Unwinding after a long day at the office can be difficult for anyone, but what if your day job involves playing the eccentric leader of a citizen army fighting a force of alien parasites?
That was William Hurt’s predicament when he recently came to Baton Rouge for the filming of The Host, coming to theaters in March. A cramped hotel room wasn’t enough space in which to shake the demons of days on the set, so with the help of his production crew, Hurt found a home away from home in an unlikely spot: the charming Garden District cottage that Helen Bolin has called her own home since 1996.
Helen was amenable to being displaced for a few weeks and promised to keep the whole arrangement hush-hush, in an effort to keep those pesky paparazzi away, of course. It wasn’t until she returned home after filming concluded that she could reveal to her neighbors that the odd-looking man seen roaming around her house was actually an Oscar-winning actor trying to stay in character for his sci-fi part.
“They were shocked,” she says, laughing. “But he was very nice, and he said he really loved it here.”
It’s easy to see why Helen’s 1931-built cottage would provide just the sort of comfortably chic environment a celebrity could appreciate. The drama begins with the backdrop of a well-preserved old home with all the architectural details one would expect of the era: wood floors and arched doorways, breezeways and transoms. On this stage are all the elements of modern style, including a neutral palette with interesting furnishings and eye-catching artwork. What makes the space truly remarkable, however, is the fact that Helen managed to create this luxe-but-livable atmosphere in only about 1,500 square feet.
In the way of a good romantic movie, Helen’s relationship with this house was love at first sight. She had long been a fan of the mix of architectural styles in the Garden District, so when she found out this little cottage was for sale back in 1996, she said she’d take it without even setting foot inside. “I knew I could do something with it,” she explains. “And I love the charm of this neighborhood.”
The new homeowner’s first move was to take the house back to its architectural roots, ripping up carpets that hid the original red oak floors, stripping paint from the brick fireplace, and restoring transoms and other old details. She also made a few modern-day improvements, like installing central air-conditioning, modernizing the electrical system and enclosing a back porch to provide a little more living area.
The tiny kitchen area was home to some of the more dramatic changes. Here, Helen removed upper cabinets to make the room feel bigger; the new floating shelves disappear into the walls and make a minimalist home for dishes and glassware. The old butler’s pantry—surprisingly spacious for a home of this size—was converted into an open pantry that holds both food items and household essentials.
But for Helen, the real fun came—and still comes—in the form of dressing and redressing the living spaces to suit her sophisticated style. An artist and interior designer, she called upon both skill sets to make this place stand out. Walls, ceilings, and trim were all bathed in some variation of Benjamin Moore’s “Manchester Tan.” Old hardware stayed; old light fixtures were replaced with streamlined new pieces. With this classically neutral background, Helen was free to create an ever-evolving ensemble of furniture and art, including many contemporary pieces by local artists who have become her dear friends.
“My style is constantly emerging,” she explains. “While I love the feel of an older home, I like to mix in some modern furnishings.”
Helen acknowledges that organization and storage can be problems in a house of this size, but her secret weapon is a detached utility room and a garage that provide a place to stash unused items. “It has been challenging since the house has only two small closets, but I just keep everything to a minimum,” she says.
Of course, Helen didn’t hear any complaints about lack of closet space from her recent famous houseguest. What William Hurt did comment on, however, was the home’s unique Louisiana-made art and cozy atmosphere. Such an encounter might have left the average Baton Rouge homeowner a bit starstruck. But for Helen, coming home to her cozy little cottage every night is the ultimate happy ending.
Click here to view the photo gallery of this beautiful bungalow.