A House with All that Jazz
Jan 09, 2015 10:08AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
I went back in time when I first stepped onto the home’s street-level country front porch and wanted to sit a spell on the inviting plantation rockers. I reached for the vintage doorbell on the double wooden doors: Ah, no modern buttons to tap or push. As I twisted a filigree latch, church bells on Talbot Street rang throughout St. Michaels village, and I thought instantly that I was the power behind the angelic tolling. Laughing to myself, I smiled at the coincidence, and twisted the lever on the door again. Back down to earth, the church bells trailed off, as a jingling chime sounded from inside the house. A dog barked, and then Ron appeared, holding his lap-size, fluffy Cavachon puppy, a mix of Cavalier King Charles (French origin) Spaniel and Bishon breed with a Southern, Tennessee-born bark.
“This is Clipper,” the homeowner introduced, an appropriate name considering that I soon saw a fully-rigged model of the 1797 USS Constitution on a highboy, and then, hanging on the wainscoted wall, an oil painting of a similar vessel battling turbulent waters. Walking into the house and turning right to the living room gives the illusion of being on a historic tall ship—maybe even a clipper—as a stretch of arched hallway leads from the original front section of the house to an addition and the home’s back wall. The ceiling in this room is decidedly nautical, casting a cozy below-deck ambiance with its intimate but breathtaking waffle-grid of white-painted sunken panels.
Sleepy Mulberry Street in St. Michaels eases downhill under a canopy of trees to a quaint historic waterfront, near an old stone church and a grassy, in-town park that’s charmed by a summer-concerts gazebo. Bourbon Street in New Orleans feels but a short ramble from the waterfront, too, leaving behind the jazzy esplanade in the French Quarter that never wants any sleep. Mulberry certainly strikes a more low-key vibe than Bourbon, a blue note for sure. So can the two historic byways ever harmonize—even by the suggestion of their culinary namesakes? A bowl of red mulberries and a decanter of bourbon at home on the same table?
Yes, and then some, when you’re talking house décor and history. And especially if you’re Mulberry Street resident Ron Faucheux, whose roots dig down to18th-century New Orleans and whose branches are still leafing out with his grandchildren currently playing and attending school there 300 years later. Ron feels New Orleans easy in this house where perhaps his original family—Guillaume and Maria Faucheux of Paris, who emigrated there in 1722 right after they were married—would have felt right at home, too.
Even when Ron missed his chance in 2009 to own this home, losing it by a hair to another buyer, he kept an eye on it, still drawn to Mulberry, until it did become his. “It’s a true Chesapeake house with the heart and soul of New Orleans—that’s New Orlinz,” grins Ron, who speaks in a slightly gumbo twist on American Southern dialect, “but it lives modern, and that’s what I love about it.”
While Mulberry Street is not a main thoroughfare, it’s a busy-enough side avenue that ends at the popular Crab and Steak House restaurant and adjoining marina. Especially in summer, it has its steady pace of walkers and tourists, who admire houses on Mulberry and see Faucheux’s shiny black shutters and muted-gray wood siding that supports its Southern French-American influences. A portly silhouette in a downstairs window has folks even more curious. In fact, that’s what made me take notice of this home in the first place.
“They ask me if the figure is Lafayette,” Ron says of the distinctive bust of Thomas Jefferson perched on a pedestal visible through tall graceful two-over-two windows in the living room. The 3-D image is unquestionably recognizable as America’s third president from inside Ron’s living room, but his pony-clipped, powdered peruke that faces the street has passersby wondering: “Could this be Lafayette?”
Well, no, there’s no marquis on these premises. But Napoleon is about…on horseback, looking out at the water from a sideboard in the dining room. Despite its history, the bronze statue is a complementary counterpoint to the modern Chesapeake coastal fresh style of woven seagrass chairs and marshy-inspired table gear in the dining room at the rear of the house, facing Muskrat Park and the St. Michael’s inner harbor where the home’s original owner, Thomas H. Kirby, established a prosperous tall-ships boatyard.
In the mid-to-late 1880s, Kirby built the current home (on a property deeded from the 1600s) that still has original features, including the warm pumpkin-toned, 15-inch-wide heart pine floors, millwork, and two fireplaces. Back then, Kirby looked at the waterfront beyond his backyard, while today Faucheux enjoys a sea of green since the former Church Creek was filled in long ago and became Muskrat Park. The peek-a-boo harbor is now a top-of-the-ships-mast view from the intimately Southern cushy-seated back porch.
