A collection of abandoned villas comprises the subject of our Project House 2022. Follow along as this historic property gets a second life in Minden, Louisiana.
This year’s project house isn’t a house at all! Rather, it’s a series of historic 1930s villas that were abandoned and overtaken by the slow crawl of nature.
Enter Sara McDaniel of Simply Southern Cottage. She’s a woman of many titles, including entrepreneur, social media influencer and real estate developer. However, the golden thread “stitching” together all these titles together is the word, “visionary.”
Partnering With Sara
While driving around Minden, Louisiana, Sara stumbled upon the villas and was immediately able to see beyond the crumbling structures and overgrowth. Where others only saw decrepit buildings on the verge of being condemned, Sara saw an opportunity to preserve Miden’s 1930s history while also serving the area by transforming them into a boutique hotel.
But the pathway to the endeavor seemed closed before Sara even set foot on it.
“I knew the villas at Spanish Court were something special,” she says. “However, there was no way I could afford the project.”
That’s where [[Cottages & Bungalows Magazine]] and [[American Farmhouse Style Magazine]] became involved: Editors Kelly McMaster and Victoria Van Vlear proposed turning the villas at Spanish Court into the subject of 2022’s Project House.
Bottled Bliss. Despite how brushy and weed-choked the grounds are, when Sara walks them, she feels a sense of serene and calm from the trickling creek and verdant land. “Those are the emotions I want to imbue into the design, both for the exteriors and interiors,” she explains. She wants everyone who sets foot on the property to feel the same way.
Yes, it’s an ambitious venture: Instead of involving just one home, the property comprises a sprawling two acres (including a creek!) with eight villas contained in three buildings. The two editors just happen to be “patron saints” of old houses and big challenges and are thrilled to partner with Sara. As a result, the path that seemed closed was suddenly wide open.
Fun Facts: Minden, Louisiana
Parish seat of Webster Parish
28 miles east of Shreveport, Louisiana
Home of the Germantown Colony and Museum
The villas weren’t listed for sale, but Sara sleuthed her way to discover who the owner was; and, once Project House came aboard, she made them her own. For Sara, it was a powerful moment—one that reflects her life.
Spanish Style. The villas, with their stucco and adobe style, offer a distinct voice to the northwest Louisiana architectural “chorus.” Efforts will be made to keep the outside of the villas as close to the originals as possible. The plans are to keep the original stucco exterior—particularly because it’s a striking detail that stands out in the Minden architectural landscape. However, there will be one change: Sara is planning to use barrel tiles on the roof instead of shingles, because they’re more consistent with the villas’ Spanish aesthetic.
When she renovated her own cottage, she’d just gone through a heartbreaking divorce and was in the process of renovating her life as well.
“Taking an abandoned property that no one wants to touch and bringing new life and beauty to it is a metaphor for the work I’ve done in my own life,” she says.
This sentiment of redemption and beauty in brokenness follows her into each of her projects, taking them into the deep waters of meaning and purpose.
The Challenge Begins
A Good Soak. First, the villas’ bathrooms need to undergo complete demolition because of the toxic lead paint that was used. However, once the walls are rebuilt, Sara hopes to use the same tubs (although with shower features added). Some of the units have little makeup tables, and she plans to preserve those, as well, so guests can start the day with their “best face forward,” just as residents did back in the 1930s.
Now, the challenging work begins. The initial phase focuses on things lurking beneath the surface to rid the place of time’s deadly havoc. Asbestos, lead paint and a sewer system in need of a complete replacement are at the top of the list.
Arc de Triomphe. A beguiling number of arches gives a dash of Spanish romance to the villas. The future of the current arches is precarious due to the ravages of mold and lead paint. Regardless, even if these arches must be removed, Sara says “I absolutely will recreate them. I’m crossing my fingers that it won’t be necessary, but if it is, I’m committed to rebuilding the arches just as they were.”
Even so, the vision is already clear and bright in Sara’s mind: Each villa will have a different theme. A few of the possible concepts are farmhouse and Mid-Century Modern, along with more adventurous aesthetics, such as cottage core and grand millennial styles. The different themes will allow Sara to stretch her creative muscles and work with a variety of looks.
Reserved to Be Preserved. Charming details fill the bathrooms of the villas, and Sara intends to use them for their original purposes. “After completely demo-ing the bathrooms due to environmental hazards, I plan on building them right back as they were,” Sara says. She’ll follow the intuitive flow already present in the bathrooms and hand it forward for the next phase of the villas’ lives.
Just as the visionary that she is, Sara is already excited for when the hotel will welcome its first guests.
Eager Audience. News of the project has spread, and the people of Minden are excited to see the villas restored. The villas were used as housing until the 1980s, so former residents still live in the area. “It’s probably most exciting to talk to people who used to stay here,” Sara says. For them, being able to visit the villas once they’re complete will be like coming home again.
The project will take a year to complete. But when it opens, it’ll be right in the nick of time, because Minden is about to be in the spotlight. “HGTV is doing a series called ‘Small Town Kick Start,’ and Minden will be featured,” Sara explains.
Already known for its friendliness, charm and peaceful pace of life, this small town is ready for its close-up, and Sara knows viewers will fall in love with the town that already has her heart.
Revitalization Renovation. Sara sees this venture as an immense honor that will give back to the community that’s given her a home. “Beyond simply saving a historic site, I’m thrilled to be creating jobs for our town while also bringing a new revenue stream into our community,” she says. “It’s fun to think about tourists seeing Minden on HGTV and then coming to experience it for themselves. We know they won’t be disappointed!”
“I’m excited to be on the show; and, after it airs, it will bring a lot of visitors to our town. We’ll be ready to welcome them with open arms at The Villas at Spanish Court!” she exclaims.
To get to know more about Sara, visit her blog: simplysoutherncottage.com and on Instagram: @simplysoutherncottage. And don’t miss a single issue of the magazines, where fresh room reveals will appear in every issue this year! Subscriptions and single issues available here: Engaged Lifestyle
Editor Note: We are proud to feature Woodgrain products once again in our Project House. With more than 65 years of quality craftsmanship and service, this company makes the highest-quality wood mouldings, doors and windows. Woodgrain is family owned and operated; its third generation is leading the way.