In Renovator’s Notebook, homeowners open up about the nitty-gritty of their remodels: How long it really took; how much it actually cost; what went horribly wrong; and what went wonderfully, serendipitously, it’s-all-worth-it-in-the-end right. For more tips to nail your next project, follow @reno_notebook.
Size: 1,176 square feet
Location: New Orleans
Year built: 1840
Top priority: Restore the Creole cottage to meet the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.
A hot tub turned on its side resting against the front door might have physically blocked Breeze Braunschweig and husband Kartik Ramachandran’s entrance to this 1840s double shotgun Creole cottage in New Orleans, but it didn’t deter them from buying it in 2017. Braunschweig, an interior designer, had already renovated a similar property across the street in 2015, so when this place’s owner, who inherited the house from her grandmother, decided to sell, Braunschweig was her first call.
The architecture of the property was rare: It featured a dogtrot, meaning two cottages were connected by a breezeway, all under a common roof. “To think we could bring one back to life was exciting,” says Braunschweig. Several contractors suggested demolishing and starting over, but one agreed to take on the challenge of a remodel. “I wanted the house to feel cheerful and transport people to a bygone era,” she notes.
After a year of renovations, Braunschweig, Ramachandran (who works in real estate and finance), and their 10-year-old Louisiana Catahoula Leopard dog, Bayou, moved into one of the cottages. One of Braunschweig’s high school friends, Jimmy Chang, lives in the other. “He is lovingly referred to as the Mayor of Marais Street, as he can often be found cleaning out a catch basin or waving at neighbors from his stoop, all of whom he knows by name,” she says.
Here, Braunschweig walks us through how she brought the historic property back to life and in turn created a time capsule in the heart of New Orleans.
Save: Research, Research, Research
We used state and federal tax-credit programs to restore the house in accordance with the standards of the Secretary of the Interior of the U.S. government, which is a lengthier process, but it’s so worth it if you have a historic home. I worked with a historic preservation tax credit consultant to guide me, which I highly recommend. All in all, we spent $274,000, but we received 20 percent back in federal tax credits as well as 20 percent back in state tax credits, so we knocked roughly $100,000 off the renovation expenses.
Splurge: Appliances That Only Look Vintage
With everything else being antique or secondhand, I didn’t want modern-looking appliances. The Smeg refrigerators were pricey for their size (about $2,000 each), but they were so pretty and far more efficient than a vintage counterpart. I chose the yellow Smeg first when my mom urged me to go for it, then I added some sunny artwork to match. The turquoise one just had such a nice, mellow vintage feel.
Save: Shop Far and Wide
I found antique upper cabinets and cast-iron sinks on Craigslist and at the local salvage yard. The kitchens are so narrow and long; the lengthy sink echoed that well. Plus it’s not often you come by one in good shape that still has the legs intact. The Wedgewood stove, however, is from Los Angeles. I had it restored locally by Reliance Appliance in Berkeley and then drove it to New Orleans.
The backsplashes and range hoods were made using reclaimed lathe from our contractor’s old jobs. We bought new lower cabinets from Home Depot and replaced the doors with lumber from what remained of the original baseboards in the house. The insides still have the same blue paint! We also used the original baseboards as repurposed shelving in the kitchens and laundry rooms.
Save: Don’t Turn Down Family Help
Our dinnerware is all antique; one set was passed down from my Aunt Mary. My mom, Dayla, made the macramé curtains with cute vintage pelican and crawfish beads throughout the house; she learned [the craft] from her mom, Maxine.
Save: Start With a Salvage Trip
I wish I could say I had a strong vision for the bathroom renovation, but in all honesty, it materialized out of items I found. The tile is a mix of Heath Ceramics seconds I collected, and I discovered the vintage turquoise sink at a salvage yard and had to have it. At one point, I had an antique high-level cistern toilet installed, but the modern plumbing parts were not compatible with the antique bowl.
We scrubbed the original claw-foot tubs, and miraculously they were in good enough shape to keep. I sandblasted the exteriors and then coated the cast iron in linseed oil to keep them from rusting. I love them; they fit the time period of the house and they’re nice to soak in.
Splurge: Collect What You Love
I spent far more on art and furnishings than I had anticipated. I found the ice cream sign at an antique fair and it became the inspiration for the spumoni exterior paint colors (cherry, strawberry, chocolate, and pistachio). It was the first item I hung up in the house. The Baptist Church sign was salvaged from a church in the Los Angeles area; I purchased it from Through the Porthole on a whim while picking up the hutch that’s in the dining room. I decided to go with the theme and also bought a small oak pew.
While I was at the Round Top Antiques Fair, my friend Lauren Wells sent me a link to a painting, and I designed the entire dining room around it. It came from an old bar back in upstate New York and dates back to the ’20s. Lauren is a bad influence and I love her for it. The 8-foot-high bottle stand is quite the conversation piece and we are still trying to learn its original purpose. It’s always fun to hear guests’ best guesses over a gin and tonic.
Our Winter Renovation issue is here! Subscribe now to step inside Leanne Ford’s latest project—her own historic Pennsylvania home. Plus discover our new rules of reno.