Story #28

February 9th, 2008 by Editor B

Wow. Check out the cover of the today’s Inside Out, the Times-Picayune’s weekly home and garden supplement. There’s a picture of Kilowatt Rising rocking our house party, and sure enough there’s Michael Homan (with unbroken clavicle) continuing his sinister project of confusing himself with me. Open it up and we’re in the center spread with pictures and a timeline of our whole renovation. This is the final story in the series, ostensibly, #28 by my count. This can’t be reproduced online easily, but head over to nola.com to for a reasonable approximation with some cool pictures. I’ll include the text here for future reference just because you never know how long nola.com plans to keep their content online.

And of course I must note that although Stephanie gives my wife credit, that’s actually my jambalaya.

Better version here.

Mid-City residents finish their rebuild
Posted by InsideOut February 09, 2008 5:39AM

STAFF FILE PHOTOS MAY 2006: Bart Everson and Christy Paxson revive the garden outside their Mid-City home, turning it into an oasis amid renovation madness.

By Stephanie Bruno
Contributing writer

Note: Bart Everson and Christy Paxson recently made it to the end of their Hurricane Katrina-induced renovation and celebrated with an Endymion parade party. This week, we recap their journey and its conclusion. Look for the coda to the story in March, after the birth of their child.

Eight months pregnant but energized by the completion — at last — of their rebuild, Christy Paxson led Endymion party guests through the downstairs of her raised basement house, gesturing at items of interest.

“There is the gold paint that I wanted on the chimney, and notice how Bart applied color to the balusters on the stairs,” she said, referring to her husband, Bart Everson. “There are still a few little things down here to tend to, like this.”

She pointed to one of the shower heads in the recently tiled shower.

“The idea was for one to be high enough for Bart and the other at the right height for me,” she explained. “But mine hits me in the top of the head.”

Without lingering, she headed into the green room.

“As I am sure Bart has told you, this room is actually four shades of green. I don’t know why he did that – it was his idea,” she said.

Along one wall, on the floor, sat a collection of baby items.
The house on Salcedo Street was flooded with 5 feet of water.

“Obviously, this is not the baby’s room. That’s going to be upstairs, where our bedroom is now. We have a lot of rooms of furniture to move around after the party is over to get ready,” she said. “Our living room will move down here, then our study will move to the living room and our bedroom where the study was. It’s weird, but our house is really sort of a one-bedroom upstairs.”

A few appreciative friends poked around the freshly renovated basement, but most availed themselves of Endymion party fare, which included Paxson’s signature jambalaya. The band Kilowatt Rising was warming up, sending smoky saxophone notes out in every direction.

It was impossible to tell that the party had almost been called off. Exhausted from months of painting walls and staining wood work, Everson had come down with a nasty cold. That was after stumbling with a floor refinishing machine and spraining his ankle. But the event – billed by the couple as a way to toast the return of Endymion to Mid-City, the impending birth of their child and the completion of their renovation – went on as planned.

Everson says he expected that some guests might walk through the renovation and ask, “This took two years?” But only those unaware of the couple’s saga could have possibly thought, much less said, that.

Asked to take stock of the past 29 months, Everson reflected on the territory he and his wife have covered, where they are now and what lies ahead.

Here’s what he had to say in his Long Road Home “exit interview.”

Question: You described many highs and lows over the months we’ve been following your story. What was the lowest point?

Everson: Truthfully, the lowest point was in the very beginning, before I ever became a journalistic subject. It was when I came back home from our evacuation and cleaned out the lower floor of the house. I spent day after day, mostly alone, collecting our flood-ruined possessions in a wheel barrow and dumping them in a pile on the curb. Those were dark times, but they really put things in perspective for me. Whatever challenges we’ve faced since then seem small by comparison.

Question: What about the high points?

Everson: They’ve almost seemed to sneak past me. For example, when I finally got our stairs done and we were able to take down the plastic barrier that had separated upstairs from downstairs for two years, I thought that would be a great moment. But it was pretty anticlimactic.

Question: With all the delays, you nonetheless kept going. At what point did you feel confident it was all going to work out and your project would one day conclude?

Everson: I don’t think I’ve reached that point yet. With an old house like this, there’s always something that needs more work, and in New Orleans there’s always something to worry about. I try to be hopeful for the future, but I would hardly describe myself as confident. But I guess I always trusted that Mike (Kaplan, the contractor) would get it done eventually.

Question: Is there a choice that you made in the course of the renovation that you now wish you hadn’t?

