The Third Annual Renaissance Awards
New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans honor six renovations — three homes and three businesses — that celebrate the new while respecting the old.
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Erin Christman & Greg App
What was the reason for your renovation? While looking for a house to use as our primary residence, Greg and I searched for the perfect project in Faubourg Treme to put our skills as contractor and architect to use. When we came upon this circa 1830s Creole cottage with a full roof of blooming cat’s-claw vines and crumbling termite-ridden walls, we saw through all of the natural debris and knew it was the one.
We’ve always had an interest in the “one-offs,” those houses that are truly unique. This one definitely qualified, as it was originally a Creole cottage, which was “Victorianized” in the 1870s after a fire. We strove to create a modernized living space within the unique, historic walls of that house.
What was your goal for the renovation when you started? Originally, our goal was to simply renovate the home in its existing “Victorianized” layout and detailing. However, when Hurricane Katrina struck, the second floor of the main house and both floors of the servants’ quarters completely collapsed.
Our house that began as a 2,500-square-foot building was instantly reduced down to 600 usable square feet. For most people, at that point, this building would have been a complete tear-down. Not for us, though: We
were adamantly determined to revive this house that we loved so much.
We took the opportunity that Katrina afforded us. We were able to refit, within the typical shotgun style, a floor plan that flowed well, with plenty of space for closets and well-appointed baths.
What challenges did you encounter during the renovation? A multitude of challenges arose when we tried to rebuild 1,900 new square feet around the remaining 600 square feet from the original 1830s design. We reused as much of the historic fabric as possible, including all of the doors, hardware and columns. The retrofitting of these aged items presented a whole other set of unique challenges.
From a construction standpoint, we had to marry the old construction with the new construction. The old construction was 8 inches out of level from end to end and 3 inches out of level vertically. The trick was mating
this with the new construction, which was built level. We also took care to make the mechanical components, particularly the HVAC system, disappear. We managed to heat and cool the entire house with two systems without having to create any unsightly interior soffits.
What is your favorite part of the renovation/your favorite feature or area?
We love that were successfully able to restore this house to its original exterior Creole cottage appearance while adapting the interior layout to accommodate a modern lifestyle.
We were able to incorporate seven large walk-in closets, an eat-in kitchen, laundry room,
pantry and a full master suite with a separate entrance.
We were able to incorporate some of the elements from the “Victorianized” incarnation into our work. We used a
12-foot-tall louvered exterior privacy panel to hide the return air grill of the HVAC system. We also refit the original columns from the front of the house into a beam detail in our upstairs stair hall.
What was the reason for the renovation? When I was preparing to move home from Atlanta, I started looking at renovated shotguns in the area between Henry Clay and Audubon Park/Magazine and the river, and while the exteriors had a lot of curb appeal, I was unable to find a floor plan that I liked. My Realtor called me and said that a house on Constance Street was coming on the market –– coincidentally that’s my mother’s name and the only street where I’d ever lived in Uptown New Orleans. The house was in a great location and ironically next door to the shotgun double that I’d rented eight years earlier, and it was in desperate need of an overhaul, so I put in my bid, crossed my fingers and thankfully outbid five others who I’m sure wanted it as badly as I did. I can only explain my good fortune as divine intervention. Long answer to your question: Having never renovated before but loving new challenges for learning and growth, I took the plunge, bought the house for its prime location and set about the adventure of renovating a historic 1904 home.
What was your goal for the renovation when you started? Having never renovated a property before but very much enjoying design and spatial planning (I am a professional home organizer), I was thrilled to have an opportunity to create the floor plan that would best suit my needs and also underscore the integrity of a historic shotgun. Prior to moving home, I worked in worldwide licensing for the Coca-Cola Co.; as a licensing manager, my job was to assess the best manufacturers to produce branded items for the company. So I decided to look at the restoration like that and created a “look book” as a reference or road map for the renovation. I tore things out of magazines that I thought would represent the historic sensibility and characteristic feel that I wanted my home to convey. I also spent time walking through the shell of the house imagining how I would live in it: What will I be doing in this space/room? What do I need in each room to ensure its effectiveness for my needs/vision? How will I and others flow through these rooms, entrances and exits? My architect, Steve Finegan, impressed upon me the critical consideration of balancing room reinvention with storage needs –– fewer rooms create larger “nesting” areas, and storage is not compromised. For example, one of the side door entrances was converted into a walk-in pantry, all bedrooms have walk-in closets, and linen closets were built into each of the two main baths.
What challenges did you encounter during the renovation? All in all, the renovation went pretty smoothly. From a restoration standpoint, I wanted to restore the original heartwood pine floors, and there were two areas, in the foyer and back den, that were too damaged and had to be replaced with new heartwood pine.
Secondly, it was important to me to have all the door hardware match, among other things, so that even without any furniture in the house, the interior would still be “dressed” and therefore hold its historic integrity on its own regardless of its owners’ decor. I searched through every box at Ricca’s Demolishing (for more on Ricca’s, see page 49), The Bank and Carrollton Wrecking to find enough hardware for the 14 doors, 28 matching knobs and plates.
Lastly, I purchased a mission-style golden oak writing desk and converted it into a sink for the Jack and Jill bath; it was too wide to fit through the doorways, so it was placed in the room prior to the walls going up. Thank goodness my contractor had an eye for detail.
