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Interiors: Fanciful Touring

A Monument Avenue home gets a festive restoration in time for holiday visitors.

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Everyone loves a Cinderella story, and the Fan District offers plenty of tales wherein crumbling walls, leaky roofs and broken windows form the backdrop for swift "We'll take it!" pronouncements among buyers and agents.

So when Michelle and Danny Clark stood in darkness as rain poured through the roof at 2008 Monument Ave. and said yes, this would be their new home, it was another salvation for a century-old structure in need of serious resuscitation.

Friends may have questioned their sanity, but the Clarks remained joyful and optimistic. Still, the finished project didn't come easily.

Nearly everything that could be replaced, refinished or repaired was over the next 18 months. Rotted floorboards were stripped out. Wallpaper that held up plaster walls was pulled off in a dramatic, down-to-the-studs restoration. The kitchen was gutted, mechanicals and roof replaced, and flooring removed to reveal golden pine boards beneath. New rooms were created from old, the grounds were overhauled, and bit by bit the old brick beauty began to recover.

Only when the bones were intact could the couple's shared enthusiasm for decorating begin in earnest. Their efforts are what visitors to this month's Fan Holiday House Tour will discover, and it may be hard for them to tell which features in the house are original and which were added to complete its transformation.

For starters, Michelle Clark's uncle, Henry Boudreaux, is a Louisiana-based architect who specializes in historic preservation. The couple credits his advice and suggestions with the success of their project — Boudreaux not only refined the reconstruction plans but connected the couple with a master woodworker who crafted by hand truckloads of wainscoting, coffered ceiling pieces, cabinets, bookshelves, archways and other millwork to outfit the house in period-appropriate fashion. Danny Clark ferried a U-Haul between here and Lafayette, La., three times to load in each new roomful. The custom woodwork blends seamlessly with the house's original mantels, stained-glass windows and stairways, summoning a more elegant and finished house than the original 1909 structure, one that's more in keeping with its dignified neighbors.

The Clarks aren't period-furnishings people, and their eclectic and casual design sense runs toward comfortable sectional seating, leather upholstery and family welcoming tables and chairs. With four children and two dogs, theirs isn't a house for fragile antiques.

It is, however, a house for sophisticated and lovingly collected paintings and objects, and Michelle Clark professes a thrill in their acquisition. "We are avid art addicts — it's our weakness," she says. "Art and chandeliers — we love finding them." Indeed, gilded, crystal-heavy light fixtures glisten in every room; some are vintage pieces gathered by Glass Boat owner John Hyatt; others were found in New Orleans and elsewhere. They illumine the jewel-toned paintings of contemporary artists such as David Harouni and Taras Loboda, giving an energetic sense of vibrancy that reflects the family's interests.

"We've never had a decorator," Michelle Clark says. "I have immensely talented girlfriends and a wonderful gardener, India Swenson-Waring, and we all pull it together. That's the fun of it. Everything here has a story. And sometimes we mess up and embrace our mistakes — it's just a collection of things we like."

Mistakes aren't in evidence. Instead, each room reveals lustrous, hand-painted walls in varying designs and colors, created over months of collaboration with artist Patti Ryan. Lacquered red walls in the dining room, a graphic block-print pattern in the three-level stairwell, and lively stripes of turquoise and brown in the parlor manage to flow into one another with ease, bolstered by the unifying factors of art, lighting, woodwork and scale.

As the stairs ascend, the palette brightens, and by the third-floor children's retreat, a fantasy of turquoise, apple-green and nacho-cheese orange-colored walls captures the spirited and creative personalities of the youngest inhabitants.

What the Clarks have created, visitors will discover, is a contemporary fairy tale wrapped in a 100-year-old package that has never looked brighter or more ready for the holidays. HS

The Fan Holiday House Tour features 12 homes decorated for the season, open Dec. 9 and 10 from 1 to 5 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 on tour day. Call 254-2550 or visit www.fandistrict.org for more information.

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