A Home's Fast Turnaround
Heidi Schirrmann took her new home from a gutted mess to a masterpiece in just a few short months while never sacrificing her sense of style.
The designer, who is also the homeowner, mixed various paint colors and materials to get the exact look she wanted for the exterior.
Sara Essex Bradley Photographs
Heidi Schirrmann is a fast worker – a miracle worker, really, when you realize how fast she designed and executed the renovation of her Irish Channel home.
While living in the Garden District, Schirrmann decided to sell the home she owned when her daughter was born and downsize to a house she found on the other side of Magazine Street. She wanted a home that was still close to her shop, Elevations, and to her daughter’s school. She purchased the home in August and wanted her daughter to be able to spend Christmas in their new home. That would be more than doable under the normal circumstances of relocating to a move-in-ready home. However, Schirrmann bought a major fixer-upper.
The house is 140 years old and has Italianate bones with an odd craftsman cottage overlay done at one point in its long history. What Schirrmann found waiting for her was a haphazard renovation that was unfinished and the task of turning three apartments into a single-family house. Unfortunately, too, everything had to be started anew because nothing was up to code. Under her supervision, the house was gutted and the floor plan altered to include a kitchen open to the dining room, a master suite with a large bathroom and closet, a front parlor, a den, a sunroom, two additional bedrooms, a second bathroom and a powder room. There is also a large back patio.
The original floors could not be salvaged and had been replaced with bamboo by the previous contractor. Schirrmann wanted to bring them back to what they would have been originally, so, she says: “We tore the flooring and subfloor out and replaced it with authentic salvaged pine and then refinished it. It was really difficult to find.”
The original millwork was saved, including several mantels, as were original interior doors, all stripped down to the natural wood.
The interior decoration Schirrmann did in her previous Garden District house was striking. Her spiritual nature led her to collect and use things with a religious theme and combine them with antiques. Her artistic nature was responsible for the vibrant hues of her walls. She is a colorist. The entryway was done in shades of brilliant yellows with lacquered red doors. The den was a deep teal. The dining room was spectacular with walls of vivid raspberry and violet opalescent veining that created a silk moiré texture. The dining table was round and covered in a tablecloth created with Angèle Parlange featuring pie-shaped pieces of fuchsia with gold designs. The dining side chairs were slipcovered with a brighter shade of lavender with fuchsia trim, and the host chairs were a softer yellow with lavender trim. This room was a regal scene with an Alice in Wonderland feeling. The table was always set with French hand-painted dishes in different shades of pink, purple, minty green and cream, all trimmed with gold. This room won an Alpha Award for best-painted finish and best residential interior design. Schirrmann has also won an Alpha Award in the commercial category for her interior design work for her business location. But ironically, she had to paint all the walls in her old house white in order to market it.
From that experience, a new direction evolved for the new house. Old favorite pieces would be incorporated with a new color palette. Modern elements came into play. Touchstones of her Bohemian style were reinterpreted. The young gypsy with natural flair had evolved from an artist to a bona fide designer, project-managing a serious stylish renovation.
Two construction crews worked simultaneously inside and outside, around the clock. Of the craftsman exterior, her least favorite style, she says: “I knew that I had serious work to do in order to make the exterior appealing to me. Since there was nothing of interest aesthetically, I decided to create depth and highlight through paint color and not accentuating anything in particular.”
The body of the exterior is an ashy sort of violet-based taupe. The porch is a graphite color, like a pencil. A built-in concrete flower bed that Schirrmann designed is painted a slightly darker slate color. Schirrmann mixed the color for the front door using three shades of opaque stain to get what she wanted. And finally, the fence, most of which is original, was primed and then painted with a “real” paint color, Intellectual by Behr. There is also a wood fence that is one shade darker than the house, but both share the same white trim. To give a little updated flair to the house, Schirrmann chose an oversize stainless modern mailbox from Germany and a stainless-steel doormat. The planters are zinc. The porch chairs by Zuo were originally white, but Schirrmann changed them to a stainless-steel color. The side table, which is concrete, is in the shape of a large pebble and adds whimsy.
