If only to explore the architecture, Tony Marino’s Bourbon Street home is not to be missed.
For its careful restoration, the 1850s-era French Quarter American townhouse has won umpteen awards from hard-to-impress groups including the Vieux Carre Commission and the Preservation Resource Center.
But visitors to Marino’s during the Patio Planters’ Home Tour from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, may find themselves in for a surprise when it comes to Marino’s holiday décor. Hint: It isn’t for Christmas.
“When I was studying for the bar, I promised St. Joseph I would host an altar in his honor on his feast day if I passed, and so I did. Every year, the altar has grown bigger and bigger, and so has my collection of St. Joseph statues,” Marino said by way of explaining the immense altar in his dining room. “A couple of years ago, I decided to make the installation a little more permanent.”
Although there will be plenty of flowers and other Yuletide dressings, it’s the St. Joseph’s Day items that attract immediate attention. The dais upon which the statues stand and the screen behind them look as though they had been plucked from a Gothic church in Sicily, but they were crafted locally by Joel Dyer, Marino’s go-to guy for the many projects he dreams up for his home.
“The base was a simple cabinet with doors. ... He made the Gothic pieces that fill in and look like they have been there forever,” Marino said. “The screen design was all his. I just told him I needed a backdrop, and it’s what he came up with.”
Projects never end
As every owner of a home (old or new) knows, home repair and improvement projects seem to line up in an endless parade — more so if the home is an 1850s main building and two 1830s outbuildings.
“Both of the outbuildings were renovated according to plans that (the late) Frank Masson did. He was such a purist that he didn’t want closets in any of the rooms. My wife, Patty, and I sneaked in a couple of them anyway, when he wasn’t looking,” joked Marino. “It was Frank’s meticulous work, though, that won us the awards from the VCC.”
When the Marinos first bought the house in 1993, it had been abandoned for about a year, a fact that was news to the Lafayette doctor who then owned it from afar. Before that, it had been maintained as a low-budget rooming house for decades by a previous owner.
“The first thing we did was remove partitions that divided up the spaces. There was one bathroom for the whole place and it was in the back, but there were plenty of kitchens,” Marino said.
The Marinos slept upstairs with bare light bulbs dangling from the ceiling for a long time while the restoration was underway.
“Before, when you would walk into the front door, you would find yourself in one huge space — no wall between the living and dining rooms and no pocket doors. We had to put all of that back,” he said. “The only addition that we kept was a little room off the kitchen. It’s now the breakfast room.”
A view of the courtyard
If there is a more delightful place to butter a piece of toast in the morning, it would be hard to imagine. Stucco walls and a patterned tile floor — from a church in Belgium — impart a European aura to the tiny room. Surrounded by windows and glass doors, a seat at the banquette offers an unobstructed view of the courtyard. The breakfast room’s ribbed ceiling, similar to what would be found in a chapel, awaits the installation of a Bevolo gas lantern.
Even without the battery of angels and the saints, the home’s interior enchants. In the side hall on the first floor, a pair of oversized Julie Neill chandeliers light the way to the French doors at the rear of the house. The living and dining rooms are separated by newly made pocket doors, and new plaster ceiling medallions were put in place by Jeff Porée and his band of artisans. A powder room under the stair has a playful theme — it’s made of painted canvas in the image of Napoleon’s field tent, also the handiwork of Joel Dyer. Another artisan Marino calls upon is Jansen VandeVeer — he is responsible for the mouth-watering colors, both inside and out.
The sparkling kitchen, unharmed by a fire that broke out when the renovation was nearing completion a couple of years ago, is command central at the St. Joseph’s Day event, when the professional gas range is put through its paces cooking vats of red gravy for stuffed shells. Countertops and a farmhouse sink are marble.
“They get stained and scratched but I like how they age,” Marino said.
Bridge to the past
Long-term tenants live in the two-story garconniere perpendicular to the house and the one-story cottage at the rear. They access their dwellings via a succession of garden rooms, packed to overflowing with lush greenery and a blooming bleeding-heart vine that climbs up the exterior of the building, almost consuming a second-floor window in its race to the roofline.
A rare enclosed bridge connects the main house to the garconniere. Sided in thick, unpainted weatherboards and covered on top, it dates back at least to the late 1800s and is one of a small handful found in the Quarter.
“From what we can tell from archival information, it wasn’t originally covered, so I plan to remove the siding and roof and restore it to what it would have been like when it was built,” Marino said. “There is always another project on the horizon.”
Patio Planters French Quarter Home Tour
WHEN: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 17)
Followed by caroling in Jackson Square
WHERE: Start at Creole Delicacies, 535 St. Ann St.