Ronnie Walker transformed this damaged Garden District gem into a serene space worthy of its historic iconic past. The elevated palette combines rich shades of blue with crisp white walls and pops of green reminiscent of Ralph Lauren.
ARTICLE BY VANELIS RIVERA PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK
Between Riverside Drive and N 8th Street, a compact matrix of picturesque historic homes and craftsman-style cottages constitute one of Monroe’s most coveted residential communities. Streets are shaded by plush branches stretching from a variety of trees and occasional manicured crepe myrtles also casually help to line the sidewalks. Front yards are quaintly landscaped, featuring seasonal blooms and trimmed shrubs. Every home flaunts its own character adding to the unique experience of each block. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 3, 1996, the Garden District clearly has withstood the test of time, including a slew of natural disasters that resulted in a multitude of renovations to structures ranging from stately mansions to charming bungalows. Undoubtedly, the resilience of this neighborhood is due to the loving hands and attentive eyes of residents past and present. Ronnie Walker, who not long ago acquired one of these damaged Garden District treasures, describes the property’s white picket fence and surrounding old oaks as “iconic.”
“I always loved this home, since I was a boy. It’s such a landmark,” exclaims Walker, who grew up frequenting Forsythe Avenue. The Greek Revival cottage’s charming aesthetic has always been a head-turner until the last tornado swept through the Twin Cities, uprooting one of the massive oaks on the property and causing damage to the east wing of the home. At the time, Walker was literally miles away from a move to the Garden District. He had just bought a “brand new home” in Sterlington, and though it was spacious and move-in ready, he didn’t feel an emotional connection. His gut told him he had yet to find his “forever home.” Prompted to “make a decision,” Walker decided to put the Sterlington home up for sale while he looked at available houses in his chosen utopia. After his first choice sold to another buyer, he ventured toward the idea of the white picket fence home that called to his childhood fancy. It wasn’t on the market, so it was a shot in the dark, but when he got in touch with the former owners, who were in the middle of restorations, they were eager to meet with him and start the process of transferring ownership. “And I was able to pick out light fixtures, paint colors…I got to pick all of that at the perfect time,” recalls Walker who was involved in the “fun part” of the renovations, finally moving in during December of last year.
“I came of age in the eighties. You know, when Ralph Lauren was big,” says Walker about the shade of hunter green painted on the two bookshelves, ceiling, and trim work of his reading room, which he designed around three door panels that he stained and mounted on the wall. The panels are the commanding piece of the room, bookended by two shelves haphazardly lined with books and curiosities. Further enhancing the texture of the snug side room, which also acts as the main entryway, Walker finished the walls with dark-green grasscloth wallpaper. “Because I wanted the color, but I also wanted the texture,” he says, adding that the shades of green “work well” with the brick floors.
“This is the kitchen.” We walked up brick steps into dark wood panels, greeted by a luminous room lit mostly by the natural light generously pouring through kitchen windows. The white subway tile backsplash creates a classic feel accented by modern touches including the marble countertop, “big old sink,” and gold faucet and light fixtures. “I wanted to bring a little warmth into the room rather than just white and chrome.” Though minimally decorated, standout pieces are placed in exactly the right areas, namely, a late 18th century styled console table pristinely placed under one of the kitchen window stills. Walker cherishes the forty-year-old piece that belonged to his mother, praising its “beautiful” thin, tapered legs. “That’s what’s holding that girl up,” he says with a clever smile. “So, hey, I love blue. I knew I wanted to do blue in the rest of the house. I had blue in my other house in Sterlington,” proclaims Walker, pointing to Roman shades in the kitchen sewn by his cousin Vicki Hrivnak, who played a pivotal role in much of the design process. From the far corner of the kitchen, Hrivnak sat in her own creation, a whimsical banquette made even more enjoyable by throw pillows and cushions she made to further heighten the wave of dark blue hues Walker sought to splash into every room.
