The possibilities are endless for home and garden renovations
by Leslie Cardé
WHEN SIR EDWARD COKE said “a man’s home is his castle” back in the 17th century, he couldn’t have known the implications that statement would have in an era of Covid, four centuries later. For those lucky enough to have residences here in the city that were already geared to family entertainment on the home turf, hunkering down has been a bit easier. For one family on Garden Lane in the Country Club Gardens neighborhood of New Orleans with a backyard which includes a pool with fountains, a regulation tennis court, large greenspaces, and views that continue on down the fairway of the New Orleans Country Club, being at home rivals any top-notch resort.
However, many folks became acutely aware that their homes were not designed for a staycation. Enter the designers, architects and builders in the New Orleans area to turn boring spaces into exotic habitats that encourage recreation and relaxation.
“Being stuck at home meant people couldn’t go on a vacation, so they wanted a 5-star vacation in their backyard,” explains Kirk J. Colgan, a professional landscape architect and owner of Artscape Land Design. “If they couldn’t get on a plane for Tahiti, they were going to bring Tahiti to them. And, since they weren’t spending money on expensive travel vacations, they had the funds to spend on transforming their own environment. People wanted to exit their back door and into an oasis.”
Pools and spas add a feeling of serenity to any space. And, while it may be a new renovation, sometimes the owners want an “old world” feel. One uptown New Orleans Saints executive wanted the feel of a French Quarter courtyard, so Artscape Land Design set about to put
those antique elements into play. Materials seen in the
Quarter were replicated around the modern pool. “True blue” flagstone appears on the deck and spa, and rare “old hard tan” bricks embellish the back wall where the “sheer descent” water feature recirculates the pool water.
Bringing one’s favorite pastime within steps of the back door can be very appealing. One such home in Old Metairie is designed with a full-scale putting green.
“The owners of that house on Arlington had been there twenty years and the putting green was the owner’s idea, since he’s an avid golfer and wanted to spend time on his game without going to the country club,” says Chase Mullin, owner of Mullin, who builds dream exteriors. “In this particular instance the initial design was done elsewhere, which is unusual for us. We tweaked the plans and put everything together for the build-out. Fortunately, this family had an oversized backyard which allowed us to include an outdoor kitchen, a deck with pergola, and a fire pit. The lawn itself is artificial turf, which stays green all year long, and allows the golfer in the house to attempt chip shots onto the green.”
If you live in a heavily forested area like Mandeville on the Northshore, it’s possible to create an environment which literally brings the woods right onto your property. With a fence way at the back of the property, using non- opaque material makes it virtually invisible,” explains Kirk Colgan. “And, in this manner, one spaces flows right into the other.”
Many homeowners have extended renovations into other areas of the house… kitchens and baths being among the most popular.
“These renovations can become very elaborate and sometimes involve teams of contractors and installers,” recounts designer Nicole Ruppel Jones of Legend Interiors. “The interesting thing is that since the onset of the pandemic, the lead times on materials have gotten longer and longer with the cutbacks and closing of some factories, so we encourage those considering renovations to order appliances, countertops, flooring, and anything else needed, early. Each home has an individual set of challenges. You never know what you might find, for instance, when you tear down a wall.”
One particular Bucktown kitchen integrates a number of current trends, and seems to bring a sophisticated finish to an area that has traditionally concentrated on utilitarian design.
“This gold and white kitchen, designed by me and built by Precision Builders, has ample natural light streaming in from windows everywhere, enlarging the space immediately,” says Jones. “One of the new trends is mixing metals. Matchy-matchy is gone. Cabinetry can be in different colors throughout the kitchen, and islands often get their own color splash. (Green and turquoise are now popular colors.) Oversized lighting, like pendant lights are now often seen over islands. And many clients now want elaborate wet bars built. They’ve sprung up everywhere, with so many New Orleans bar closures.”
Powder rooms are even less conventional. According to Jones, anything goes! Color tones do not need to match the rest of the house, wild wallpaper is au courant, and innovative cabinetry in a color like cobalt blue really makes a statement.
In light of movie theater closures in the time of Covid, many clients are requesting their own home theaters. One such theater at a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home on the New Orleans lakefront boasts adjustable footrest seating for eight, amidst a specialized sound system. The theater is conveniently located adjacent to the home bar, putting the large built-in chair cup holders to good use.
For one designer, adding on a new master suite to her own home in Kenner meant extending the back of the house into part of the rear yard, thereby gaining lots of wanted space for her innovative bathroom. But it’s the use of that space that may have you doing a double-take. The LED lighting on the ceiling and under the cabinetry is remote controlled and includes 13 colors in its palette, including violet, fire engine red and emerald green, just for starters.
“We decided to stay in this house, and design it so we can age in place,” recounts designer Danielle Cambre of DC Home Interiors. “At the moment, we have young girls, and two large dogs, but it’s laid out so we can enjoy it now and far into the future. The walls are all fortified, so they can support grab rails if needed down the road. The shower space is extra-large with multiple shower heads and pebble floors which not only look unique but serve as a non-slip surface. And, the rest of the flooring is done with high density material where lots of friction is created when you walk, making it a stable surface—preventing falls.”
And while safety is certainly a guiding factor, the bathroom looks modern and trendy with its black marble countertops, horizontal door and drawer pulls, stunning chandeliers, and metallic cork wallpaper. A built-in waterproof television over the extra-large soaking tub, and a large vanity area with recessed lighting are the icing on the cake.
Whatever and whenever you as a homeowner decide to renovate, getting an expert in on the project will help you attain your goals.
“My typical clients have been in their homes at least five years, and it’s usually not their first home,” said Mullin. “In fact, it’s very probably their forever home. They’ve been thinking about and planning what they might want, and then they’ll engage us to help them realize that vision.”
Every professional we spoke with emphasized that no one should be afraid to think outside of the box.
“Walls don’t have to be white,” says Jones. “We live in a colorful city. Showcase those colors in your home.”
As for backyards, try to think about what you want and what the area will be used for.
“I always ask clients what they love and what they hate,” says Colgan. “If they hate palm trees and love water, we can go with a southern garden a la the French Quarter, and some sort of pool. Even if the backyard is small and they don’t have room for an Olympic sized pool, there are cocktail pools or garden pools that can be 12’ X 6’… or perhaps a lap pool which is only 5 feet wide.”
One thing is certain. When it comes to renovations, the possibilities are endless!