What I really want in a house is age and comfort," Ani Kinyon says over mid-morning lattes in an Uptown coffee shop. Ani, an aspiring screenwriter, her husband Randy, a transportation coordinator in the film industry, and their 17-year-old son Adam are in the right place for the first part of the equation: New Orleans homes are among the most historic and beautiful in the country. But the couple, originally from Utah, found that transforming their circa-1870s house into the comfortable showplace it is today took several years of hard work, much of which they did themselves.
"The first time we saw the house, we turned around and walked out," Ani says. "It needed so much work, it was scary."
After going through renovations that obscured its original architecture and being converted into three apartments, the house was a jumble of rooms in need of repairs. A contractor discouraged the Kinyons from taking on such a challenging job. Still, the couple found the house's ample square footage, good price and mother-in-law unit appealing, and it was located in a prime Uptown location a stone's throw from their son's school. They discussed its possibilities over dinner, floor plan in hand, and went back for a second viewing.
With three previous renovations under their belts, the Kinyons say the process is a rewarding outlet for their creativity. In the early stages of the project, while Randy was working on an out-of-town feature film, Ani drew sketches for the remodel (moving walls, doors and windows without changing the footprint), made detailed lists of everything that needed to be done, and chose fixtures — staying within the budget without scrimping on character or good looks. An artist whose paintings have been shown in multiple galleries, she applied her skills in a new way, becoming adept in an art form known as antiquing. Painted pieces with worn patinas are a hallmark of this house and have become a calling card for Ani's interior decorating skills. So many friends and acquaintances asked Ani to refurbish pieces that she created a website (www.studio-ahk.com) to showcase her skill and offers weekly classes.
"I love looking for furniture at estate sales and thrift stores and places like Renaissance Interiors," she says. "I love going out to find things that you can give another life to."
Randy, who's done everything from electrical work to Sheetrocking, devoted his free time to gutting and renovating the mother-in-law apartment. "Randy and I see eye-to-eye on most decisions, because at this stage of our home renovating, he lets me run with it — mostly," Ani says. "He is function, I am form. He is amazing at knowing what needs to happen with the inner workings of the house. I'm all about the aesthetics. It's a good match."
If the Kinyons' home were an oyster, the pearl at its center would be the striking kitchen of dark blue, white and gray, which is double the size of the dated galley kitchen that existed when they purchased the property. Located at the rear of the house, it is visible from the foyer and attracts everyone who enters. Its herringbone-patterned slate floor, marble counters and industrial light fixtures call to mind the 1920s.
To enlarge the space, the Kinyons tore down a wall separating a bedroom from the narrow efficiency-style kitchen and divided the square footage to create a hall and additional kitchen space. Instead of an island, they opted for a reproduction farm table and chairs, which add to the room's open quality and get heavy use by family and friends.
"I don't think I would ever go back to an island in a kitchen instead of a table," Ani says. "An island is more of a function of cooking, whereas a table is where you hope to relax and enjoy (yourself). I think the kitchen is the perfect place for that."
Both the dining table from Restoration Hardware and the old wooden ladder, found at an antique store in Bywater, add to the well-worn, lived-in atmosphere, an effect that's consistent throughout the house. Wherever possible, doors, windows and other original features were saved and repurposed. The exterior shutters, for example, were stripped of paint and reused inside in their natural, rustic state.
After completing the ground floor, the Kinyons took a breather to regroup, then moved on to the second floor, which involved less reconfiguring but did include all new bathrooms, plumbing and electrical. It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a laundry room and Ani's studio, where she paints and writes. A quiet color scheme of gray, khaki and taupe reigns, coupled with painted floors, weathered wooden surfaces and layers of linen.
"I've had orange walls and green walls and red walls," Ani says, recalling the way her style has evolved with successive houses. "I like everything kind of neutral right now. ... I think it's where I'm going to stay."
The renovation's last phase was the addition of front and rear porches followed by landscaping the front yard, which Ani mostly did herself. "I love digging in dirt," says Ani, who rented a van and drove to Forest Hills, La. to stock up on plants. "It must be left over from my childhood of making mud pies. The backyard awaits me in the spring."
At some point, another old home awaits the Kinyons' know-how as well.
"We're a little bit like gypsies, and there are more homes in our future," Ani says. "I can't imagine moving into a house that's done."