Storied downtown property rescued when renowned artist returns home. Photo Robin MayStoried downtown property rescued when renowned artist returns home.
Photos by Robin May
Carl Groh's downtown home is a storied one. Filled with a kind of history you sense the moment you step from the street and through the wrought iron gate, told in the words of Groh who has lived there for more than 20 years - and seen in the painstakingly restored parts of the house both large and small.
The nationally renowned artist known most widely for his portrait work speaks of the house the way many speak of a person brought back from the brink of destruction. This house, you see, is more than plaster and slate roof tiles. And Groh, you realize, is more than the homeowner.
"You're a curator of the house," Groh says.
And with a laugh, he explains, "the house picked me."
The Tudor or (depending on who you ask) French-Norman house has a decidedly different flavor than nearly anything in town. Built by JA Mouton for his bride in the early 1920s (after she handpicked it from a Town & Country magazine), it has a kind of stately feel both inside and out that is thanks to the relentless work of Groh who bought the house sight unseen when it was valued at $28,000 two decades ago. Living in New York, Groh decided to return to Lafayette and sought a home similar to the historic property he called home as a child. But when he arrived, he found a home in shambles and a piece of history too far gone for most. Groh is not most.
"This was a rescue," he says on a chilly afternoon as he walks us through each room describing the atrocities the house endured in addition to neglect. Ceilings were lowered at one point, vines growing in the house, a wily family of raccoons on the second floor that was never finished.
Despite speed bumps and a neighborhood riddled with crime, Groh began the process of reviving the beautiful home. He brought in a furniture maker to rework the once beautiful wooden walls that were buckled. He brought the ceilings back to their original height, he displayed his own work on the walls, he filled the home with antiques inherited from his family and he found himself at home downtown.
"I wouldn't live anywhere else," he says now of the area.
"You're restoring a piece of history," he says pointing to his relentless pursuit to keep the home authentic, to stay true to the home in every way possible.
"It's hard to let it not look like it's been touched," Groh says. But, it is a cause to which he has devoted much time and money. And he wouldn't have it any other way. In fact, when asked how he could ever part with it, Groh muses that he may just donate it for use as a museum someday.
"This was also my canvas," he says. "My passion."
The efforts to restore the home took a lot from his work, and in some ways it is very much an expression of art as much as what he paints. In each room there are strokes of Groh in both his paintings on the walls and the décor details, which were placed by the artist himself. Despite the scope of the project, Groh elected to do the interior design work himself.
"I'm a perfectionist," Groh says.
If these walls could talk, we're sure they'd agree.