How to make an old home new again.
A renovation is like a marriage. Once you’re in it, you’re invested—for better or for worse. Just ask designer Grace Kaynor and her husband, Sandy. When the starry-eyed couple first stepped into the 1850s Greek Revival house in the Garden District of New Orleans, they and their two children now call home, they were smitten by its towering 13-foot ceilings, intricate moldings, and massive mantels—so smitten, that they vowed to repair its major flaws and mend its broken spirit. “Where we saw potential, others saw headaches and dollar signs,” recalls Kaynor. “Everyone thought we were crazy. My mother called our real estate agent and begged him not to sell us the house! ‘What have we done?’ became an everyday question. And there were some days with no words at all.” Working with architect Davis Jahncke, Jr., the Kaynors spent four years righting over 150 years of wrongs from faulty electrical and plumbing systems to crumbling plaster walls and termite-destroyed floors. Rooms were reconfigured, walls opened, and entryways widened to help create a looser flow between the indoor and outdoor spaces. Most importantly, the Kaynors fastidiously restored or replicated the 19th-century architectural features—the floating staircase, elaborate ceiling medallions, and intricate millwork. These were the elements that made the couple fall for the home in the first place. “We set out to preserve a historic house, but in a twist of fate, the house preserved us,” says Kaynor. “All of the trials and tribulations solidified us as a team.” Kaynor was able to take these elements and embrace them without creating a home that feels stuffy and museum-like. See the gorgeous rooms she created.
Expected Exterior Additions
Rotten wooden railings and stairs gave Grace and Sandy Kaynor good reason to upgrade. Rather than simply replacing what had been there, they opted for better, more historically authentic iron and brick options. Local craftsmen forged iron handrails to complement the original fence, while masons rebuilt the front steps with hand-molded bricks made using antique firing techniques.
Fake a Grander Entrance
Richly stained floors would have been an elegant but expected choice for the foyer. So instead, Kaynor enlisted Sherry Haydel,
a decorative artist, to design a faux-marble finish. “I pieced together design motifs from the mid-19th century to make the pattern and then blew it up to a bigger scale for today,” she says. “The larger graphic also tricks the eye into seeing a wider hallway.”
Big Open Rooms
Kaynor holds to the design philosophy that curvy plus straight equals more visual interest. She proves her formula here by combining upholstered pieces with soft silhouettes, such as the green slipper chairs, with angular pieces, like the Parsons-style coffee table and antique chairs. The sum clearly equals more style. The plush upholstered pieces in jewel tones anchor the light-filled living room and energize the monochromatic backdrop. “It takes more than just a handful of pillows to make a really bold statement in a neutral space,” says Kaynor. The oversize accessories and multiple seating arrangements help to make the big room work.
Tweak a Classic Idea
She looked beyond the traditional hunter green library and opted for an irreverent acid green shade (Benjamin Moore’s Olive Moss, 2147-20). From a distance, the green walls look shiny and sleek, but up close, layers of glaze topped with a coat of crackle finish replicate the look of old-house plaster.
Repurposing Family Heirlooms
To stretch the look of an expensive fabric (Kravet’s Art of Design in Capri Palm), Kaynor covered the fronts of her mother’s 1960s wingback chairs with that fabric and backed them in a blue cotton bought off the bolt from a discount source. Also, pairing a print and a solid keeps the eye focused while accentuating the curvy profiles of the chairs.
Match History with Glamour
“Sticking with one period, one color, or one style can come across as staid and serious,” says Kaynor. So instead, she plucked feminine pieces from different eras, placing gilt Hollywood Regency chairs alongside 100-year-old marble mantels and a grand crystal chandelier. The wide wooden floors and dark table provide enough old-house seriousness to keep it from looking like a movie set. On the walls, Benjamin Moore’s Beach Glass (1564) keeps the room feeling light and airy even on the muggiest New Orleans day.
Go Bold in Small Spaces
Kaynor transformed the previously cell-like home office into a delightful solarium. She wrapped the room in sky blue floor-to-ceiling lattice. On the wall behind the sofa, the lattice rests on mirrors, injecting more sunlight and reflecting the courtyard’s greenery into the room. Black-and-white, cushion-cut ceramic tile offers a low-cost and low-maintenance alternative to classic checkerboard marble flooring.
Formal House Doesn't Have to Mean Formal Kitchen
Kaynor wanted her kitchen to exude the vibe of her favorite seafood dive, Casamento’s Restaurant. “There is nothing fancy about it,” she says. “It’s just a quaint and happy place.” She commissioned the hand-painted floor tiles to resemble the restaurant’s iconic blue-and-white ones. This 19th-century French butcher-block island made the move with the Kaynors from their previous home.
Contemporary in the 1850s
In the breakfast area, the lightweight, contemporary tulip table and chrome chairs could easily be on loan from a little cafe. They also offer a cool contrast to the old-school brick fireplace and the swinging kitchen door.