A House for Carmen

Carmen’s house is a complex solution to a complex situation, and it’s been my primary house project over the past couple of months; new projects have been slow to come in, so I’ve had the opportunity to develop this one in detail, working in partnership with Jessie.

Carmen’s husband, Clarence, has been living on this property since the 1960s, and he seems to have been tirelessly at work during that time; at its pre-Katrina peak, the property accommodated a house at the front (since torn down), a second, two-story house (torn down to the concrete foundation visible below), a rear two-story guest cottage, and a large garage with a balcony on the roof (right).

These buildings were not only packed together but also interconnected. The photo below, taken from the opposite rear corner of the property, shows an upper-floor walkway linking the house, left, and the guest cottage, at right. The whole complex may have been a nightmare for the Planning Department, but I think it’s also a great example of design ingenuity and do-it-yourself spirit. Unfortunately, Carmen doesn’t have any pre-storm photographs to show what it looked like at its best (and wildest).

It shouldn’t have surprised me, given the complexity of the site, that getting approval to rebuild Carmen’s house wouldn’t be a straightforward process. The site plan went through extensive review by the Planning Department, and at various times it looked like we’d need to request a zoning variance from the Planning Commission or face other obstacles. However, we made a number of compromises that satisfied the city as to our desire to improve the condition of the lot: we demolished an offending shed and removed some surplus plumbing, for instance. Frustrating though this long process was, it was ultimately successful and certainly taught me a lot about the planning review process.

On to the design. Having failed to learn anything about the virtues of simplicity, Jessie and I developed a plan featuring the following:

  • Two stories, in keeping with what was there before; the first two-story house we’ve attempted.
  • A handicap-accessible first floor, including a decorative, zig-zagging entry ramp and stair.
  • A partially cantilevered second floor, maintaining the exterior walkway below.

  • A covered second-story porch.
  • A low-slope roof with a high ceiling and window above the entry and stair.

  • A partial open-riser interior stair (not quite as depicted) allowing a view through a rear window.
  • A compact corridor kitchen with a back door near the garage.

  • A framed opening between the kitchen and dining room.
  • A higher ceiling in the living room.

I’ve worked out most of the details, and it’s certainly much more complex than one of our standard houses. But in a way, nothing else would be fitting for this site and client. I’m hoping to get involved in the coordination and construction of this house, both to make sure it gets built right and to learn more about turning drawings into reality. Look forward to more updates about this one as it moves along.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.