Toni: Reconstruction Thursdays – Commitment Phobias R Us

I’ve had a difficult time writing about this project. I have to confess that to you all up front, because every time I try to write something about it, I think, “holy geez, woman, you are full of yourself, SHUT UP,” and then I delete it. It’s a really big project–essentially, three stories of a historic building 1/2 block off Jackson Square in the French Quarter. It’s insane, is what it is. And as I start writing about it, it feels like Alice falling down the rabbit hole–one incredibly insane thing leads to another and another and it sounds… sort of ridiculous. Like bragging. And I’ve always had zero tolerance for bragging.

The thing is… it’s kinda neat, too. I’ve always had this fantasy of living in a loft-like warehouse space, in a city. I took drafting classes when I was in high school and loved them. My first-ever choice in college was to be an architect. (Until I realized that architects did Math. Not simple math, but Smart Math. Math that looked like a language from an alien species, with the symbols and the weird diagrams and my brain went explodey. I left architecture as a major when I realized that you need Smart Math to make the roof stay on top of the building and not crash through and squish the client. Picky clients.)

Anyway, I’ve loved architecture and interior design for as long as I could remember. As a kid, I used to make up stories to tell my brother Mike and our cousin, Danette; I was the oldest and it kept them entertained. Each story somehow had some amazing universe, a bus that had multiple decks (and obviously, I wasn’t the only one with that idea, as I learned later). A house with multiple stories and secret passageways and elevators and… wow, that one is coming true. I hope you will come along with me on this journey and watch the building blossom from a derelict, barely used place on a street that was, to put it bluntly, horrible, into something stunning (I hope).

Right now, I’m having to make a bunch of final decisions. I’ve had two years–through the planning stage and the committee stage and the framing stage–to make up my mind about things, but it all seemed… eventual. Eventually, I’d have to pick a color for the front of the building. Eventually, I’d have to pick out fixtures–lighting and plumbing. Which meant a design aesthetic. I didn’t want anyone else’s design aesthetic, so I figured I could pick out what I liked. And while I kept narrowing things down, I liked having my options open–just in case I saw something better. I kept putting off making the decisions and, suddenly, I now have to make them because the sub-contractors need to know where stuff is going. (Apparently, ESP is not a big requirement in the electrical and plumbing fields. Dammit.)

But it all feels so… permanent. What if I screw it up? I kept doubting myself, until my husband said, “If it’s ugly, we can change it later. You’re not marrying it.”


The main thing you have to have with a building this big is a point of view. A design aesthetic is a fancier way to say it, but mostly, you  just have to know what look you’re going for. For us, it was obvious that what we wanted to do was “industrial chic” — mostly because there are exposed beams and pipes and such that cannot be eliminated. (Well, they could be hidden at a huge cost, but that’s a waste of money, to me, and would essentially try to turn the building into something it never was. I wanted to take its organic beauty and honor it. It was a beer barn, but an extremely well-built one. The exposed pipes and such came about later, during many renovations.)

One of the decisions I made that I’m happy about is that the bathrooms (with the exception of the master bath), will all have antique vanities for the wash-basins. The building is 107ish years old, and I didn’t want everything in there to look new, like we’d slapped it on. This week was the first time I started finding what I wanted.  Here’s the vanity that we’ll use in the main floor half-bath:


half bath vanity


We’ll put Carrera marble (or a quartz lookalike) on that surface and then a bowl on top of that. (The marble to protect the wood.) I’ll use an old-fashioned faucet/handle to complement it. And I’ll probably do a more upscale, modern wall-paper or painting technique to give the walls a slightly more modern look.

Here’s the second vanity I found, which will go in the guest bath:

guest bath vanity


(Crappy photo, sorry. I wasn’t sure I was going to get this, and just grabbed a quick snap before I went elsewhere.)

I shopped antique stores, but I’ve been to a few flea markets, garage sales, etc., trying to find what I wanted. I’m also an excellent haggler. I can’t stand upscale snooty places that act like they’re too good to haggle (or wait on me). I ended up getting both of these pieces for less than half their marked price, and at a price that was lower than what we could spend buying “regular” vanities or, in our case, building them.

Next to that one above, I’m going to do my fantasy slipper claw foot tub (with a shower). I’ve found one that will fit in the space. I’ve always wanted one and can’t put one in the master bath.

Next week, we’ll be starting to build our own cabinets and doors. (Doors, as in all of the doors in this whole building.)

Right now, the electrician is wiring up everything (and we’ve had quite a few discussions as to why I do not want giant six inch pot lights staring me in the face and why he hates the 3″ pot lights (we have compromised on 4″). You wouldn’t think you’d have to have a conversation like that, but a lot of times, the guys doing the install have good ideas about what works, and what doesn’t, so it pays to ask and listen. I respect their experience. They respect my Crazy. It works.

