Brett Babineaux can hardly remember a time when he did not give a parade party — spontaneous or planned — at the Napoleon Avenue home he has owned since 1998.
That’s because the raised-basement house he now shares with his wife, Whitney, lies on the bead-catching side of the avenue just off Magazine Street and, therefore, bears witness to dozens of parades over a 10-day time period.
“Long before Whitney and I met in 2005, friends would stop by, and it would turn into a party,” Brett said. “Even before we moved here from Whitney’s house in Tremé, we’d have people over, even though the place had been gutted to the studs.”
“In those days,” added Whitney, “there would be boxes of chicken sitting on top of stacks of plywood. And one year it was so cold we had to have one of those big industrial heaters sitting in the middle of the space.”
The house has changed dramatically over the past decade, as it transitioned from being Brett’s bachelor digs to the couple’s home.
The living area expanded when the couple installed a staircase to what had been the attic and converted the space above to two rooms and a bath. Caroline Ferguson performed architectural services for the redesign, and Brett — a skilled craftsman and professional home renovator — undertook the physical work. Although intended to serve as space for guests, the converted attic became the Babineauxs’ living room, bedroom and bath while the renovation of the living room, kitchen, dining room and master suite ensued on the first floor.
“For what seemed like a very long time, we lived up upstairs without a real kitchen, cooking over hot plates and washing dishes out on the front porch with a hose,” Whitney said. “We’re glad to be downstairs now.”
Architect Ferguson helped the couple reconcile differing ideas about what the renovated space should look like.
“Being a craftsman who works on a lot of old houses, I tended to want something more traditional,” said Brett, who worked for designer Michael Carbine prior to Hurricane Katrina.
“And I like more contemporary floor plans — open with no walls,” Whitney said. “Caroline helped us come up with the best of both.”
Come Feb. 15, when guests arrive for the couple’s annual Bacchus celebration, they will be comfortable in a living room furnished with mid-century modern furniture and welcomed by Obie and Red, the Babineauxs’ dogs.
“Red goes to work with Brett on all his jobs, and he’s very popular at the lumber yards,” Whitney said. “One of Brett’s suppliers even cooks for him.”
The living room is open to the dining area, where a drafting table against one wall makes it possible for Brett to spread out large-scale plans for renovation projects.
The living room also connects through a cased opening to the kitchen, where an island that Brett fabricated from salvaged cypress takes center stage.
Topped with a thick slab of marble, the island also accommodates a drawer-style dishwasher that the couple said is perfectly sized for just the two of them. A commercial range and high-BTU broiler on one wall were rescued from one of Brett’s projects.
“We didn’t want wall cabinets because we wanted the room to feel more open,” said Whitney. “We store all of our dishes and pots and pans in the drawers of the base cabinets.”
A short hallway leads past the powder room and laundry area to the master suite at the rear of the house. On the right, the master bedroom benefits from banks of casement windows on both its south-facing and east-facing walls, ensuring a continual flood of sunlight into the space.
On the left, a dramatic marble and glass double shower with a hexagonal tile floor serves as a focal point between a large walk-in closet and a deep soaking tub (a work in progress).
Upstairs, one of two intended guest rooms has been made into an office and workspace where Whitney turns out Carnival costumes on her vintage Singer sewing machine and Brett operates the renovating business at a nearby desk.
“Somehow, we have ended up owning a house in every block of Napoleon from Tchoupitoulas to Magazine,” said Brett. The couple went a step further in 2008 when they enticed Whitney’s mother to move from Kentucky to New Orleans and purchase the single next door (which Brett renovated to her specifications).
The transformation of the Babineauxs’ house is not yet complete. There are plans to convert a room (currently concealed by plywood) into an office and library and to move the main entrance of the house to the side.
“We’d like everything finished by the time we give our Bacchus party in 2016,” said Brett.
“But you know what they say about the cobbler’s children having no shoes, right?” added Whitney. “It means that work on our own house takes longer because we’re always devoting our energies to other houses. It’s all a process.”
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. firstname.lastname@example.org, @rstephaniebruno