Architect couple turns crumbling building into modern home
By KEVINISHA WALKER
May. 20, 2017
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When David and Irelis MacDonald bought their property in the Faubourg Marigny in 2013, they knew they'd have to jump through some hoops to get construction started. Their idea was to turn the crumbling concrete structure into a modern apartment building in the midst of a historic district.
The 50-year-old, two-story building made of steel and concrete was in bad shape, with no insulation, a leaking roof and poor drainage. Part of the exterior was cracking and in disrepair.
The property, in recent years, had housed the NOLA Defender publication and a comedy club called The New Movement. Before that, it had been home to a mechanic shop, a ship anchor storage, a laundromat, a catering firm and a construction company, the MacDonalds said.
The couple -- who are both architects -- planned to gut the property, raise the foundation 21 inches above base flood elevation, and turn it into a three-unit apartment building. Those plans initially caused concern for some in the community. "There were a lot of people hoping the building would be torn down and rebuilt into a single-family home," David said.
"We sent fliers to everyone and invited them here to express their concerns, but we didn't have that many people show up," Irelis said. "But we did have several support letters, but also people who weren't in favor."
Ultimately, it took seven months for the couple to go through the permitting process with the city and the Historic District Landmarks Commission. Plus, the property had a zero lot line, meaning there was little room to do construction work. So the MacDonalds had to request permission from their neighbors to work on the building's sides.
In the end, the MacDonalds transformed the steel-and-concrete structure into a 3,400-square-foot, three-level residence with rental units on the first and second floors. The couple now lives on the second and third floor.
The MacDonalds will open the doors to their home this Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m., when their property will be one of nine featured on the 45th annual Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association Home Tour. Tickets are $25 and will be sold at Washington Square Park, 700 Frenchmen St.
The MacDonalds -- whose company is Mac Design Build-- drafted their building's plans, and David served as the general contractor. This project was a labor of love for the couple, who met 17 years ago at the Louisiana State University School of Architecture.
After graduation, they worked in Portland, Ore., Sacramento and Boston. When David's mother got sick in 2012, the couple moved back to Louisiana to be near her. And they've been in New Orleans ever since.
When they stumbled upon the Marigny property, they couldn't pass up the opportunity to design their own home. "It was a lot more than we thought we were going to do, but at the same time, it was like, well, it's only going to be a three unit so maybe we can do it," Irelis recalled.
The couple gutted the building. "Basically, what we had left was a shell," David said.
They redesigned the property into three units with two bedrooms and two bathrooms in each. All of the apartments have a contemporary industrial look, with exposed steel cross-bracing tension cables and corrugated metal ceilings.
An outdoor spiral staircase leads to the building's third level, which features a rooftop deck with a 360-degree view of the neighborhood and the New Orleans skyline.
Inside, the walls are white, as the couple wanted their future tenants to have a blank canvass. The floors are water-resistant vinyl planks that look like hardwood, and most of the kitchen fixtures are from Ikea.
Though the last year has been filled with 70- to 80-hour work weeks for the couple as they finished the project, they are thrilled to be settling into the property. Like many architects, designing their own home was "a bucket list item for us," Irelis said.
"It's more like a nightmare as you go through it," David joked, "but a dream in the end."
Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association Home Tour
What: Nine buildings in the historic district, including the MacDonalds' home, will be open for self-guided tours. Other featured properties include artist James Michalopoulos' studio and Marigny association founder Gene Cizek's house.
When: Sunday, May 21, noon to 4 p.m.
Where: Washington Square Park, 700 Frenchmen St.
Tickets: $25, ($20 for FMIA members) at faubourgmarigny.org.