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A New Orleans Renovation that Captures History and Charm

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.

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