What is your favorite part of the renovation/your favorite feature or area? My favorite part of the renovation is my vision manifested. I may never have had the opportunity to renovate and restore if I’d found a great floor plan, if someone else had won in the bidding or if I’d been working with another Realtor. I actually questioned my choice of Realtors when I drove up to the house after hearing her tell me that she’d found the perfect house for me! It needed so much work!
My hope is that my house stands as an example to others that it can be done without experience but with commitment; creativity; perseverance; and a few drops of blood, a bead of sweat and tears of joy when you move in! Woo-hoo!
It’s hard to say what feature is my favorite because all of the nesting spots that I have created are unique. I added a back porch with a tin roof that is heavenly to hear when the rain comes down. I love the whimsy of my bathrooms, utilizing both the oak writing desk mentioned earlier and an antique traveling lavatory for sinks. I love the openness of my foyer and living and dining rooms, thanks to my architect, especially when I entertain. I love the coziness and intimacy of the combined den and kitchen area in contrast to the more formal rooms. The walk-in pantry is luxurious, and lastly, [I love] my home office in the front of the house where I am surrounded by all the things that inspire me and the energy of the city flowing through the stained-glass windows that look out onto Constance Street.
Jessica Bride & Nick Mayor
What was the reason for the renovation? Jessica: In 2006, Nick and I were living in New Orleans temporarily while I awaited a visa to return to London, where we lived permanently at the time. We were driving from our apartment in the Marigny to Whole Foods on Magazine when I took a wrong turn, and we drove down Coliseum Street. We saw the columned house with the shutters drawn and the yard overgrown –– and a For Sale sign, and we both stopped and stared. The house just seemed to call out to us.
The reason for the renovation is tricky. The obvious reason is that the house needed it: Despite being marketed as having “undergone extensive renovation,” the reality is that the house had had very little done to it for many decades. During the 1970s, the house was recombined to a single family dwelling, which probably saved it; clearly there had been a lot of love for the house. But the reality was that having been saved, it now desperately needed to be renovated and brought back to its former glory.
This leads to the other reason for undertaking the renovation: We wanted to give the house a chance to shine, to be what we knew it wanted to be underneath the old paint jobs, the termite damage, enclosed gallery, rotting ceilings and red wool carpet! And it did shine –– the more we put into the house, the more it seemed to give us back.
What was your goal for the renovation when you started? Jessica: We had lots of ideas for the renovation –– many we stuck with and many we abandoned –– but our overall goal was to marry the architecture and history of the house with a much more modern aesthetic and approach. Oddly, this approach is something we picked up in London where houses are often much, much older, but people do not feel so beholden to history in drawing influences for interior design. Nick is from the U.K. and had grown up in houses much older than this house, so to him it made sense that we’d restore both the exterior and interior with total historic sensibility but allowing for a much more modern interior aesthetic than is often the case in similar renovations. This is especially evident in our kitchen, which, while sensitive to the historical layout (we reopened several French doors that had been turned into windows or simply eliminated), is a very modern design.
What challenges did you encounter during the renovation? Jessica: Challenges? Ha! I think an easier question would have been what challenges did we not encounter. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, and we were away for a good part of the renovation. Fortunately we had a fantastic architect, Danny Taylor of Koch and Wilson, who helped us bring every bit of the exterior back to its original form –– down to reconstructing the bull nose on the columns on the gallery. We had people fall through the ceiling (twice), we found termite damage into the plaster lathes that required us to re-plaster the entire downstairs, there was flooring that was barely nailed down on the second floor, and we are still waiting on a friend of ours to finish our ceiling medallion. The biggest challenge we had was working on it from far away. Bywater Woodworks renovated the carriage house and did a fantastic job of keeping with the historic plasterwork and patching some very long boards I think most people would have just pulled out — but also embracing our idea of turning the guesthouse into a modern pool house/guesthouse. We also had a fantastic landscaper, David Tureau, and a family friend working as our colorist and designer, Bruce McNally, who helped us keep our vision clear.
The other really big challenge was figuring out how to do this while we were away. We were in London for a while and then in Verbier, Switzerland. (Nick is on a second career as an avid skier.) We understood what we wanted but did not realize that other people did not really get it. We did not realize at that point how hard it was to convey our aesthetic and the root of those desires to people. We weren’t doing a modern house –– and we weren’t doing an old house. At one point our good friend and designer, our project manager and even my mother called us begging us to switch the layout of the kitchen. We lost a few nights of sleep and decided what we originally planned was how it should stay –– and of course we love it the way it is!
What is your favorite part of the renovation/your favorite feature or area? Jessica: Our favorite parts of the renovation differ. Mine was finding people who so loved their craft that they really loved putting their energy into our project. For instance, we found a plasterer named Beth Delbert who made fiberglass reproductions of column bases. Our column bases were the wrong shape and made out of plywood when we bought the house, so we wanted to restore them to what they should have been, but no woodworker or wood supply company wanted to take on the project. We went to Beth, and, with Danny Taylor’s guidance, she cast a weight-bearing fiberglass version of exactly what we needed. The special part is that she did this while going through chemotherapy.
Nick’s favorite part was seeing the house as a whole come back to life. Again, we undertook the renovation with complete historical respect but without wanting to re-create the interior of the house as it would have been –– nor would we be dispensing with 20th-century comforts such as electricity, running water and plumbing! So to see a modern family house developing symbiotically with a respectfully restored New Orleans gem was wonderful.