Just in time for the spookiest time of the year in the city of New Orleans, the Weird Homes folks have once again rounded up a bevy of local houses that easily meet the criteria for being curious, odd, offbeat, peculiar, strange, uncommon, bizarre, quirky, unconventional and downright outré (all synonyms of the adjective “weird”).
Come along as we preview three of the eight houses on the tour, slated for Saturday, Nov. 10, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in a variety of neighborhoods around town.
Tremé: The Inn at the Old Jail
If you like the idea of visiting town and spending the night in jail, Liz and Raul Canache can happily accommodate you. The couple was living in Venezuela and visiting their daughter in New Orleans when they learned about a circa 1902 jail and police station on St. Philip Street that would soon be auctioned off by the city as surplus property. The magnificent old building, designed by city engineer Capt. William Joseph Hardee, had been renovated and converted to a community center prior to Hurricane Katrina. Post storm, roof damage was left unattended for years, causing the building’s decline into a refuge for vagrants .
It was just what the couple was looking for. The two had discussed moving to New Orleans to be closer to their daughter and became entranced by the romantic idea of resurrecting the building and operating it as a bed and breakfast.
“We took a certified check for 10 percent of the maximum we could bid with us to the auction and told each other that if we didn’t win it, it wasn’t meant to be,” Liz Canache said.
It was a lucky day for the Canaches and for the marvelous old building: They were the high bidder at $175,000 and took title in late 2013.
That was just the beginning. The next couple of years would see them fight for the right to turn the former police station into a bed and breakfast (the law had to change), get funding for the project and experience the usual runaround by contractors. When all was done in 2016, the longtime blighted building was a masterpiece of ingenuity and comfort.
“I love collecting stories from neighbors about the role the place played in the life of the neighborhood back when it was a police station,” Liz Canache said. “There were definitely repeat offenders who scratched their names into the walls of the drunk tank — we preserved their writing.”
Garden District: Third Street Secret Museum
Don’t get Robert Gates started. That is, unless you have a fondness for classic fountain pens, old Volkswagen Beetles and any of a hundred different objets d’art including manual typewriters and rotary dialed telephones.
“People tell me all the time how quiet he is,” said Erika Gates, his wife. “I tell them, ‘Well, if that’s the case, you just have not brought up a topic he is interested in,’ because he can talk your ear off.”
Fortunately for Robert Gates, his wife also has an appreciation of the past, although her interests run more toward textiles and kitchen items.
“I store dozens of midcentury and older tablecloths in a glass-doored cabinet in the breakfast room,” Erika Gates said. “And I make curtains, using new fabric printed with vintage patterns in my sewing room. That’s one great thing about the craze for midcentury modern design: Companies are making those patterns again.”
The couple blends millennial and old-fashioned values and interests. They got rid of their dining room and turned it into a living room (oh, so millennial) but collect and use items from the early 20th century — about 1900 to 1930 (rather old-fashioned). Even their professions reflect their interest in the past: Robert Gates works as a preparator, or trained artifacts handler, at the Historic New Orleans Collection, and Erika Gates recently served as a building inspector for the Vieux Carré Commission.
Occasionally, Robert Gates uses his preparator skills to make useful objects for his home decor: A vintage suitcase on legs serves as a side table. A stack of vintage suitcases serves as storage. A recliner with a beauty salon hood on top is a comfortable place to lounge and read a book, thanks to the light installed in the hood. And then there is that toaster that has been converted to a lamp. ...
“It’s a terrific old silver toaster that I made into the base for a lamp,” he said. “Coming up with the idea and wiring it was easy. But finding the toast-shaped coasters to go in it? That was nearly impossible.”
Lower Garden District: The Remaker House
When Scotswoman Heather Macfarlane moved to New Orleans nearly 20 years ago, she was a well-established artist who specialized in using found objects.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw. There was a huge supply of free art materials just hanging from the trees!” she said. And that’s how UP/Unique Products was born. Macfarlane immediately saw the value of using the abundant Mardi Gras beads to make new and useful items as well as to prevent the plastic from getting into storm drains and being carried out to the lake.
“Lampshades, chandeliers, wall sconces — we make them by melting and fusing the beads into pliable plastic sheets to form into lighting. The sheets look like really colorful glass but they won't break, so we can shape them however we want," she said. "Of course, we have quite a few in our apartment,” she said. You have seen these lampshades all over town, originally at Juan’s Flying Burrito, then in New Orleans interiors.
The apartment on Magazine Street is in an old brick building with a wide and deep gallery that makes it a perfect spot to keep an eye on street activity. It's instantly recognizable by the large light fixture made of orange street-work cones that dangles above the street.
Inside, the place is colorful and somewhat on the odd side. There are Mexican masks on the walls, a chandelier with skinny arms that seem to reach out like a hydra, plus a collection of plates that were collected and used to decorate a well. A cherry red sofa provides just the right chromatic accent in the green living room.
“Folk faces” are made from pieces and parts of other things, reassembled and electrified to mount on a wall to provide light. Block prints help snazz up recycled fabric, and embroidery hoops serve as frames for hand-worked images. You could spend days asking for and getting the story behind each item.
“We don’t believe in throwing things away,” Macfarlane said, stating the obvious.
Five additional houses round out the tour:
KAN House: The Irish Channel home of Kicker Kalozdi and Anne Wolfe was under construction during the 2017 Weird Homes Tour. Now it's finished, and the couple wants to show off their new digs, made of seven shipping containers.
Spanish Street Silo: Robin Brou and Bob Antin enjoy their Mediterranean Revival home in Gentilly, where they have built an exotic guest house in the backyard. It's made from a recycled grain silo that accommodates the couple's six grown children when they visit and paying guests when they're not.
Museum of Bad Taste: Author Sam Malvaney's French Quarter home is filled to the brim with kitschy objects from the Richard Nixon era. There are gumball machines, turquoise lampshades, pink ceramic poodles and everything in between.
Gallery of Good Taste: Artist Isabelle Jacopin's apartment shares a balcony with "The Museum of Bad Taste," but instead of kitsch, it is full of her colorful and dynamic paintings.
Wally's World (VIP only): When Wally Johnson built his contemporary home in Lakeview 10 years ago, it turned more than a few heads and incited talk about what the post-Hurricane Katrina version of the neighborhood would look like. Now we have the answer: It is one-of-a-kind.