Madeleine Cenac’s home is Southern hospitality perfected.
I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Madeleine’s meticulously restored 19th-century Creole cottage in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, a few years back when we photographed it for Natural Home & Garden. Madeleine and her partner, musician Mark de Basile, poured a lot of love and a lot of sweat into Maison Madeleine, built using a heavy timber frame technique called colombage and filled in with bousillage, a type of wattle-and-daub made with local mud and cured Spanish moss. I spent two warm spring nights in Madeleine’s bed-and-breakfast guest house, falling asleep to the sound of tree frogs, watching the birds as they alighted from the rookery nearby, and basking in the comfort of the home she’s created. I completely understand Madeleine’s hesitancy to leave this little paradise. “Friends try to get me to go out on the weekends, but they know I’ll refuse,” she says. “This is a much better place to be than most places they want me to go.”
Madeleine and Mark moved the original cottage--a classic example of vernacular building that uses indigenous materials and techniques to keep its occupants naturally cool in southern Louisiana’s hot, humid weather—to a piece of property she owns near Lake Martin nearly a decade ago. To accommodate Madeleine’s three children, architect Edward Cazayoux designed a second structure that houses the kitchen and dining area, connected to the old house via a narrow breezeway and surrounded by fruit trees and an herb and vegetable garden.
“These houses were built for the climate, so you’re not starting from scratch and trying to figure out what works,” says Cazayoux, who also helped with the restoration. “It was area-appropriate, sustainable architecture to begin with. The challenge was to maintain the house’s historic charm and energy efficiency while updating it for 21st-century living.”
For Madeleine, that meant staying true to the original cottage’s roots. “You don’t have to modernize it beyond recognition for it to function today,” she says. “We found it was easier to do it the original way than to come up with some way to fake it. For example, we recreated the bousillage, or plaster, instead of trying to make Sheetrock look like authentic plaster.”
The Creole cottage’s deep porches with open sides, French doors, operable windows and high ceilings help keep the interior spaces cool and well ventilated. The bousillage in the exterior walls provides valuable thermal mass; shaded by large overhangs and porches, the walls stay relatively cool. In winter, a fireplace provides heat.
Almost everything in this house was salvaged or locally harvested, which is a huge part of its irresistible charm. Heavy timbers came from old barns in the area. The cottage rests on blocks made from thousand-year-old cypress trees recovered from a local river, where they’d sunk on their way to the mill during the Depression. “The French called cypress ‘wood eternal,’” Cazayoux says, “because termites don’t eat it and it weathers beautifully. But only the old-growth cypress is like that.” Clay from the yard and Spanish moss from trees on the site were used to make bousillage to repair the old house and fill the walls in the new straucture, and Madeleine found hand-forged metal hinges, old-style faucets, wavy window glass and cypress for the structure and the finishes.
“I love beauty and tranquility, and that’s what this house gives me,” says Madeleine, who consults for people who want beautiful, comfortable homes like hers. “I lived in a subdivision and found it draining. It’s as if I’m a battery, and I have to come home to get recharged.”
I felt that, and I’m dreaming about spending a little more time on Madeleine’s welcoming porch, listening to the tree frogs and talking deep into the moist Louisiana night.
For more information about the bed and breakfast (and to hear Mark’s foot-tapping music), call (337) 332-4555 or visit MaisonMadeleine.com.
Visitors park their cars and enter the natural world surrounding Maison Madeleine by foot. Photo by Philip Gould
The deep porch off the kitchen helps keep the house cool and also provides an ideal spot for lazing away summer afternoons. Photo by Philip Gould
Madeleine’s favorite room is her bedroom. “I love the bed, the view and waking up in the morning with my beloved,” she says. “All of this was my dream, and he made it happen.” Photo by Philip Gould
Madeleine says she has adjusted to her relatively small kitchen by paring down what she uses to cook. “Storage, in general, is minimal,” she says. “My rule is if something comes into my home, then something has to go out. It makes you really think.” The kitchen opens up to an herb and vegetable garden. Photo by Philip Gould
In accordance with the French-Creole style, a brick fireplace anchors the middle of the house, open to rooms on both sides. Madeleine makes good use of the fireplace,which includes a baking oven and a crane to hold a cookpot. Photo by Philip Gould
The kitchen hearth includes a potager, or masonry stove, fitted with small chambers that hold charcoal for simmering pots. Photo by Philip Gould
The original cottage’s interior brick walls were disassembled, moved, reassembled on site, and plastered. Madeleine left this section open to reveal the structure. Photo by Philip Gould
The cottage's original parlor was lovingly restored, and it has the original wood floor and ceilings. Photo by Philip Gould
Madeleine and Mark created a cool spot for sleeping by putting glass around the north porch. For ventilation, the small, lower panes open outward. Screens keep bugs away. Photo by Philip Gould
On the glassed porch, Madeleine and Mark left the bousillage unplastered. Photo by Philip Gould
Mortise-and-tenon timberframe walls infilled with bouisillage give the home an Old World feel. Photo by Philip Gould
Maison Madeleine offers many spots that are perfect for rocking the afternoon away. Photo by Philip Gould