FROM A PEACEFUL corner in the heart of Covington, a graceful home watches the world go by. The house has stood here since 1896, bearing both indoor plumbing and multiple hurricanes with equal fortitude. Now in the ownership of Gina Rowbatham and her daughters, the house and her gardens have become the elegant matriarch of their family.
Perched squarely in the center of double city lots, thehome feels much larger than its 1,700 square feet. A white picket fence with a swinging gate beckons one to trot up the walkway. The deep front porch is overflowing with planters and makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Did you walk up the steps today or a hundred years ago? A soft exterior color palette and the original wooden front door are authentically Victorian in style. The plants are certainly no indication of the year—almost all the species on the porch and in the garden are native to Louisiana and could very well have been planted here a century ago.
Unlike some homes built in this time period, the lineage of this one is fairly clear. Records date back to the original owners, the Galatas family, whose head of household was also the sheriff of St. Tammany Parish. In the original town of New Covington, Boston Street served as the dividing line: the working class lived on this side while the wealthier residents lived in larger, more elaborate houses on the other side of Boston Street. Nowadays, even the smaller homes are prized antiquities when restored as carefully as this one has been. The center hall cottage style is an extremely efficient floor plan, creating a welcoming entryway yet wasting no space. It’s a perfect example of how attuned past generations were to building for the Louisiana climate. From the wide center hall, nearly every room is visible, with tall doors and transoms that open up every wall in the entire house. This would allow even the slightest breeze to flow through the entire house on a hot day, and with 14-foot ceilings, the warmest air would have risen above the standing height of its residents.
The two bedrooms fill one half of the house and share a unique feature—a double-sided, coal-burning fireplace. The house boasts four original fireplaces, which would have kept residents warm in the raised house during wet winters. One fireplace anchors the front living room while the other is tucked into a corner of the kitchen, as is common in houses of this age. Today, the kitchen is twice the size it would have originally been, having been fully modernized a decade ago.
Rowbatham said that the contractor from whom she purchased the property should be credited with saving this gem. “When he came in to restore the house, the ceiling was dropped to 8 feet everywhere, and there was old carpet in every room. He tore out what had been added in the mid-1900s and found transoms over every door and these original heart pine floors,” she said.
Even while respecting the age and vocabulary of the original home, modern features have been added. The original back porch is now a full laundry area, and what was once a small nursery area has morphed into a dressing room just off the master bathroom. For a structure that would not have had indoor plumbing when it was originally constructed, the addition of such features seem obvious today. Using classical materials in soft tones helps prevent a jarring change from one space to another and adds to the timelessness of the space.
When asked how she approached furnishing the home, Gina all but shakes off the notion that she did anything at all. “This house came with the character built in. I didn’t have to add it like I did in my previous home. All the furniture I had just fit, and it actually looks better in here than it did before.”
Even the recent plantings were done with the age of the house in mind. Gina purposely selected traditional species like magnolias, sasanquas and crepe myrtles to anchor the landscape. Bits of color pops with the addition of hydrangeas and climbing roses. The ladies of the house spend a good bit of time outdoors. Here, they know all their neighbors and recognize almost everyone who walks by or rides bikes past the house. This particular area is perfect for walkability, with its close access to all the activities of downtown Covington. Even school is within walking distance, and because everyone knows everyone else, safety is a prized feature of the neighborhood.
“I lived near Covington for years, but now that we live here, I really feel like we live in Covington,” says Gina about her beloved home. “The world goes right by on this corner. We have everything we need, and we’ll stay forever.”