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After decades of historic renovations, couple chooses an unusual 1967 home in Chalmette

Aug 13, 2023

After 33 years of restoring historic properties — the first in the Marigny Triangle; the second the Dufour-Baldwin House, a mansion designed by Henry Howard on Esplanade Avenue; and the third a grand centerhall “cottage” in the Garden District — Rick Normand and Liz Williams had had enough.

“We offered the last two houses to our two sons,” Normand said. “Their response? ‘Hell, no.’”

Liz Williams and Rick Normand in their living room, in front of a wood and leather screen with bronze and gilded accdnets. The lamps are chinoiserie; the ceramic panther on the Belgian art deco table is by Haeger.

“We wanted to live somewhere where we could age in place,” Williams said. “We also knew we wanted a house where we could get what we needed for repairs from Home Depot instead of calling in a skilled artisan or having something custom made as one must do with old historic houses. We wanted a 20th-century house.”

Normand, a design buff, wanted a house designed by an architect.

Normand furnished the deep periwinkle-hued living room with period French Art Deco seating created by Paul Follot, who designed one of the pavilions for the 1925 Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris. The art is eclectic: a Mexican surrealist oil, a pastel in the manner of Gaugin, and a nude from 1920 by Rochambeau. The lamps are Asian chinoiserie.

“We wanted it to be 2,500 to 2,900 square feet and made of brick, with front and backyards,” Normand said. “We wanted it to be fully renovated with high ceilings and terrazzo floors.”

The year was 2014, and Williams, a “recovering attorney” and the founder and president of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, was consumed with moving the museum to a new location. She had no time for house hunting.

She left that task to Normand, an attorney and longtime board member of the Preservation Resource Center. “I told him to just go find the house,” she said.

The downstairs foyer holds a Korean screen mounted on an intricate partition that separates it from the breakfast area. On the contemporary table is a Thai Buddha and two pate de verre vases from the Art Deco period.

“I did 30 drive-by sightings,” Normand said. “I toured 10 or 12 houses. I kept looking in Lakeview because that is the neighborhood you associate with midcentury houses. It was frustrating. One day, I stumbled upon a house on a Realtor’s website. It was the perfect house in an area I had never thought to look in.

“Soon I had to figure out how to tell all of my preservationist friends that we were moving to Chalmette!”

The divider separating the living and dining areas is an art deco table filled with books. The purple and blue sofa, at right, is by French designer Paul Follot. Floors are the original terrazo. The art on the right by UNO professor Richard Johnson has a multidimensional appearance.

Designed by Tulane University architect Edward Pike in 1967 in the Brutalist style, the minimalist exterior emphasizes materials and structural elements over decorative design. The house is in a midcentury modern interior, sits in a quiet Chalmette neighborhood of ranch-style homes.

“The front is minimalist, while the rear first and second floors have 40 feet of glass across the back looking onto the garden,” Normand said. In 1980, the home’s original owners enclosed the first-floor back porch with another 40 feet of glass.

In the living room, there are 19-foot ceilings clad in pine tongue-and-groove beadboard. The floors on the first floor are the original terrazzo, and the open floor plan comprises the living room, dining room and breakfast room. Normand and Williams use the rear addition as a family gathering place with its own living and dining areas. The flooring is of brick salvaged from St. Aloysius Church.

The kitchen/office has a combination of midcentury modern cabinets, bookshelves, and workspace for writing and cooking. The appliances are by Jenn-Air in stainless steel. The walls and hanging rack contain Williams’ collection of copper cookware and molds.

“Before we moved in, Liz chose an entirely new color palette in keeping with her love of all things food and flowers,” Normand said. “The kitchen is aubergine and banana. Downstairs has various colors of blue: agapanthus, violet and lavender. Upstairs is pumpkin orange.”

The second-floor library overlooks the living room. Throughout the second level, the original shag carpeting was replaced with blonde bamboo flooring. In keeping with the midmod design, the three bedrooms are small in comparison to the living spaces.

Normand, a passionate collector, filled the house with furnishings and art acquired at auctions; on eBay, Etsy and 1stDibs; and in area consignment shops, with Renaissance Interiors and Heirloom Antiques being his most frequent haunts.

The statue 'Man Playing Lyre' by Fritz Franz Engle (German/American sculpture) circa 1920, is made of wood and painted plaster to resemble bronze.

“Over time,” he said, “the house became a home, furnished mostly from the art deco period, but with accents of midcentury, art nouveau and Asian pieces mixed in. I research everything before I buy, and I am often buying items no one else is interested in, so I am often the only bidder. I look for good design. Elements with good design always work together. It really does not matter what period they represent.”

Williams, also a collector (so much so that she founded a museum), scavenges garage sales, thrift stores, Etsy and eBay in search of copper cookware and molds, pitchers made in the likeness of cows, and serveware and culinary implements with vegetable themes.

The library has built-in bookshelves, along with a mahogany library table is from the estate of Doris Zemurray Stone that was handmade in Honduras. Williams purchased the rug in Morocco.

“I am a crazy bargain hunter,” she said. “Going to a thrift store and finding an aluminum mold for $6 is not a thrill for me. I am excited about the old copper thing that is so tarnished no one can tell what it is, so it is selling for 50 cents!”

In the nine years they have lived there, they have settled happily into their Chalmette home.

“We really love our house,” Normand said. “Our neighbors are salt-of-the-earth people and we all really look out for each other. It’s like Mayberry. It is also very convenient. Everything is within five minutes: the post office, restaurants and, yes, Home Depot, too.”