“This is the dining room and my favorite aspect of this room is the windows,” says Walker, adding, “I never want to cover those up with drapery.” The elliptical arch windows are undoubtedly the key architectural feature of the room. “I want to be open and, you know, accessible to that nice view,” he says, making it a point to mention that he enjoys waving to his neighbors as they walk by on late afternoon strolls. Central to the room is a round dining table with upholstered chairs and a grandiose, gilded, Flemish chandelier. Lightly scrutinizing his surroundings, Walker says to himself, “What else?” His gaze lands on a pencil and charcoal drawing of a figurine in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is displayed over the doorway leading to the hallway. “I can say this has a lot of sentimental value to me,” he says because his mother bought it for him. “It always reminds me of our trips to New York.”
Another alluring detail of the house which Walker was instantly drawn to is the fireplace, located in the living room. He kept the original marble detail lining the fire pit but opted to paint the border white, keeping with the lightness emboldening each room. “Like I said, I love blue and white and…” At that moment, Walker’s rescue, an exuberant Bichon Frise leaped into an off-white accent chair decorated with a denim-colored throw pillow. “Cheeka, get down.” Walker continues to point at distinct details. A stunning alcove with a classical shell niche holds minimal sculptures and a hardcover collection of Britannica Great Books. “I love Greco Roman architecture. Neoclassic design. I mean, that’s why you’re seeing things perfectly balanced.” Here Walker refers to the art pieces strategically occupying crisp white walls. Behind the sofa towers a lovely abstract floral canvas painted by local artist Robin Hamaker. “If this place ever burns, I’m running for my mother. That is my mother,” beams Walker, bringing attention to a medium-sized canvas featuring a stoic-looking brunette adorned with a pearl necklace and red lipstick. “That painting was taken from a picture of her that I took three or four months before she died.” When Walker commissioned Whitney Causey he had too many ideas, so he relinquished control, letting her execute her artistic vision. The result, roses in the background honoring his mother’s name, Rosa.
The guest bedrooms are simple and quaint, characterized by blue-hued patterned accent rugs, bedding, and wall decor. Walker’s bedroom keeps with that vision, but with a bit more of an elevated palate. Though enamored by the view allotted by all the windows in his room, he closed the shutters to the windows behind his bed. Once more, he called on the expertise of Hrivnak who fashioned ceiling-to-floor white drapes all the way across the three walls of his peaceful corner. The restraint in design creates a sleek elegance, amplified by the traditional mahogany poster bed, which originally belonged to his parents. A dusty-blue velvet accent chair and wood stool hunker at the end of the bed. Small-scale art pieces are fixed close to the bedside tables, which are adorned with stacks of books, family pictures, and mood lighting. Walker, a “huge fan” of woven, natural fiber rugs has one in the living room and bedroom, both serving the purpose of providing texture without overpowering the overall synergy of the room. “The architecture of the house is so cool. You just need to keep all of the design classic,” emphasizes Hrivnak.
Wanting to curate his space like a blank canvas, Walker showcased artwork, furniture, and accents that created a welcoming atmosphere, one he hoped to share with friends and family, particularly in the form of dinner parties. “For me, that’s what makes a home, a place where people can come relax, feel at home, be surrounded by beautiful things. But also connecting with each other in a meaningful and purposeful way,” he clarifies. Design decisions, like inserting a banquette, were obvious choices based on Walker’s natural tendency to host. “I can’t tell you how many times he sent me pictures of all his friends just cuddled up in here,” says Hrivnak, adding, “Ron’s personality is warm and welcoming, and his house represents that.” In the past few years, Walker has also opened his home to exchange students from all over the world. His current international guest is a young man from Italy who is attending Neville High School.
any have considered the park-side corner emblematic, something not lost on Walker’s friends. “I think everybody probably feels like you’ve done this home justice in a big way,” says Hrivnak, glancing at Walker. Clearly, his white-picket-fence home is not only an opportunity to maintain a piece of Monroe’s history but it has also afforded him the ability to indulge in his passion and his personality. Walker has created an intimate space that holds the most valuable aspects of life—trinkets that hold more memory than value, moments of quiet introspection, and exhilarating exchanges of hospitality with loved ones.