The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story
specializes in period houses, to tell us what to undo. We restored all the interior doorframes back to the same—large—size, gave a 1930s jalousie window in the entrance hall its original Greek key shape, and reopened a second door leading outside from the sunroom that had been Sheetrocked over. Out went hollow interior doors, hollow “brass” doorknobs, and a dozen bad light fixtures. Out went the glass-shelved wet bar in the library, the flimsy French doors to nowhere in a second-floor bedroom, a nook for a sculpture in the second parlor that rendered the powder room behind it so tiny the door barely opened.
    Eddie’s guys were great at ripping everything out, mostly because they were so big. The team was led by Abel, a naturalized American fireplug from Honduras who’d gotten thrown out of the Marines for punching his superior officer, and who spent the great majority of his off time at Razoo’s, a Bourbon Street bar known for frequent and occasionally deadly altercations. His most regular helpers were Tony, a sweet teddy bear of a man who had never worked for a contractor before but was strong and very eager, and Felipe, a short, very round kid from Ecuador, who was forever penning caricatures of himself and the others on unpainted bits of Sheetrock and pieces of lumber he left for me as presents. (I still have a particularly well-rendered drawing of himself as a nude sybarite eating grapes and wearing a crown of laurel.)
    They ripped out, reframed, and Sheetrocked so fast I was heartily encouraged, so when it came time to tackle the five bathrooms, I told Eddie to go for it. They were all disasters, but originally we had discussed doing over only the downstairs powder room and our two master baths in the interest of “going slow” and “saving money,” two terms that were becoming more and more quaint by the day. Once I saw the dust and general havoc wreaked by ripping out the tubs and toilets and sinks in our bathrooms, I knew the time to do everything was right then. Also, I was armed with an especially dangerous piece of pornography known as the Waterworks catalog. I had already picked out an Empire corner tub, Crystal sponge and soap basket, and Easton étagere for one bathroom, and an Exeter pedestal lavatory, elongated water closet, and Etoile double robe hook for the next. All the showers were going to get elaborate temperature gauges and pressure valves; John would have no less than three different showerheads in his alone. I was on a roll.
    Still, when I came home and announced that we were gutting all the bathrooms, we both had a sort of dip in our stomachs. The next morning I went back to tell Eddie to hold off, but it was too late—the guys were in their speedy demo mode and everything was already in a pile in the driveway. I have to say that when I saw all those ripped-out Formica-topped vanities, the bizarre half-tubs, the Hollywood-bulb mirrors, the ancient toilets, and mottled glass shower doors, I was secretly delighted; John, ever the tortoise, told me later that for him, it had been cause for a major silent freak-out.
    It turns out that it is just as easy to gut a yard as to gut a house. The same day I called Eddie, I also called my old friend Ben Page, a landscape architect in Nashville whose work across the country I had long admired. I’d wanted a garden for almost as long as I’d wanted a house, but the one we got was almost more than I’d bargained for—there was what amounted to a whole separate lot on the left side of the house and on the right, in the current “parking lot,” there was tons more space to landscape. Ben arrived early one morning, studied the site from every indoor window, and spent another hour walking the grounds before we broke for lunch. By the time we’d finished our first glass of wine he’d sketched the whole thing on the white butcher paper covering the table. There would be separate garden rooms, he said, the front “room” alongside the house,

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