Tomorrow, though, the plumber is getting started and holy geez, that means I have to know final selections on all of the fixture locations and there are still a couple of things I don’t yet have picked out, so I have to get that done.

This has been an amazing adventure. It’s stunning, really, to sit back and think, “Wow, this building has been here for 106 years, and it will be here a hundred years after we’re gone. Some day, someone’s going to walk through here–maybe a great great great grandkid–and think, wow, my great great great grands were nuts!” 

Exactly as it should be.

27 thoughts on “Toni: Reconstruction Thursdays – Commitment Phobias R Us

  1. This sounds like an incredible undertaking, but it also sounds like great fun. Getting to start from scratch. I’d love that! I’ve completely renovated (that might be too strong a word – there was no demo after all) my first floor. New tile, new carpet, new appliances, new paint (living room only) and new back door. Oh, and had a fence installed around the front yard for the poochy.

    I still walk into my house and just smile. We’d lived on concrete for more than 18 months and to have it look like a house again is so wonderful. There’s more I want to do, but the “have to do”s are done. I’m calling it a victory, and will attack further in the spring.

    Oh, and thanks for the tip to go with semi-gloss. Looks so good!

  2. Toni, I too was torn between wanting to be an architect or a novelist. I had to choose at 15, because you have to specialize early in the UK. I loved maths and physics, although I don’t know how I’d have got on with the advanced stuff. I was put off by a careers booklet written by an architect, that said you had to be able to think in seven dimensions, and come up with a better design solution than an igloo is in the Arctic. I suppose the subtext of that would be, ‘You have to have a really big ego!’ (Plus I wanted to write even more than I wanted to design.)

    I dream of a project like yours, to fulfil my inner architect. (Actually, I’d love to co-design my dream eco home, once my Premium Bond comes up.) So it’s brilliant to hear that you’re doing it.

    (I haven’t written a novel yet, either: I’m extremely slow, but still pursuing my dreams.)

  3. I’m so jealous. It sounds like a lot of fun and hard work for an amazing product (a home in an old building). What’s a beer barn?

    Not that I should be jealous. I live in a 1830s farm house that burned and was partially rebuilt (badly) in the 1890s. I’ve got the old building. We’ve done a little here and there, but it will take more money than I’ve got to give it the character I wish it had. Plus more room! I need a studio. Son#2 needs his own space (Shares with Son#1. Although how I can call him son#1 when he’s only 7 minutes older astounds me.)

  4. I jokingly refer to it as the “beer barn” because it was converted from two old buildings (origin date unknown) to a barn for the Jackson Brewing Co. It once housed their carriages, their horses, and a lot of the supplies that they used over in the brewery (which is located just a half block over toward the river).

  5. Lynda says:

    I really admire your Crazy! Back in the late ’90s, when we were doing some upgrades to the house we had then, I had great fun picking out the bathroom fixtures and such that I wanted, and afterward, when it was all put together, I realized that my tastes were so middle-of-the-road that they amounted to downright boring. Still, it was what I was comfortable with, so I guess that’s all that matters. Anyway, I’m loving hearing about your adventures in rebuilding. I’d never have the nerve!

  6. First: do NOT feel bad about “bragging” here. We all WANT to hear you talk about your passion and your joy and tell us the wonderful things you do, as we do with everyone else. Please “brag” and tell us more!

    I, too, wanted to be an architect, but Smart Math is my kryptonite. I’ve considered going to school for interior design, but I’m an introvert and afraid that I’ll go insane with all that interaction stuff. I did enjoy the rehab I did on my 2nd house (replaced all the flooring, gutted the bathroom to the exterior walls because the studs had rotted, designed the new bath, replaced windows, did the tile around the tub/shower, laid a slate tile floor, painted). I love this stuff. I want to do it again! So I guess that makes me crazy, too.

    I love the vanities you’ve found and can’t wait to see them in place. I’m so looking forward to seeing more of your home because you and your husband are creative and capable and I’m sure it’s going to be fabulous. So, please, please, PLEASE share with us and don’t feel like you are doing something wrong by doing so. 🙂

  7. When I really hated being a lawyer, I thought I’d go back to school to become an architect. (Didn’t know about the Smart Maths requirement, and, as one of my law professors used to say, if his students could do math, they’d have been in med school, not law school.)

    But then I realized that the bits of practicing law that I hated (the schmoozing and the office politics and the trolling for clients) were just as much a part of the business of being an architect. The substantive work of both things is interesting, but the rest of the stuff, not so much.

    Of course, then I started writing, and found out that in addition to the fun/challenging substantive work — surprise! — there’s schmoozing and industry politics and trolling for agents/editors/readers.

