“It all started with a leaky bathtub,” says Mark Hightower, recalling the one-thing-led-to-another scenario behind the home renovation that he and his wife, Julie, undertook five years ago. “Julie said, ‘As long as we’re going to fix this, we might as well do the kitchen.’”
It’s a warm Saturday morning, and the couple is cozily ensconced in their sunny kitchen with their two dogs, Sadie and Homer, and the aroma of breakfast still in the air. It’s easy to see that they enjoy their home and that the decision to renovate the century-old shotgun was a wise one.
A waitress at Clancy’s Restaurant for the past 10 years, Julie relishes the idea of being home on her nights off. And as one of the original owners of Flagons Wine Bar and a wholesale distributor of wines with Wines Unlimited, Mark has developed a knowledge of fine wines and a self-taught repertoire of cooking skills that lend themselves nicely to the prospect of staying in. He visits the farmers markets twice a week and regularly prepares meals inspired by the many dining experiences he’s had in the local restaurants with which he does business. Naturally, when the Hightowers went from repairing a bathroom to a full-on home makeover, their directive to architect Lisa Pulitzer was that in addition to requiring two bedrooms and two baths, they wanted a kitchen conducive to their love of good food and good wine and the kind of comfort and livability that would be in sync with their lifestyle.
“They’re both foodies, and they hang out with food people,” says Pulitzer, who calls the Hightowers her favorite clients ever. “So the focus was on the kitchen.”
The original space, which was divided into a galley kitchen, a small utility bathroom and a passageway, was gutted and opened into a single large room. By taking out the existing drop-down ceiling, Pulitzer, who brought in contractor Dan Haggerty for the job, added another 3 feet of height. She rearranged the placement of windows and doors and guided the selection of surfaces and fixtures. “My job was to tell them what their options were,” says Pulitzer. Ultimately, gunmetal-colored slate tiles cut into a herringbone pattern were chosen for the floor and classic Venetino marble for the counters. Sleek cabinets with a dark cherry finish and glass front doors were installed and mixed with stainless steel appliances –– including a wine refrigerator, an Amana refrigerator, a professional Wolf range requested by Mark and an ice maker requested by Julie. But the complete renovation stretches all the way from the kitchen at the rear of the house to the master bedroom and bath at the front –– and to the outdoor areas, as well.
Nearly every surface was renewed or replaced; walls and doors were removed; crown moldings were added throughout; and where possible, windows and other relevant architectural elements were salvaged and recycled into the redesign. “Lisa was really easy to work with,” says Mark. “She had great ideas, and she’s great with reusing things. She wasn’t one of these slash-and-burn, rip-everything-out people.”
Instead, Pulitzer starts with the philosophy that every good renovation requires the proper use of proportion. Every inch of the compact cottage had to be carefully considered in order to make the most of its 1,297 square feet and to showcase its eclectic collection of furniture, accessories and art. “Julie’s taste is clean, classic and elegant,” says Pulitzer. “To juxtapose an old New Orleans house like this one with modern things, you have to strip it down and let what’s always right and timeless show through –– which is proportion.”
Investing in quality materials rather than opting for the quick fix also was an important part of the process. Pulitzer had Mark and Julie research a variety
of books and magazines for images of rooms they liked and then steered them toward materials with long-term appeal.
“I always make my clients pull pictures,” she says. “You can’t get inside their heads otherwise.” What emerged was an aesthetic much like hers. The kitchen’s cherry cabinets, light marble and early-20th-century-style pendant fixtures are the same as those used in a previous home of her own.
To lighten and enlarge the narrow house, which began as a modest three-room residence and was added to over time, architect and clients went with a palette of neutral colors such as Farrow & Ball’s Bone and Benjamin Moore’s Glacier White and lightened the original wood floors with a matte honey-colored stain.
An astute shopper with an eye for color and design and a penchant for moving things around, Julie found many of the house’s new furnishings, which she combined with pieces that she and Mark already had, through her favorite local stores –– Pied Nu, Interior Designs II and Hazelnut. She also acquired some pieces, including the Mies van der Rohe knockoff in the guest room and the Oly dining table, by swapping items with her sister and several friends.
A decade ago, she and Mark began buying art from local galleries, a feature of the house that is in constant motion. “Julie’s always bringing stuff home on approval,” says Mark, who like his wife finds creative inspiration in his surroundings. “New Orleans opens you up to a lot of things –– the architecture, the personality, the energy. There’s very little like it left in the United States.”