new orleans housing

Better Than A Flip: Re-Imagining Our Forever Home

Growing up in the suburbs of New Orleans, I always imagined myself as an adult living in a Victorian-Style Home. The size of the house never mattered much to me. I grew up in a two-story, suburban home, but found the inefficient extra space that required cleaning annoying. “Why have rooms that people never use,” I used to ask my mom about the “formal” living room. My 11 (post-college) years in NYC reaffirmed my preference for minimalism and efficient use of space. So when it came time to purchase my adult home in New Orleans, I surprised myself when my husband and I selected a 1950s raised ranch-style home along Bayou St. John.

“I surprised myself when my husband and I selected a 1950s raised ranch style home”

Construction Photos (In Progress)

Location was more important to me than the mark-up we would need to pay for one of the Victorians on our block. My dreams of high ceilings and antique floor boards was thrown out the window. But I had a vision for this small house, one that evolved as we lived in the house five years prior to renovating.

“I have a vision for this house.”

Floor Plan  Before

Floor Plan Before

The home had an inefficient floor plan similar to neighboring shotgun homes. It was 1100 square feet + a 300 garage. It was 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom with an awkward shaped bonus room that we used as a home office. We knew that we could possibly steal square footage from much of the unused garage space and reconfigure the floor plan towards our lifestyle.

We originally had the idea to convert this home to a three-bedroom/two-bathroom but before we started the financing process, we founded our company Studio BKA Architects. This put the renovation on pause.

Our problem-solving architect brains used this time for critical and creative planning.

We benefited from living in the house for five years prior to renovating to get a sense of our favorite spots in the house were and what rooms had the best natural light. We knew what rooms were over-sized & under-used. Our problem-solving architect brains used this time for critical and creative planning.

We really wanted to create our forever home.

Once the time came for the renovation to start, we no longer looked at the house as an investment property. We really wanted to create our forever home.

Our Design Approach:

We saw an opportunity to create a large entertaining zone in the back half of the house. We planned to remove the walls and ceiling joists in the large entertaining room (comprised of kitchen+living+dining).  It makes for a functional and attractive living room with access to the backyard. We knew we needed to vault the ceilings, since such a large room with a low ceiling would feel oppressive and cave-like. To clear span the large space, we upsized the rafters and used rafter ties to avoid having any midspan supports and use our existing outer foundation. The low pitch roof was a good candidate for vaulting as the proportions still feel cozy and residential. In this scheme, we took advantage of the sunlight penetrating into the long narrow house and access views of the lush green backyard.

We knew we needed to vault the ceilings, since such a large room with a low ceiling would feel oppressive and cave-like.

Floor Plan  After

Floor Plan After

The existing front porch will be built-out and transformed into a master en-suite. By removing the front door entrance, the new entrance will be on the side of the house, which is not uncommon in the denser neighborhoods of New Orleans, where homes are built out to the sidewalk.  The garage remains but is smaller now, but still able to accommodate our SUV. I really like having a garage because it makes for secure spot in a neighborhood where many people park on the street for music festivals and events on the bayou.

Lastly our design approach for interior materials and finishes aims to pay reference to the time in which the home was built: the 1950s, modernism, with less ornamental trim work, more wood grain paneling and minimalist styling.

Before Photos Below

If you are interested in our renovation progress, follow us on Instgram: @studiobka or #stannreno

Scaling Down Development

Scaling Down Development

There are a lot of problems with our current approach to residential development.  For something in such perpetual demand, it's amazing that the market has not been able to figure out a good way to supply it.  We need quality housing in large quantities.  Note, that adjective: quality.  As we saw in 2006, housing built with no attention to quality or sustainability of place is not truly in demand; it created a valueless bubble that then collapsed. 

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The Flexessory House

The Flexessory House is a personal and professional response to how we think about urban infill development in New Orleans.

What makes New Orleans’ neighborhoods among the richest in character and memory in the world, a tourist attraction in and of itself?  Its HOUSING STOCK.

What's so great about it?  Two things – its ability to adapt to its surroundings and its ability to adapt to the needs of the people.  So, really, one thing:  resilience.

Houses here grow, adapt – they FLEX.  Sometimes literally with the moisture content in the air.  And they are still standing through hurricanes, design fads, and shifting demographics.

So what do we mean by FLEXESSORY?

FLEX-ing Skin

We took inspiration from the traditional Japanese ‘engawa’ space, a light-footed raised wood structure the building’s perimeter.  This zone serves as a linear adaptation of the classic NOLA porch, providing shade, communal space, privacy and debris protection.  Wood screens attached to this can flex open or closed to provide varying degrees of protection.

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engawa (縁側 or 掾側)

is a typically wooden strip of flooring immediately before windows and storm shutters inside traditional Japanese rooms. Recently this term has also come to mean the veranda outside the room as well, which was traditionally referred to as a nure'en

 

Shutters & Engawa Spaces

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FLEX-ing Occupancy

Houses here have long, varied histories because they never ceased to be useful, even if just enough to not demolish.  A house may have started as a stately four-bedroom home for a large upper-class family, and may have later been split up into a upstairs and downstairs unit, after which it might have converted a carriage house into a rear apartment.  Later, after central air was added and the plumbing easily changed out since the floor is raised, it might find new life as a bed and breakfast, a law firm office, or might again serve as a large home for a well-to-do family.  Or maybe it stays a four-plex with a carriage apartment, long after zoning laws have made such an arrangement unrepeatable.

About those zoning laws – across the country, zoning laws have historically attempted to pin down a property to a very specific and isolated use.  Often, a single-family house is allowed an ACCESSORY use – often with many caveats and rules in place to keep that other use from becoming another dwelling.  But demand for accessory dwellings lives on, often in bending or ‘hacking’ zoning rules and grandfathering, and for good reason.  It allows for additional homestead income, while easing housing stock shortages for small families, college students or the elderly, and adding to the overall neighborhood value and tax base - wins all around.

Flex + Accessory (Dwelling) = Flexessory

The FLEXESSORY house is a contemporary approach to the traditional shotgun plan, offering more flexibility to a family living, growing and shrinking in the house; or for different kinds of families to subsequently inhabit the house.  Within the footprint of a typical two-family zoned lot, the house offers several easily reconfigured plans to allow for various sized units for an elderly family member, a college student, a small family, a vacation rental. 

And though it could be a single-family home, it makes too much sense not to use it in a way that helps put more families back in New Orleans, creating more value, and reinforcing the historic use patterns that can continue the centuries-long reputation of New Orleans neighborhoods as the best in the country.


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