The first time Rashida Ferdinand saw her 1892 shotgun house, on the banks of the Mississippi River in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward, it was the kitchen—along with the shed out back—that convinced her to buy the place and begin renovating it. The large but sparse room seemed linked to another time, with its wide, deep sink and bare walls. “It had a lot of potential,” she says. But a year later, when Rashida came back a month after evacuating for Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, it showed few signs of the renovation. “Debris was everywhere,” she says. “The refrigerator was overturned, there was mud—things were in total disarray.” Still, regardless of the fact that the house was filled with trash from the 3 feet of water that had flooded it for a week and the ceramicist’s pottery studio in the shed was destroyed, Rashida feels blessed. “I was very fortunate to still have my house standing,” she says now. “Many people lost family members, years of memories, and their houses were totally destroyed.”
It’s that positive attitude and perseverance that brought Rashida back to the Lower Ninth, where she is a fourth-generation resident, after the storm. And it’s also what helped convince This Old House TV to document Rashida’s renovation when the show first headed to New Orleans last fall. At the same time, TOH TV is following the building of Musicians’ Village, a Habitat for Humanity community in the Upper Ninth Ward that has affordable housing for 82 musicians and other families—conceived by, among others, saxophonist Branford Marsalis and musician and actor Harry Connick Jr.
For Rashida, receiving federal money from the Historic Building Recovery Grants program to help restore the historic features of her house (such as windows and floors) means she can shift her savings toward upgrading the house. “I’m trying to make it a really viable, energy-efficient, structurally sound home where I could reside for a long time,” she says. “I’d like to have a family here, have my studio here.” To that end, local architect Rick Fifield’s plans call for a “camelback” addition, topping the back half of the house with a second-story master-suite. Downstairs, the kitchen will get more storage and workspace but still maintain its open feel. Along the river-facing side, a long porch with access from both levels will provide shade and a view of the ships that float by. And the whole house will get foam insulation, central air, energy-efficient windows, and a tankless water heater. Then, not only will Rashida have created her dream home, but she will have the satisfaction of knowing that she was part of rebuilding historic New Orleans.