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:
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:
(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.