Visitors to 129 Lessard Street in the historic district of Donaldsonville will see The Warwick House, an 1876 Queen Anne house in ornate holiday dress. The home of Jeffery Bean is a tribute to the Victorian era, an architectural style that is the most elaborate and eccentric.

 


Visitors to 129 Lessard Street in the historic district of Donaldsonville will see The Warwick House, an 1876 Queen Anne house in ornate holiday dress. The home of Jeffery Bean is a tribute to the Victorian era, an architectural style that is the most elaborate and eccentric.


Outside, Christmas greenery, festooned door treatment and wreaths on dormer windows spell welcome. Inside is unbelievable. Only someone with a passion for restoration and love of decorating could mesh past and present in this lavish and authentic way. Owner-preservationist is 41-year-old Bean, artist-interior-decorator-hairstylist of Donaldsonville and Baton Rouge.


At 31, in 1998, Bean bought the home for $60,000 and took 10 years to painstakingly restore it, doing 85 percent of the work himself. Working at his hair salon, The Renaissance Salon, in Baton Rouge four days a week, where he maintains an apartment, he spent the other three days in creative restoration work. Current appraisal exceeds $330,000.


“I usually start decorating for Christmas in October,” he said. “This year I was so busy that I spent a total of three weeks, rushing and working long hours.” Every nook and cranny reflects holiday cheer. In 2004 at a Christmas open door tour, with 300 guests, he had 12 decorated trees. This year he has five, including a favorite tree in the library that displays hundreds of Wizard of Oz ornaments, that he began collecting at age five.


Bean grew up in Baton Rouge, with art his main interest, and construction second. “Every birthday my parents gave me a different tool,” he said. “I’ve always been into paint and wood.” He earned an associate degree from the Institute of Art in Seattle, after three years at Louisiana College in Pineville as an art major.


Interested in his surroundings and other people, he constantly latches onto new ideas and skills. “As a young man growing up in Louisiana, I dreamed of owning a big home somewhere near New Orleans. This is like a dream come true,” he said.


No one in the 19th century could have imagined the house with its modern-day comforts. While he retained 12 original coal-burning fireplaces, in order to keep it on the National Register of Historic Places, at the same time, he made them vent-free and fronted them with wood or gas-burning logs. The rear fenced lawn is a patio area with a swimming pool and lush tropical foliage.


“We hide some of the modern-day technology, in order to keep the home authentic,” he said.

Colors and wall treatments are authentic to the period, and Southern pine and oak floors retained. Even the hand painted foyer rug, a technique known as “trompe loire,” is an artistic endeavor of Bean’s. “I wanted to lay carpet but a representative of The National Register of Historic Places told me to keep it. These mock rugs were the thing then.”


Entering, one sees the tall staircase that Bean refinished. To embellish it, at floor level, first post, is a lighted sculpture.  “The first year I gutted the house and got it sealed for three major leaks,” he said. “In the ‘50s, it had been converted to three apartments during a time when there was an oil boom and people were looking for places to live. I returned it to its original layout, with one big kitchen.”


Knocking out walls, adding archways, retaining the original layout, Bean added beauty and elegance. For example, the doors with stained glass transoms were kept, and more stained glass transoms added. “I read books and took home improvement classes,” he said.


The Bean flair is seen in the formal parlor where he added columns he had built. He topped them with porcelain angels from his sister Dina’s shop in Prairieville, LDB Home and Garden Decor (“Angels ward off evil,” he said). Chandeliers, from Italy, date to the ‘40s, and, for the season, he topped each bulb with a poinsettia-painted lampshade.


He hand painted angels on the ceiling paper in the adjacent formal dining room, that has padded upholstered fabric on the walls. “It insulates the walls and absorbs sound,” he noted.

 
Off the kitchen is a large bath. “Its owners for years, the McKinney family, were Pentecostal and actually baptized people in that big bathtub,” he said. On the wallpaper, he hand painted draperies pulled to the side, furthering the white and gold theme with fleur de lis on a shower curtain.
Working, he salvaged and stored vintage pine, oak and cypress. “Most of the wood was beaded board,” he said, pointing to the kitchen island of beaded board, antiqued blonde, with an Imperial Tiger granite top. The antiqued wood is a contrast to the mahogany finishes throughout the home. Wallpaper borders throughout feature his hand painting of tassels and other embellishment.


There are four bathrooms and four large bedrooms, two of which are suites. Originally, there were seven bedrooms. The frequented den is dubbed The Ralph Lauren Room. Located near the kitchen and breakfast area, it features hunt-scene wallpaper and dark green and burgundy subdued hues, along with leather lounge chairs and sofa. “It’s the perfect place to relax,” he stated. Nautical and fishing pieces, taxidermy, collectibles on shelves and eclectic art brighten it. Colorful paintings by Itzchak Tarkay add interest, as do antique tennis racquets. Porcelain heads above the columns are whimsy.


Art throughout includes Robert Rucker, Audubon, and Donaldsonville’s Alvin Batiste, who painted the house with the residents, Bean and Michael Smith, his business partner. Clocks of all design and styles, the oldest being from 1938, are collectibles of Smith.


Bean often looks for something and it appears. “Things fall in my lap,” he said. “And sometimes a friend finds something I want.”


Furniture is largely antique reproductions, with a few family heirlooms. The large dining table has inlay popular in a bygone era.

 
In the library, he hand painted shelves of colorful books. “That library ladder with rollers was a gift from a client who had bought a bookstore with seven ladders like this. Another friend called to inform me of a baby grand piano. It was in very poor condition. I bought it for $400, paid $300 to have it moved, replaced strings and had it tuned, then I refinished it.”


He contracted work for electrical and plumbing and counts his largest expense the architectural shingle roof. “Upstairs is destined to be a bed and breakfast area. I took two years to finish it. It was deplorable. Now, it’s a wonderful and peaceful place, where you can sleep with the windows and blinds open.” The padded walls are pale green suede in one bedroom and a tapestry-design fabric in burgundy and green featuring caladium, in the other.


Bean is entranced with Donaldsonville, founded in 1806, current population 7,800. He is vice-president of the Ascension Society Historical Assn. (ASHA). Former president Pam Gregoire, recently succeeded by John Marchand, praises him as a role model, paving the way for others to restore properties. “My best compliment came from someone who told me that I had saved the house, that had I not restored it, it would have been lost to history,” he recalled. ”I like knowing that I am a part of the area history.”