The Friday night before Mardi Gras is a busy time for Carole Anne "Can" Brown. That's when the Krewe of Southdowns Mardi Gras Parade passes in front of her New Orleans-style home.
Everything is decked out in purple, green and gold with masses of beads, doubloons, ribbons and flowers for the big house party Brown hosts for her three daughters, their spouses, her seven grandchildren and lots of family friends. Garlands hang from the porch rails and from the front lights on the slate front porch. The dining room table is centered with musical instruments surrounded with beads and masks. Mardi Gras arrangements sit on nearly every tabletop throughout her home.
Brown loves her corner of Southdowns. It's where she grew up in a three-bedroom, one-bath home built in 1937.
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For years, she and her late husband, Kenneth Brown, traveled the country and the world in his career with the Army Corps of Engineers. When he retired in 1988 as deputy district engineer for the Vicksburg, Mississippi, District, they thought they had settled for good in a town house in the historic Pontalba Apartments in New Orleans. But, after both of her parents died, the Browns decided to move back to Baton Rouge to her family home.
"This would be our 20th move in 35 years," she said.
They planned a few changes to the home.
"It was just going to be a remodel. We would add a master bedroom. We would make the den a little bigger, but after we discovered major foundation problems in the house, it turned into a rebuild," she said.
Kenneth Brown undertook the project of building the new home working with architect Andy McDonald, of Madisonville.
"You had the architect, and you had the engineer," Brown said. "Kenneth would draw everything before he took it to the architect."
Because the Browns loved the architecture of Crescent City, many "New Orleans elements" crept into the plans for their Baton Rouge home, like ironwork by local iron artist Frank Land almost identical to that at the Pontalba.
The front of the home is in the traditional New Orleans style with a wide center hall. The living room is to the left; the dining room to the right. Sliphead windows, exactly like those in the Pontalba, are made in two parts with the bottom half of each made to slip into the top, creating floor-to-ceiling windows that open from the living and dining rooms to the front porch. The windows can be closed off completely with shutters built inside the window frames.
"The grandchildren really love that we can go in and out of the house through the windows," Brown said.
The formal front of the house is easily closed off with pocket doors that open to the large den with kitchen, seating and breakfast areas and a walk-in bar. The eastern wall of the den is a massive cherry cabinet designed by Kenneth Brown with doors that hide the television and sound system.
The master bedroom to the right of the den is where the grandchildren like to spend time on what they call the "comfy couch," which belonged to Kenneth Brown's grandmother, and on Can Brown's bed, which they call "the cloud."
The couple's children and grandchildren all live close by, so there are plenty of comings and goings of youngsters, who are completely at home at Nana's. Upstairs are three bedrooms, three baths, a living area and a mini kitchen.
"We built nice, big, open rooms so everyone can be together," Brown said.
The den opens to a courtyard, an outdoor kitchen and a floored garage, which can serve as an overflow entertainment area. Above the garage is an efficiency apartment, which was Kenneth Brown's office.
Brown chose paint colors, fabrics and accessories with the assistance of her sister-in-law, Susie Petrie, an interior designer.
For their first Mardi Gras in the home, Petrie did the decorations, which are stored each year after Carnival season in boxes marked with complete instructions about where they should be placed the next year.
The house was Kenneth Brown's project, but sadly, he died of cancer in 2012.
"Kenneth always said that he built this house to be here for 200 years," Brown said. "It's supposed to be a house to live in and let everybody enjoy."