No Small Thing

A small home base that lives large and luxe
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The bathroom is divided to create the impression of public and private spaces: one side is located at the opposite end of the entrance to serve as a powder room; the side with the bathtub, shower and shelving is located next to the bedroom. Tile from Floor & Decor, antique Belgian cabinet used as a vanity from Dopp Antiques, vintage sconce from Ricca’s.

Thea Pagel is an expert when it comes to transforming spaces.

As an event planner with 30 years of experience, she creates memorable environments for everyone from debutantes to major corporations, including Microsoft and The New York Stock Exchange. So, when she found an unassuming bracket shotgun in need of saving, she relished the challenge.

“The house was modest, but it had character and bones,” Pagel said.  “I thought I could bring it back to its former glory and then some.”

The California native first fell in love with New Orleans when she attended Tulane. Today, she makes her home base in the Big Easy, where she has renovated three houses, two of them side-by-side doubles.

“One of the things I don’t like about traditional doubles is the front-to-back layout of the rooms,” said Pagel, who remedied that by converting her current house to front and back units.

Pagel hired designer Camille Finefrock and contractor Jose Villeda of JLV Construction for the project. She gutted the 100-year old structure and turned the 800 square feet allotted for her part of the house into a home that lives large, is casual enough for daily life and refined enough for her love of entertaining.

“When I lived in New York, I saw so many creative people living in such small spaces and their utilization of the space was really inspiring,” Pagel said.

Finefrock, who likewise drew on her years living in New York — and on her love of garden design, came up with the idea of creating a circular flow to maximize the square footage and make transitional areas between the public and private zones.

“I love New Orleans for its unique character, I love old things and I like revitalizing them. This house has been here for 100 years and I’d like it to be here for another 100.”

“In garden design, paths are always supposed to take you on a journey,” she said.

Using what Pagel calls negative space, Finefrock cut into walls to create closets and shelving and added deep storage near the top of the vaulted ceiling. Open shelving minimizes clutter and provides places for Pagel to display well-edited groupings of her belongings.

Furnishings had to be flexible, appropriately scaled, and figured into the floorplan. The custom dining table, rolls, fits through the French doors for entertaining outdoors and can be expanded to seat 10. The sectional sofa comes apart. The passageways on either side of the kitchen function as corridors and a place for Pagel’s art collection.

“The design is a manifestation of Thea and the way she lives,” Finefrock said.

White walls, a palette grounded with neutrals, a vaulted ceiling and French doors that lead to a tiny garden further expand the space by making it light and airy.

“Camille and I just thought alike on a lot of different things,” Pagel said. “She understood the aspects of New Orleans and New York that I love. We had a lot of fun on the project. Every inch and every detail mattered.”

In the front unit, Pagel kept the original pine floors. However, since many of the house’s other architectural elements were not salvageable, she and Finefrock maintained the historic character of the house by using reclaimed materials: old wood floors, solid wood doors, brass hardware, antique lighting and repurposed fixtures and furniture from other sources, especially Ricca’s. Floor-to-ceiling windows were custom milled to look appropriate to a Victorian of the early 20th century.

On-trend designs, such as the patterned tile floor in the bathroom, the kitchen’s marble island, the smoked mirror of the built-in bar, and gold tone fixtures and lighting add a layer of luxury living that now looks at home in the once humble abode.

Efficiency was as important as elegance. Finefrock arranged the kitchen to accommodate the fact that Pagel is left-handed and tucked a workstation inside a closet so it can be hidden from view. Even the bathroom was designed to do double duty. By placing the sink and commode on the side that is at the end of the entry hall, part of the room serves as a powder room, while the tub, shower and shelving for personal items are placed nearer the bedroom.

“In bigger houses we have hallways and entry ways,” Finefrock said.  “I was trying to create miniature versions of that. Subtle indicators of levels of privacy.”

For Pagel, every tiny consideration that went into the three-year undertaking was personal and worth it.

“I love New Orleans for its unique character, I love old things and I like revitalizing them,” she said. “This house has been here for 100 years and I’d like it to be here for another 100.”