Ernie Croan was living in California when he told his best buddy, Bert McComas, that he planned to retire in New Orleans.
“Ernie said to me, ‘It’s such a great city, you really ought to think about moving there, too. You’d really like it,’” recalled McComas.
That was nine years ago, and Croan still isn’t a fulltime resident of the city. But in just a few weeks, he will make good on his long-ago promise and move into the spectacular Greek Revival double-gallery house in Algiers Point on Vallette Street he purchased in 2014.
“I never thought it would take this long for Ernie to retire,” joked McComas, who followed his friend’s advice and moved to New Orleans about seven years ago. “I’m glad I came when I did. I’ve really gotten to know the city, so when Ernie finally told me a couple of years ago that he was close enough to retiring to buy a house, I could help him house hunt.”
At first, McComas tried to convince Croan to buy a house in Bywater, where he lives and works as the general manager of the Country Club. But Croan wanted to keep an open mind about neighborhoods.
“We must’ve looked at 20 or 30 houses,” said McComas. “This house is the first one he saw and he just couldn’t get it out of his mind.”
It’s easy to see why the house appealed to Croan.
Built in the mid-19th century for a member of the Vallette family, the house is architecturally intact inside and out — despite having been divided into apartments before the Lowrey family bought and restored it in the 1970s. The Greek key door surround at the entry, gas lanterns, cast iron railing and tall windows give the house indisputable curb appeal.
Inside the 3,800-square foot, three-bedroom house are high ceilings, tall baseboards, elaborate plaster crown molding and ceiling medallions, gleaming heart pine floors and pocket doors that have endured since the house was built about 150 years ago.
The previous owners took excellent care of the building, McComas said.
“All it needed was furniture and decorating,” he said. “Ernie asked me if I would do it for him because he likes my place on Louisa Street.”
Croan gave his friend free rein.
“I knew I could do it the way it should be done and that Ernie would like,” McComas said. “Furniture, artwork, fabrics — all of that was left to me. I had a vision for how I wanted each room to look.”
The front parlor has a blue theme, expressed in the pair of blue-striped upholstered chairs near the front windows, blue Dupioni silk window coverings, a blue rug with a white geometric pattern, and pieces of blue and white china as accessories.
Accent pieces include a pair of gold bunching tables (in lieu of a coffee table) and two gold upholstered ottomans that can serve double duty as seating.
“I had asked a friend, a British gentleman, if he knew of a china pattern that came in blue, gold and white, and he said, ‘You must have Catherine the Great.’ I only planned to get a couple of pieces but ended up with a service for 10, all marked ‘Made in USSR’ on the bottom,” McComas said. “Ernie loves to entertain and he can use it for dinner parties.”
The dining room is separated from the front parlor by the family room, but all connect to one another through pocket doors. The long dining table can seat 12 guests when all of its eaves are installed. A dramatic crystal chandelier hangs above the dining table, where various sizes of clear glass jars hold candles. Colorful artwork — especially pieces by Amzie Adams — enhance the room.
“When I finished the interior and everything was in place, we made changes on the outside,” said McComas. ‘The house was all white when Ernie bought it, but I felt it needed color. So I told him that if he didn’t like it after it was painted with the colors I chose, I’d pay to have it repainted.”
No need: Croan was delighted with the five Benjamin Moore colors that McComas picked. No sooner was the house painted than Croan told McComas he thought a pool would make a nice addition to the site’s amenities. Oh, and what about a two-car garage with a bath? And while they’re at it, how about an outdoor cooking area? An outside shower? A dog run?
It has taken about a year to realize Croan’s site improvements. A team that included Brian Sublette of Daly-Sublette Landscape Architects, architect L. Katherine Harmon, and Paradise Pools worked with McComas and Croan to convert the grounds to an esthetic environment for relaxing and entertaining.
Situated on the right side of the house, the pool, spa and cooking area are hidden from view by a new brick wall. An appealing assortment of tropical plants grows in the bed between one side of the pool and the horizontal board fence separating Croan’s property from his neighbor’s.
A square spa — tiled in blue mosaic glass — rises from the pool at the end closest to the outdoor cooking area. There, amenities include a fireplace, a brick oven for pizza, a crawfish boiling station, a cooler for drinks and a top-of-the-line grill.
A bathroom was installed at the end of the garage closest to the pool so swimmers wouldn’t have to drip pool water on the floors inside the house.
Croan hasn’t missed out entirely on enjoying his New Orleans home: He spends almost half of his time here already, from Thursdays to Mondays.
But soon enough, he’ll be a fulltime New Orleanian.
“In about two weeks, he’s retiring for good,” said McComas. “This time, there’s nothing stopping him. He really loves this house.”
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about homes and gardens. She can be reached at email@example.com.