Orleans went away, and I ended up getting married and having children. Once we divorced and my children were grown, I decided to make a move."

 It's easy to see why Huffman was enamored with the house: The property, built in 1907, now is a minimalist, loft-like space that was converted into a pair of condominiums after serving as a firehouse for the early half of the 20th century.

 "I bought the bottom condominium in June of 2015," Huffman says. Within just two months, she decided to purchase the upstairs unit as well.

 A door divided the units between the hallway and the stairs but she removed it for cohesion. While each unit is equipped with a full kitchen and functions as its own residence, "I've opened it up as one home," she says.

 Today, the stylish dwelling is a quiet sanctuary, though it occasionally bustles with activity when Huffman entertains family and friends. When the weather allows, guests also flock to the courtyard and the pool, which are sheltered but also in proximity to nearby tourist hotspots. Huffman's children are in their twenties, so they visit throughout the year and often bring friends eager to explore the area.

 "I like being able to walk everywhere," she says. "I like being able to walk to restaurants. I didn't want to feel like I lived in a suburb. I had lived in suburbs when I was in North Carolina. I just wanted to be right there in the middle of everything."

 When Huffman purchased the building, she enlisted the help of designer Shaun Smith, whose work she had admired in a House Beautiful article. She arrived in New Orleans with little more than her art collection and a few personal belongings, and the like-minded duo set out to design her new space. Over the next year, they filled the home with a blend of contemporary and antique furnishings that complements her eclectic art.

  "Shaun was the first designer I interviewed," she says. "I immediately liked him. I didn't even ask to see other work of his. He started showing me some ideas and everything he showed me was perfect."

 Smith agrees that they made a dynamic team.

 "I literally selected every piece of furniture, all of the lighting, bedding, all of it," Smith says. "It made it a very exciting project for me, and I was honored she loved my style enough to just let me do everything. It is obviously a very contemporary space and had a very masculine feel to the interior."

 Smith says he wanted to honor the contemporary lines of the structure while giving it a decidedly more feminine look. An avid traveler during the transition process, Huffman occasionally returned home while Smith was busy redecorating.

 "I started off approving everything," she says, "but then I ended up giving him free rein."

 Smith wanted to keep everything "very edited and pared down." He thought the firehouse and the art collection should be the "stars of the show" and didn't want to obscure them with too many furnishings or accessories.

 Working with Smith opened Huffman's mind when it came to design.

 "Sometimes I'd question a few things, but he would say, 'Live with it for a few weeks and we can take it back if you decide to,'" she says with a laugh.

 "It's a palette of mostly neutrals with blushes and pinks thrown into the mix," Smith says, while the upstairs guest quarters feature various shades of blue. He also installed a "stunning" Baccarat crystal chandelier in the dining area.

 A few changes were made to the guest unit: The upstairs master bedroom formerly housed a king-size bed and two side tables.

 "I had an idea," Huffman says. "I told him, let's put two queen beds in there, so when my daughter comes in with her friends, there will be more room. He agreed — he was so great to work with."

 Huffman's personal art collection reflects a range of periods and styles, so Smith wanted to reflect that in the furniture selection. He sought pieces locally and internationally.

 "The dining room table I selected while shopping in Parma, Italy, and I found the vintage Milo Baughman dining chairs in Houston," he says.

 He reupholstered the chairs with an Italian Fortuny fabric, which gave them a "completely different life," he says. "Adding the antiques throughout really warmed up spaces that felt a little cold."

 Smith's favorite spot is the living room, which features a gilt and navy mirror from Kevin Stone Antiques (pictured on page 12).

 "The juxtaposition of that 18th-century Italian mirror in that contemporary space is just perfection to me," he says.

 One of Huffman's favorite places is the den.

 "It's the former garage where they used to park the fire truck," she says. "If I have a party, I open the door and lock the gates, and it's a great atmosphere."

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