Much to her contractor’s concern, Schirrmann continued to mix her own paint colors for the inside of the house. She says: “Finding the right shade of gray to paint all the living space may have been one of the most difficult decisions to make. After sampling roughly 25 shades, I finally mixed my own, a silvery mid-tone gray that works well with both golds and silvers.”
When the renovation was complete, Schirrmann rushed to furnish the house. “While everything was not completely done, it was livable,” she says. “My desire to be in so soon had me working at a frenzied pace to design and furnish. There was no time for indecision and waffling. I said a lot of prayers and hoped it would somehow all come together.”
Relying on her now-edited collection of antiques, she supplemented the décor with furniture she could purchase quickly and locally, combing the high-end with the low-end. Being able to cull a piece or two from the big-box stores takes a steady hand and a keen eye.
In the den, she combined high-end Natuzzi pieces with a mid-range piece from Ashley Furniture HomeStore. The den is the trendiest room; she felt that it would be the most changeable down the line, so she didn’t make a huge dollar investment in it but did manage to pull off a high-end look.
There are still great pops of color in the new house. Her daughter chose the colors for her bedroom and her bathroom. She chose Gypsy Teal for the majority, with an accent wall of Citron. The ceiling is painted the palest sage. The young lady did the modern painting over the bed on a day her mother took her outside to paint and play at being Jackson Pollock. Her bathroom is a happy lime green.
The master bedroom is pure Bohemian luxury. One feels transported to Venice. Layers and layers of paint create a rich patina of an orange-based color. Schirrmann did the walls herself. The ceiling is a nuanced ocher achieved by combining a vibrant gold with a red glaze. A graceful metal bed with sweeping lines is draped in brocades and velvets. There is a grand chandelier overhead, and the “task light” on the nightstand is a candelabrum bearing candles. Schirrmann has a fondness for candles and had a candle closet built off the sunroom. It also holds her art supplies.
In the master bath, an organic egg-shaped tub beckons. Her daughter found the tub online because no one had anything like it locally. The large glass-enclosed shower has all the bells and whistles, with the spa-like touch of river rocks underfoot. Abundant storage and good lighting make it the perfect bathroom to do hair and makeup.
Schirrmann was born in New Orleans and grew up in a serious German household. Her father left Germany during World War II to escape the Nazis. He landed in New Orleans where he met her mother at Deutsches Haus. Schirrmann says, “My dad was one of those people who could do anything, from drawing, glassblowing, sculpting, lost wax casting and writing (it is through his mother that I am related to the Grimm brothers – yes, of the fairy tales), so like him, I want to do it all!” Schirrmann says that her father was a man of substance and the earth and her mother is of fire and freedom. She says: “My mom instilled that in me. She was always playing with our environment. To this day, every time I visit her, the walls are a new color. She has moved the furniture around, or she has discovered some new wonderful object.”
Now at a crossroads that comes at a certain stage of development, Schirrmann is making a career change. She has been a huge success as a businesswomen and stylist in the glamorous world of hair design. “To me, hair isn’t just hair,” she says. “It is a moving, breathing work of art, filled with color.” Because of the interior decoration work she has done in her shop and in her own homes, she is being sought out to do it for others.
Her new home was her testing ground for taking a project from a gutted house to a finished showplace. She cut her teeth on all the practical matters of infrastructure: electrical, plumbing, carpentry, space-planning, project-managing and budgeting. She seamlessly segued into the “fun” stuff of interior design: choosing colors, fittings and furnishings. And she did it all in record time. Schirrmann is more than ready to answer those now calling upon her to design and decorate homes and commercial spaces. It is something she is embracing, she says, in the spirit of living long enough to have multiple careers.