In recent years, small spaces requiring less energy, expense and furnishings have come into vogue. In New Orleans, where carriage houses, slave quarters and shotguns abound, the idea of maximizing diminutive digs has long been understood as a necessary art. The two downtown residences featured here are prime examples of how to make the most of form and function where space is at a premium.
Design by Chet Pourciau 1,062 square feet
Last year, when Baton Rouge businessman Brian Oliver purchased the Warehouse District condo that serves as his New Orleans home-away-from-home, he wanted to hire a designer who would respect its history and make the most of its limited footprint. "I tried to learn as much of the original history as was available," says Oliver, who grew up in Baton Rouge but spent time in New Orleans visiting family. "Having said that, I did want to make it my own. It's small but it's laid out well. I wanted to open the space and make it seem larger."
A business partner recommended Oliver call designer Chet Pourciau of Chet Pourciau Design to bring the condo to life. After their first consultation, Oliver knew that Pourciau was the man for the job. While Pourciau asked Oliver for his ideas, Pourciau was also quick to interject when something wouldn't work and to find solutions.
"He never really said no to something I wanted," Oliver says. "He was always able in some way or fashion to make it work."
Client and designer agreed to highlight rather than hide the industrial bones of the building, which dates from the 19th century and was used as a coffee roasting facility for Cafe Du Monde. They left the brick walls, copper pipes (cleverly used to hide wiring and cable) and water and electric meters exposed. They also retained a heavy, steel fire door as a decorative component in the guest bedroom.
For Pourciau, the challenge was aligning the client's desire for dark colors with his imperative for an open, airy environment. "One of the main things designers do to make a space seem larger is to lighten it with fabrics, paint colors and rugs," Pourciau says.
Instead, Pourciau satisfied the client's wishes by applying rich gray paint to the walls and drawing out lighter undertones of blues and grays for the furniture and accessories. He designed a floor plan that delineates areas with furniture, lighting, rugs and art, and used computer renderings to ensure that every carefully selected piece would fit.
The rectangular living room is divided into two zones — a seating area with a television and a dining area centered around a circular metal table, 1950s-inspired banquette and a pair of curved-back chairs. Pourciau visually magnified the master bedroom (which has no windows) by painting the bare brick wall the same color as the others. In the two bathrooms, he took a less-is-more approach, creating a single focal point with a custom shower curtain.
"Restraint was important," Pourciau says.
Accent tables with petite proportions (such as the console in the dining area and the gilt end table to one side of the sofa) are functional without competing with the larger items for attention. Mirrored surfaces help the condo appear larger by adding a source of light (there are only three windows in the entire residence). To provide privacy and insulation while maintaining an open feel, Pourciau covered the floor-to-ceiling windows with subtly striped linen sheers and added lightweight drapes between the living room and guest room.
Artworks by David Halliday, Cass Roth-Retz, Alex Beard and Mike Fennelly — all former or current New Orleans residents — bring polish to the condo and a New Orleans connection the client wanted to celebrate.
"This is a small space so it all had to flow and complement each other really well," Pourciau says. "You have to consider how it's going to look all together and not just piece by piece."
Design by John Chrestia 1,000 square feet
When gallery owner Arthur Roger bought and renovated the deteriorating structure behind his French Quarter home to reunite two buildings that were originally part of the same property, it became a cause celebre among French Quarter preservationists. There are indications that the guest house was built as an ancillary building — possibly a garconniere — for Roger's residence: clipped corners that align in perfect parallel with those of the main house, the placement of the smaller house so that the main house has direct views of it, what Roger describes as "dollhouse-like proportions" and historic documents.
Working with architect/interior designer John Chrestia of Chrestia Staub Pierce, Roger restored the exterior of the circa 1860s Creole-style construction to its original appearance, creating a new second-floor balcony to replace the existing one and eliminating a makeshift series of steel poles used as supports. The balcony and French doors that open to the courtyard expand the living space by merging indoor and outdoor settings.
Roger and Chrestia reconsidered the interior, bringing in brick floors like those in the main house, clever, space-enhancing ideas and a mix of old and new.
Downstairs, Chrestia placed a circular stairwell unobtrusively to one side of the house. It occupies a minimal amount of space while being user friendly and calling to mind the sculptural beauty of the Old World curved staircases found in the French Quarter — including the one in Roger's home. Near the stairs, a galley-style kitchen provides compact convenience. (Roger notes that a close friend, who intended to stay in the guesthouse for a month, was so comfortable he stayed four years.)
In the rectangular living area, Chrestia designed a built-in banquette as a natural place for a dining area, a niche for art and a way to disguise air ducts. Upstairs, he peeled away dilapidated ceilings to reveal the rustic architectural skeleton. Wooden beams, left handsomely striped by the plaster that seeped through the ceiling slats, are now a valued design element. In the bathroom, where the ceiling was raised to the vaulted roofline, his attention to detail keeps an already pocket-size room from feeling partitioned into even tinier segments: rectangular shower tiles continue the shape of the horizontal wall boards so the visual flow is uninterrupted. White tile steps double as shelving space.
Roger furnished the house with antiques, modern pieces and the kind of impressive art collection one would expect from an art dealer. There are works by Ida Kohlmeyer, Elemore Morgan Jr., Nicole Charbonnet, Lin Emery, Robert Polidori, Bradley Sabin and Dawn DeDeaux to name a few. Roger is inspired by the interplay between contemporary aesthetic and historic context.
"There's a vocabulary and a dynamic [in a French Quarter house]," Roger says. "You're always looking for interesting pieces. It's part of the commitment to the house. I'm always trying to marry the architecture with the artwork. The placement, scale of artwork can change things, for better or worse. It's a struggle and sometimes a puzzle but rewarding when it works."