Street-side strollers can also see the room on the other side of the front door, romantically appointed as a Colonial bedroom with antique fireplace. Some ask Ron if 207 Mulberry is a bed-and-breakfast. But the new bachelor is quick to quip that he doesn’t cook, not even a mere po’boy; so he could never be an innkeeper…no one would get breakfast.
I jokingly suggested that guests could walk around the corner to Ava’s on the main street. Adding to all this jazz on the Chesapeake, I noticed that the restaurant serves beignets, the famous French Quarter doughnuts that Ava’s does Eastern Shore style with raspberries finished as French coulis. All Ron would have to do is brew the famous centuries-old Café Du Monde’s chicory coffee and guests could enjoy breakfast in the home’s French-inspired kitchen, lined with dramatic cabinets and marbled countertops. But there’s no chance of a hospitality career in Ron’s future. He’s sticking with his day-job, consulting now with his polling company—Clarus Research Group in D.C.
So, there are no strange bedfellows in government and politics for Ron, who graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and earned his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of New Orleans. It was during his time in Washington as a young student that he first became enamored with the Eastern Shore, specifically St. Michaels, and never got it out of his mind even after years of raising a family. About 15 years ago, an empty nester, he bought a townhouse by The Inn at Perry Cabin, journeying from D.C. to St. Michaels on the weekends, until just recently when he was able to buy the Mulberry Street house which by that time had been renovated; so Ron didn’t have much to change except lighting fixtures and furnishings.
Although a center-hall scissors staircase splits the floor plan, you instantly experience the cultural mix. Warm whites and beiges create a fresh contemporary outline for the St. Michaels’ historical period décor. The sweetness of washed pine furniture helps stage accents from the jazzy Crescent City.
A jambalaya of nautical art—mixing War of 1812 and political notables—hangs throughout the home in the form of wooden accents and prints, including a framed map of the Louisiana Purchase. Ron’s home office is a library of governmental memorabilia, including items from his meetings with the Kennedys, Bushes, and Clintons. Having received his law degree from LSU, he became a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives where he was involved in local historic preservation; so plenty of nostalgic, law-making souvenirs abound. He still has the chair he used in his legislative role, re-upholstered from leather to cloth, adding an air of admiralty to an upstairs guest room.
In the middle of the house is that breathtaking kitchen where Ron would love for any Cajun chef such as an Emeril Lagasse or Paul Prudhomme to cook up a Creole étouffée. I was ready to jump in myself, and steam him some crawfish and corn, just to work under Ron’s fun and fitting pick of flashy chrome, porthole-like pendant task lights. Food brought Ron to the house on Mulberry; and his bayou roots always have him longing for seafood. One day, while living at his townhouse, he ordered take-out steamed blue crabs. But they weren’t ready when he arrived for pickup. So he took a ride and found, as they say in N’Orlinz lingo, a lagniappe, or something thrown in to encourage the deal. In this case, it was the Mulberry house to go with Ron’s order of Chesapeake crabs!
A steep-pitched gable in the middle of the roofline creates a perch atop the staircase, and is typical of the home’s original four-square architecture. Even though it doesn’t face the water, Ron shimmies into the bench seat to rest, and muses, “It’s my favorite spot.”
Meanwhile, downstairs on the other side of the home, an almost life-size weathervane of a Colonial ship’s mate has found its place in a kitchen niche. He looks through a rather formidable spyglass; and lo and behold, he’s not facing the harbor either, but rather eyeing Mulberry Street. Well, I thought in Orlean-ese, “I wonder, who dat he lookin’ at?” Maybe a passerby with more than a passing interest in the Jefferson effigy…someone like Ron Faucheux, admiring the house at 207 Mulberry for its Chesapeake history, its classic simplicity and rich warmth…someone who might also see the many other sweet praw’leens in its midst.
Gail Greco is an award-winning journalist who loves to feature food, interiors, and awesome personalities on the Eastern Shore. She is a frequent contributor to What’s Up?.
Author’s Note: When I wrote the ending to this story, I was just day-dreaming that someone might discover it as Ron did, but I meant in many years hence; however, I have just been told that perhaps I had willed it. Someone just did come by Ron Faucheux’s house, knocked on the door, ’er well maybe they rang that doorbell, I don’t know; and offered to buy it and did. Early this year, Ron will be handing over the keys and heading to New Orleans to live closer to his family. At the same time, I discovered at Ava’s, that Ron is the one who suggested the beignets be put on the menu a few years ago, so he is indeed leaving not only his home in the hands of another, but also some of the sweetness of New Orleans on the Eastern Shore long after he is gone.