  8. It’s kinda amazing how many of us wanted to be architects and end up writing (or wanting to be both). We’ve migrated from building real world stuff to building imaginary worlds, so it makes sense.

  9. Micki says:

    I love hearing about your project. (-: I’m a big fan of secret passageways and cubbyholes and things that don’t look like what they are, myself. Love the vanities.

  10. Lois says:

    Please be even more specific about where your place is – I will be in New Orleans in January and love wandering around the Quarter. So then I can casually stroll by in a non-stalking way 🙂
    I love hearing about what you are creating.

  11. denise says:

    so nice the electrician respects the Bobbie Faye juju by understanding your Crazy. The Super Bowl outage must have given him heed. 😉

    Seriously, thanks for the update. I love watching the progress and all the cool stuff you buy. You and Carl are doing great stuff for NOLA!

  12. Thea says:

    We’re just back from New Orleans, so of course I’m impressed with what you’re doing. Half block from Jackson Square? Think I know where you are. The Quarter seems more prosperous compared to our stay years ago. Soniat House served as base both times. Last visit we wouldn’t have dared walk to Snug Harbor and back, and easy-peasy stroll this year. I appreciated our greeting from shopkeepers, including from those who work the art, antique and vintage shops. Stayed away from Bourbon Street, and certainly there’s enough to do and see elsewhere in the Quarter. Once again home, we’re enjoying the CDs we picked up from street musicians. And the art glass, and the coffee, and the various food stuff and books and sun catchers. Oh, yes, we enjoyed the Quarter. Go NOLA! By the way, folks from New Orleans attended the Heritage Rose Conference we went on to, and they seemed pretty darn find at bringing The Crazy too.

  13. I never before saw the similarity of architecture and writing, but now it makes perfect sense as two ways of creating and changing the world. I thank you for sharing the process, and on a scale I’d be afraid to attempt.

  14. ruthie says:

    I love those slipper tubs! When we were driving across country, taking the southern route, we stayed at a B&B in Alabama that had only one bathroom for the three guest rooms to share. But what a bathroom! You could have had a tea dance in there. It was huge. In an antebellum mansion, with veranda all around the upper floor, the bathroom had about 20-25 feet of outside wall, mostly windows and French doors. At one end was a red slipper tub, a 7 foot long red slipper tub (which sounds better than it actually works out in real life, trying not to slip under the water with nothing to brace your feet against)…with a huge mirror right next to it in case you wanted to do a sexy bath scene for yourself. 😉

    My friend and I took one look at that bathroom and that tub and decided that we would need to bathe at least, at least, twice a day while we were there, and we’d fight each other for first dibs. Sorry. One of my fantasy bathrooms. Yes, I have more than one, doesn’t everyone?

    We stayed in another B&B on that same trip, in New Orleans in the Quarter. It was one of those old homes that was built around a courtyard. Funky and crazy with two steps up, three steps down between rooms. The owner was an elderly lady who had a young man running it for her at that time, but it had been around for a very long time. I was sorry to learn that when she died, the new owners closed it.

    This project of yours sounds so amazing, just like something I’d love to have done if only I had the skills. 😉 You are my hero, Toni.

  15. ruthie says:

    Back again. I want to pull out the fitted cabinets in the kitchen and do a non-fitted style instead. I’ve been eying some of the antiques my mom had for things that might work. I’ve got a lovely bottle green glass vessel sink I’m going to put on one, with one of those arching bar faucets over it, and use that for a dedicated fruit and veggie sink — it always feels like I should high clean the sink before washing produce in it. So, seeing your “vanities” makes me very happy. Great minds.

  16. This is soooo exciting, Toni! The closest I came to this was when we moved to England and bought a 100+ year old house that hadn’t been decorated (or updated) since the 1930s. I love decorating, but our biggest issue was money – specifically, the lack of it. Our design decisions were based on what we could get for the cheapest price. We got the mortgage with the understanding that we would replace all the wiring and flooring within two years of moving in, BUT we had to come up with the funds for those renovations ourselves. I wore knee socks to work that year because I couldn’t afford stockings – it wasn’t exactly starving artist poor, but it was close.

    The last time my husband and I did a big renovation project was when we sold our house last year. We’d already renovated the bathrooms, but we hadn’t touched the kitchen. It looked gorgeous when we moved – and it made me wish we’d tackled that project when we could enjoy the fruits of our labors.

    Now I’m happy to live through your decorating and renovation adventures vicariously. I look forward to seeing more pictures as the work progresses!

    Oh – one more thing. A relative of my husband’s was an electrician, and he agreed to rewire our house in England for a bargain price. We came home from work one day to find new electrical outlets installed in our bathrooms, one of which said “For razors only” in 10 languages. It must have been intended for a hotel and somehow found its way *cough* into our bathroom. We never did figure out what all the languages were, but it was a real conversation starter when we had guests!

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