Everson: We have an absurd number of doors and windows downstairs (four doors, 15 windows). I’m not sure it made sense to restore all those. Also, I wish I’d stuck by my guns and made the bathroom the whole width of the house. Christy was against it, and I deferred to her.
Everson shows off his colorful new shower tiles. He didn’t know it at the time, but much of it would have to be ripped out because the floor was improperly graded.

Question: Was there a choice you made that you are really glad about?

Everson: I painted the balustrades on our staircase alternating shades of orange, at the suggestion of a co-worker. That looks pretty sharp. I’m also glad we went with the push-button switches for the lights. That little detail seems to make a lot of difference. But most of all, I’m glad we kept the original windows. I don’t think we could have afforded to replace them with anything nearly as nice.

Question: What do you like best about your renovation, now that it is complete?

Everson: It’s very nice to be able to take a shower in our own home at last. I’ve only been able to enjoy this once, though, because after twisting my ankle I have to soak my foot twice a day, so I end up taking a bath instead.

Question: Having lived upstairs in your house while the renovation proceeded downstairs, you have been able to follow the recovery of your neighborhood very closely. Tell us what you’ve observed.

Everson: We were the first people to move back for what seemed like blocks and blocks in any direction. Slowly, we’ve gotten more and more neighbors. I still think this area is less than half as populated as it once was. Unfortunately, many property owners have renovated rental properties to a very low standard, but at least that’s better than the owners who have left their properties to simply deteriorate further. I expected the pace of recovery to be slow, but it’s way slower than I thought it would be.

Question: Does your renovation live up to your expectations?

Everson: I’m a little disappointed in a few details. For example, some of the Sheetrock installation seems a little sloppy. But for the most part we’re pretty happy with the way things turned out.

Question: What is your advice to someone else whose home was damaged in the storm?

Everson: I’ve read about and talked to lots of people in so many different situations. I’ve discovered it’s very difficult to generalize, because there are so many factors that come into play. The only wisdom I can offer is, don’t take anything for granted, and remember Murphy’s Law of Time Estimation: To determine the true time a task will take, you should first make an estimate of the time. Double it, and then move it up to the next time unit.

Question: Are there home projects you want to tackle in the future?

Everson: There are so many! The back deck needs to be repaired and stained again. The front porch needs a lot of work. The whole exterior of the house needs to be painted. The ceiling in the kitchen still has some water damage. Also, it needs to be weather-proofed. And Christy knocked out a pane of glass in one of the windows in that room and I really need to replace that. I’m getting tired of the cardboard-and-duct-tape patch job I did.
Everson and Paxson threw a party celebrating Endymion’s return to Mid-City and the end of their renovations.

THE REBUILD AT N. SALCEDO ST.: A TIMELINE

August-November : Bart Everson and Christy Paxson evacuate with their cats to their native Indiana. About a month after the storm, Everson sneaks into town and finds his basement ruined, but the upstairs unscathed except for water intrusion from roof damage. Everson starts gutting the basement, tossing out years of journals and other prized possessions. He returns with his wife for good in November.

December: Thanks to friend and contractor Mike Kaplan, the lights go on at 215 N. Salcedo right before Christmas. Kaplan detaches the upstairs wiring from that in the basement so the couple can live in the house while work gets under way downstairs. A new hot-water heater, installed a month before, keeps hot water flowing. Still, theirs is the only house for many blocks that has power, and they spend their evenings in a sea of darkness.

2006

March: Kaplan’s crew tackles the renovation of the downstairs, which had held an entertainment area, laundry, craft room and second bath before it flooded with 5 feet of water. Gutting reveals damage to the framing, requiring extensive repair. Everson manages his frustration with the slow pace of change by adjusting expectations and not setting a deadline for completing the work.

April: Everson hires a neighborhood man known as “Quickdraw” to repair his roof, but he arrives without a ladder. Everson turns next to If It Rains It Pours Roofing, which soon has the house watertight. Meanwhile, the insurance company gives the couple what they consider a fair shake on their claim. The couple faces “agonizing indecision” over whether to repair or replace wood windows in the basement, finally settling on the more costly repair.

May: While awaiting progress on the renovation, Paxson revives her beloved garden. A cassia tree that survived floodwaters forms its nucleus. The couple is concerned about the potential toxicity of soil in their raised beds, so they replace it. Now they can grow herbs they won’t worry about consuming.

June: The carpentry crew returns and resumes reframing exterior downstairs walls. But with the advent of the first hurricane season since Katrina, Paxson and Everson find themselves wondering what the summer will hold.

July: Carpenters remove the rickety staircase that had linked the basement to the ground-floor living area. The couple’s many cats find the gaping hole disconcerting.

