A corner of Arabi on Bayou Bienvenue was abuzz last Sunday as people came and went at LaGraize Builders’ “Neo-Cottages,” open during the 2017 Parade of Homes. Organizers were a bit surprised by how many visitors appeared.
“I had no idea what to expect today, especially because of the weather, and so I’m impressed that people came to Arabi to see them,” said Eddie Breaux, an agent with NOLA Realty. “They have a similar style to one another, but they aren’t cookie cutter.”
The cottages, part of a new residential community in St. Bernard Parish dubbed “The Heights,” are built on lots cleared and reclaimed after Hurricane Katrina under a parish program that aims to redevelop residential areas and bring families back to the once-devastated area.
Dennis and Kelly Boudet, who grew up in St. Bernard Parish and own a home in Chalmette, were looking closely at the homes.
“We keep going back and forth to the different houses figuring out what we love about each one,” said Kelly Boudet. “I’m measuring everything and trying to figure out what will fit where.”
The houses were designed and built by Kayne LaGraize of LaGraize Builders four ago. LaGraize credits his father, Kevin, with his strong work ethic and his grandfather, Michael Schulz, with inspiring him to do the sort of work he does.
The homes are new, but set apart by their innovative use of reclaimed wood.
“Being around my grandfather and renovating historic houses with him, I learned about old lumber and how different it was in density and dimensions,” LaGraize said. “I really love old wood and try to get it whenever it’s available.”
The reclaimed wood was one feature that caused the Boudets to look more closely at the homes. “Their genius use of reclaimed lumber is a major eye-catcher,” said Dennis Boudet.
The Boudets were looking for an open floor plan and a larger home, and found the builders on a site sponsored by St. Bernard Parish to encourage families to build there.
“We started researching when it became apparent that what we wanted in a long-term home wasn't feasible in our current location," Dennis said. "We came across LaGraize Builders through soldonstbernard.com. Their style is one which my wife and I instantly appreciated.”
A program of the St. Bernard Department of Community Development, “Sold on St. Bernard” is funded by a community development grant . The grant enabled the parish to acquire scores of Louisiana Land Trust properties cleared by Katrina, clean them up and offer the resulting vacant lots for sale in bundles to a select group of St. Bernard-based builders.
The builders include LaGraize (67 lots), Hotard Builders (22), Corne Construction (21), DH Group (12) and Wisemove Builders (6). Because the Parish offered lots at bargain prices, builders have been able to keep sales prices in a range of $200,000 to $300,000 for homes of 1,500- to 1,900 square feet situated on large lots. To maintain momentum, builders are required to construct two homes within six months of the purchase date and an additional home for each home sold thereafter — also within six months, according to soldonstbernard.com.
LaGraize buys the distinctive reclaimed wood he uses from a local demolition company.
“The floors in the houses all came from an old warehouse that the guy’s tearing down at the Port of New Orleans,” he said. “Early on, I had to go Dumpster diving to find what I wanted.”
Handsome heart pine floors make a visual impact in each house. Barge boards and rough cuts of wood find employment elsewhere: as a bench in a mud room, in a kitchen island chandelier, or as colorful bath wainscoting. Barn doors and wood accent walls distinguish all of the models.
Floor plans are open, with living, dining and kitchen areas flowing into one another. Plenty of large windows make for bright, airy spaces. Authentic copper Bevolo gas lanterns light the homes’ entries; frameless glass showers, copper range hoods, and quartz countertops contribute to the aesthetic. And, of course, interiors are staged to illustrate how various spaces can be used.
“We really like the front and back porches,” said Kelly Boudet. “And we’re excited about the park.”
Today, the park exists on paper only, but in the not-too-distant future, some of the tidily mowed lots in the area will be combined to form a public park abutting the houses and stretching to the nearby Florida Walk Levee.
The St. Bernard Parish Department of Community Development is funding the park, complete with a vintage footbridge (relocated from Bayou Black in Terrebonne Parish) installed over the levee to afford access to a fishing pier on Bayou Bienvenue. Artists Mitchell Gaudet and Erica Larkin are on board to design a fountain for the park.
To date, LaGraize has built or is in the process of building 10 Neo-Cottages, four of which have sold.
“I did a lot of work in Bywater and Holy Cross, and that gave me respect for old materials and houses,” he said. “I took what I learned and I built the kind of houses that I like to see and can feel good about.”
For the Boudet family, LaGraize’s approach is right on target.
“That's what you want to see when you open your door in the morning: a community of beautiful homes and folks who take pride in keeping their properties up to par,” Dennis said.
Homes across the metro area, including these in Arabi, are open today and tomorrow from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. during the second weekend of the Parade of Homes. Go to hbagno.org for a map.
For more on available lots in St. Bernard and profiles of designated builders, go to soldonstbernard.com.