Brennan Fournerat made a bold prediction when showing off his renovation-in-progress back in October.
“We’ll be in by Mardi Gras,” he said.
The goal was ambitious, considering the condition of the house at the time. Wiring, plumbing and HVAC still needed to be installed, a new kitchen and master bath built, walls painted and myriad additional projects — large and small — completed.
But true to his word, Fournerat managed to move his family into the Peniston Street bungalow the day of the first Uptown parade.
Along with his wife, Ashley, and daughter, Juliette, 3, he has been entertaining friends and family at the new house ever since, even if everything isn’t quite ready for prime time.
“Wouldn’t you know it? The day of the move, I called Patrick and said we were heading over,” Ashley said, referring to Patrick Anderson, the contractor.
“He said, ‘But the floors aren’t ready.’ So we had to move everything into one room while we waited for all the floors to dry out.”
That small hiccup did not stop the Fournerats from hosting guests at their new house for back-to-back parades last weekend, despite the boxes stored in the future family room, waiting to be unpacked.
Everyone who came by before, during and after the parades was eager to see the house the couple purchased in July 2014 from Dr. Gilbert Rochon, an esteemed educator and former president of Tuskegee University.
“Before I saw it, it never would have been my first choice of a house style. I thought I wanted something Victorian with lots of millwork,” said Ashley. “But as soon as we walked inside and I saw the woodwork and murals and stained glass, I fell in love. I had to bite my tongue to keep a poker face.”
Ashley recognized the exceptional quality of the architecture of the home, designed by renowned New Orleans architects Favrot and Livaudais in about 1910.
With its asymmetrical façade, deep roof overhangs, shingle and weatherboard cladding, and stone foundation and columns, it serves as a stellar example of the Craftsman bungalow style.
“Every project seems to have one issue that makes it difficult and here it was the roof,” said Brennan, a veteran of a half-dozen or so rehab projects of various sizes and scopes.
It may have been a major issue, but the terra cotta roof is also one of the home’s most distinctive and defining features. It is composed of Ludovici French tiles, which are flat instead of the more common rounded terracotta tiles. When the Fournerats purchased the house, stacks of tiles lay in the yard, awaiting reinstallation.
“Unfortunately a lot of them were broken so we needed to hunt for tiles to complete the roof,” Brennan said. “We looked everywhere and ended up finding some in Kenner. The other issue was that we needed orange tiles when we could only find red, so we had to paint the red tiles with cement paint to match the right shade of orange. The paint penetrates a couple of millimeters into the tile, so even in a hail storm they should retain their color.”
The couple devoted time and energy to restoring additional details that make the home the architectural showplace that it is.
They took care to sand down the cypress millwork and built-ins throughout the house to remove dirt and grime, then stained them in a shade appropriate for the Arts and Crafts era.
They also enlisted the aid of Attenhofer’s Stained Glass Studio in Metairie to begin restoring the abundant stained glass in windows, doors and transoms.
“We’re not able to do a full restoration just yet, but we have started by replacing pieces that were broken,” Brennan said. “When the budget allows, we’re going to take everything to Attenhofer’s to be reglazed.”
The stained glass pattern is simple but arresting, as befits a Craftsman home.
“It’s a tulip bud that gradually opens when you follow the pattern around the room,” Brennan said.
The Fournerats expect that fully furnishing their new nest will take time and the influx of additional funds, because of the difference in size between their previous home on Fontainebleau and their Peniston bungalow.
“I think everything we have can actually fit in the family room, because our old house was 2,100 square feet and this one is 4,700. It wasn’t until all of our furniture was delivered Friday that we realized how much we would need to buy,” Brennan said.
Rooms in the house have tall ceilings and oversized dimensions. Downstairs accommodates a living room, family room, guest bedroom/playroom, dining room, powder room and expansive kitchen. Upstairs, three bedrooms, all with walk-in closets, are complemented by baths and a laundry room. The master bedroom is unusually large and features a giant hearth and built-in benches.
“We understand that this used to be a billiards room,” said Brennan.
Although the Fournerats approached the renovation with care because of their respect for historic architecture, their meticulous restoration qualified them for two tax incentives available to homeowners who rehabilitate historic properties according to certain standards.
The Restoration Tax Abatement from the City of New Orleans freezes property taxes at their pre-renovation level for a period of five years. The Residential Tax Credit from the state of Louisiana can amount to a credit against state income taxes equal to as much as $25,000.
Using both the tax abatement and tax credit programs helps defray some of the expenses of the project and makes it just a little more affordable for the family.
If last weekend is any indicator, all three Fournerats will take full advantage of their new address just three blocks from the St. Charles Avenue parade route until Ash Wednesday arrives and mounted police officers sweep revelers off the French Quarter sidewalks at midnight. But the party won’t end entirely for the family, even after Carnival is done.
“Our baby son is due Feb. 23,” said a very pregnant Ashley. “That’s another reason we wanted to be in the house by now, but honestly, it was secondary to Mardi Gras.”
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. firstname.lastname@example.org, @rstephaniebruno