August: A plumber starts the rough-in downstairs, which will include a bath as well as a bar in the room that used to be the craft room. The couple decide to wait to tile the shower, because Everson’s friend in Montana plans to visit and do the work. Outside, workers install siding over the new framing and prep surfaces for painting.

September: A lag in the release of cash from the mortgage company delays the rebuild. Everson and Paxson immerse themselves in work, both paid and volunteer. Paxson, a teacher, reports an unprecedented number of attendees at parents’ night at Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary in Algiers, far more than before the hurricane. Everson works at Xavier’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching by day and volunteers at night with the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. On the home front, he’s annoyed to discover that hot water is running in the cold water lines, even to the toilet.

October: The vexing problem with the hot water is resolved. The couple often hears the Warren Easton High School band practicing nearby in the evenings, getting ready for Mardi Gras.

December: Electricians return and rewire what they hadn’t gotten to before. They even begin installing the vintage push-button light switches Everson has been collecting. Everson and Paxson celebrate New Year’s Eve at the annual bonfire on Orleans Avenue, where Everson runs around the burning pile of discarded Christmas trees twice, for good luck. He makes a New Year’s resolution to finish the downstairs by New Year’s Eve 2007.

2007

February: Progress on the basement includes drywall installation, but the couple’s exuberance over the work is tempered by sadness over the rash of violence plaguing the city and the murder of a friend, artist Helen Hill. Everson helps organize a march to City Hall and speaks at the anti-violence event.

March: Contractors finish work on a new staircase from the basement to the upstairs living area as well as the wood windows downstairs. Everson attends one of the regular “geek dinners” that he and fellow bloggers have started putting together every couple of months.

June: Paxson stains the downstairs doors a rich red while Everson keeps an eye on the repopulation of the neighborhood. Though many areas of Mid-City seemed to be coming back, Everson is concerned that theirs is lagging.

July: Kaplan’s crew installs a new “whole house fan” in the basement. Everson says it will keep the entire house comfortable, and getting it back in place is a major accomplishment.

August: When his friend from Montana has to beg off from tiling the shower, Everson begins searching for a tile setter. He also starts shopping for the tile he wants installed, a kind that the friend in Montana says doesn’t exist.

September: Kaplan’s electrical crew takes care of a number of odds and ends that still need attention and installs some fixtures, most notably a pendant light for the stairwell.

October: Everson finds tile that suits his taste, if not exactly what he had been looking for. In the spirit of invention, he turns his tile contractor loose to devise a pattern for installing it. He loves the “Technicolor” patchwork that results.

November: Everson decides to paint all of the downstairs spaces himself, as well as sanding and staining all the woodwork. The job is immense, requiring vacation days from work to get it done. His year-end completion date is derailed when he discovers that the floor in the recently tiled shower was not graded properly and, as a result, water pools rather than drains. Some of the just-completed work has to be ripped out. On the positive side, cabinets, a granite countertop, a sink and faucets are installed in the room that was converted to a bar.

December: Plumbing is completed in the laundry area, and a new washer and dryer are installed. No more trips to the Laundromat on Sunday mornings.

2008

January: Everson completes the seemingly endless project of painting the downstairs and staining all of the woodwork, just in time to welcome the Krewe of Endymion parade back to Mid-City. The two get ready for the mid-March birth of their first child.

8 Responses to “Story #28”

  1. David Says:

    Last story? I guess ole Stephanie Bruno will have to get out there and hustle for her paycheck now.

  2. Carol Says:

    At least Michael isn’t dancing with your wife! It’s bad enough he’s telling the world that she’s carrying his love child.

    Great article, great pictures and a wonderful party!

  3. Marion Says:

    See…knew I missed a good party!

  4. Kevin Says:

    Congrats and best wishes to the three of you.

  5. liprap Says:

    Mazel tov!

  6. Stephanie Bruno Says:

    yeah ole Stephanie Bruno will have to ACTUALLY WORK for that $150 she gets for her articles. No more cake walks for me, I guess. Geez, David, ya think I am up to the task?

    Bart and Christy it has been a joy to cover your story these past 2 years. Don’t think that just because we did the cover though that we are done. Plans are to report on upcoming events. Uh oh … that might be more work. What WILL I do?

  7. b.rox » Blog Archive » Story #30 Says:

    [...] series about our renovation. This is number #30 by my count. Yeah, yeah, I know — I said #28 was the final one. Then I said #29 was the final final. But trust me — this really is it: the [...]

  8. b.rox » Blog Archive » A Very Good Year Says:

    [...] takes a little effort to recall that some other stuff did actually happen this year. We finished our Katrina renovation, more or less, and reclaimed the lower floor of our house from the floods of [...]

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