August 7th 2014

creole testament

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A few years ago, we received a call from our very, very, very first client. We’re talking thirty-years-ago-first-client.
2014-08-06_0001His project, a large house in Montgomery, Alabama, basically bankrolled our backbone. This charter commission gave us the courage (and funds) to hang out a shingle. Fast forward many years – kids grown and gone, retirement looming, golf courses softly calling his name. He and his wife, now older and empty nesters, were ready to leave the nest we’d designed for them and feather something smaller.

In discussing this new “downsized” house I discovered that, given every chance, they fled Montgomery and headed west to New Orleans. Everyone has a city, town or spot where they at once feel a sense of environmental belonging. Something in the atmosphere harkens – the buildings, the aromas, the sounds – ephemeral sirens that inexplicably cause you to crash your well-helmed boat into its awaiting rocks. The Big Easy was my clients’ place and they craved everything about it.

I love getting to know clients; I particularly enjoy mining passions. We began discussing Creole architecture. Mind you, we’d never done a house of this style before nor are there many examples of it in this area. That didn’t stop us, however, because together we recognized what a new home for them should look like. It should look like where they were drawn.

A trip to nearby New Orleans provided inspiration. The collected snapshots (shown above) were but a few of the Creole delicacies my eyes digested. The side-loaded Creole row house proved to be an excellent prototype for a downsized home. Basically one room deep, these efficient houses give the street a polite, but brief, introduction all the while holding their more generous offerings for a side courtyard. A perfect setup for a couple weary of maintaing a large property. Heritage established, the next hurdle was to provide something found rampant in New Orleans – a beautiful patina of decrepitude. An inexpensive brick, slathered with a thin coat of inherently colored mortar administered instant age. Most stucco buildings in New Orleans are brick structures underneath and this invented treatment created the illusion of a time-worn plaster coating. Next came the studied trim work – pencil thin columns, decorative brackets, crude plank shutters and the odd random Federal detailing completed the composition. A louvered potting shed backed into the courtyard corner bore a quiet witness to it all.  In the end, all was complete. We created a bit of New Orleans 5 hours east of the Crescent City.

About a year ago I ran into these clients and asked them if they were still visiting their beloved New Orleans. Surprisingly, the told me they hadn’t been in a while.  Living in and enjoying their new house, they said they hadn’t felt the need to go as often.

A broad grin stretched across my face.  We’d succeeded in bringing home, home.

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Faithfully,
Greg Tankersley for McAlpine Tankersley

5 comments

  1. I love reading your posts. Your writing is spot on and your work inspires me daily.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Greg you captured the magical essence of creole style!

  3. Dee Coleman says:

    Greg! You are the best designer AND the best writer! I so enjoy reading your posts and looking at the photos. Thank you for sharing!
    Dee

  4. Lori Penzato says:

    Your house does look like New Orleans. It looks like its 100yrs old and classic. This home will stand the testament of time. Thanks for sharing.

    a new fan,
    Lori
    P.S. we live on the north shore across Lake Pontchartrain and we appreciate the architecture of New Orleans!!!

  5. I’m a Realtor by trade in Baton Rouge, but I am a student by love of architecture and design & have been since my earliest childhood memories growing up in South Louisiana / Old Baton Rouge.. I’m downsizing soon and building a home …. wish so much I could afford your expertise! The Creole Cottage is exactly what I need for my narrow (by what is usable) lot … a 100 year old live oak encompasses the entire back right quadrant. I’ve poured over thousands of photos and sites for months looking for the basis and essence of the old Marigny and French Quarter areas of New Orleans in a newer home, and you nailed it!

    Just beautiful and I don’t ever leave comments … but wanted you to know I so admire your work!

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