Monica, who last summer became one of only about 20 women worldwide and the only woman from Louisiana to complete the seven summits (Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Vinson, McKinley, Everest, Elbrus and Kosciusko), hadn't had time yet to recover from the emotional highs and lows that can follow an experience like Everest. But she soon learned that the physical and mental conditioning she had developed for the climb would prove invaluable in helping her face the mountain of post-Katrina decisions that lay ahead. Among them were saving the family's Bywater business, which manufactures infant accessories and jewelry packaging, and buying, renovating and decorating a new house -- in just three months.
"We were all shell shocked," says Monica, who lectures in local schools about mountain climbing. "But when you climb, you learn that you just have to function. The conditioning gives you what I call 'nerves of steel.' You look at the situation and analyze the situation, but don't let it get to you. We said, 'We have a big problem. We have to solve the problem, and the only way to solve it is to get to work and do it.'"
"It wasn't easy," adds Jeno. "We just put on the blinders and started focusing."
After being rescued by boat and eventually evacuating to Baton Rouge, the Kalozdis made their way to Destin, Fla., where they have a vacation condo, and began the arduous task of putting their lives back together. Armed with two cell phones each (often all being used simultaneously), Monica and Jeno enrolled David and Hannah in school, rounded up as many of their employees as they could, and moved their operation to Florida. Juggling so many challenges at once -- including a weekly commute to New Orleans and back -- meant the Kalozdis were on the go, nonstop, 20 hours a day.
Once New Orleans residents were allowed to return to the city, Monica and Jeno gave themselves 24 hours to find and buy a house. The seventh house they toured, a 100-year-old residence one block from Audubon Park, was the charm. "We walked through the house, and in 10 minutes we said 'this will work,'" recalls Monica, noting that the house had to have enough space for both her and Jeno to have home offices, since their Bywater facility was not operational. To get the house more to their liking, the Kalozdis immediately hired Lars Jensen of Jensen Builders, the same contractor who had renovated and enlarged their previous home just two years earlier. Jensen added crown moldings throughout the house, replaced the kitchen's butcher-block counters with polished granite, added new plumbing fixtures and completely renovated the outdated bathrooms.
Having moved some of their art and valuables to the second floor of their Lakeview home in preparation for Katrina, the Kalozdis were able to salvage some of their most precious belongings, including heirloom paintings and silver. While the new house was being renovated, Monica selected furnishings and custom bedding from Norwalk Furniture in Destin, lighting fixtures from Destin Lighting & Design, and custom window treatments from Wren's Tontine Shade & Design in New Orleans. All of the rugs are from Tibet and were found online, except for the dining room rug, which Monica purchased while in Tibet to climb Everest. The rug had been special ordered for a room in the Lakeview house. But when it arrived, well after Katrina, the Kalozdis were amazed to find that it not only was a perfect fit for the dimensions of their new dining room, but also had a diamond grid and floral pattern similar in color and design to the border already painted around the top of the walls.
Inspiration for the vibrant, conte- mporary decor came in part from the recent renovation of their Lakeview house. Decisions were made quickly and easily, in typical "Monica fashion," and in each of the rooms, the starting point was often something as simple as a piece of furniture, a fabric or a lamp. In the upstairs sitting room -- a step-down space tucked neatly to one side of the hall leading to the bedrooms -- a pair of chairs small enough for the space came first, and accompanying pieces were chosen around them. While the springboard for Hannah's room was a polka- dot lamp she fell in love with while living in Florida.
"My family was in textiles, and as a designer of infant products, I deal with colors and prints and textures all day long," Monica says. "I'm very confident in making quick decisions when it comes to texture and color." So much so that less than a year after the renovation was completed, not a single pillow, tieback, or light fixture seems to be missing.
In addition to using every inch of the house, the Kalozdi family has become enamored with the convenience and quiet pace of their Uptown neighborhood. Monica jogs in the park every morning, and the kids are just minutes away from the school they both attend. They've also reaffirmed their love of New Orleans and their commitment to its future. "In the long run, [New Orleans] is going to be even better," says Jeno. "Even the depressed areas are going to be fixed up, and people will appreciate them. Everybody who goes through this is going to be stronger and more appreciative of life and of what they do have."