Warehouse District condo is the perfect spot for solitude, or socializing
Updated: Monday, March 28, 2011, 7:38 AM
A LITTLE NEST: The Federal Fibre Mills on South Peters Street once produced more than 7 million pounds of manila and sisal rope per year, but since 1990 it has made a "little nest" for Janet Waller. Her cozy pied-à-terre, ensconced in the former factory building, contains her most loved possessions -- family antiques, books, paintings and playful folk art.
Waller was one of the first tenants when the massive brick and timber building was converted to 132 condominiums after the 1984 world's fair. The building was modified during the fair to allow a monorail to carry passengers into a popular German beer garden inside the building.
"I liked being an urban pioneer in the warehouse district," says Waller, who used to walk to her marketing job at an art gallery. Now she splits her time between Montgomery, Ala., and New Orleans. When in town, she frequently strolls to her favorite local restaurants, Julia Street art galleries, Ogden Museum of Southern Art and music festivals in Lafayette Square.
ONE OF A KIND: Waller's apartment incorporates three levels, created during the renovation by developers Edward B. Boettner and Pres Kabacoff, who designed units to be as unique as their owners.
"It would have been easy to find a floor plan that worked and 'press the cookie cutter,'" Boettner, who died in 2000, said when the complex opened. "But this would have failed to utilize the volume of the building."
A vestibule, office and kitchen are located on her unit's first floor, with an open living room on the second, connected by a semi-spiral staircase to a loft bedroom.
Enormous, exposed heart pine beams hold up the 15-foot ceiling, giving the tidy apartment a spacious feel. Arched windows, 6 feet tall, look out over the New Orleans skyline, capturing a bit of the industrial district's grittiness. Double-hung windows lift up to take in the lively sounds of the dynamic neighborhood.
At 8 each morning, Waller can hear the clip-clop sound of a mule pulling its carriage to Jackson Square. In the afternoons, the steamboat calliope's cheerful tunes drift in. And some evenings, party music filters up from Tipitina's Ruins.
Waller's first step in making the apartment her own was to replace wall-to-wall carpet with Brazilian cherry hardwood floors.
ARTFUL STAIRCASE: Later, she opened up the staircase, replacing the ordinary handrail with a work of metal art. Yugoslavian artist Julia Yerkov Kline created a fanciful, handmade, cut-out and hammered railing.
Yerkov Kline describes the railing's artistic flourishes: "It begins with a big gumbo pot, like every party in New Orleans. Fish and spices are jumping in and out of pot, just like song; musicians and dancers rising and falling in rhythm, the party is happening! As we are walking up the steps toward her bedroom, the party is calming down and the moon is out; romance time with the sax player leaning over the lanterns, typically New Orleans."
Although Waller grew up in Montgomery, she spent much of her childhood in New Orleans, where both her mother and grandmother graduated from Newcomb College. Waller studied art history at Newcomb, later earning a master's in arts administration from the University of Wisconsin.
PIECES OF THE PAST: Antiques from her grandparents' Arabella Street home helped furnish the apartment. Her grandmother's painting of the French Opera House by William Woodward, the renowned impressionist painter who taught at Newcomb and Tulane in the early 1900s, holds a central position on her living room wall.
A painting on another wall by mixed-media artist Karen Laborde complements the apartment's earthy hues. "I liked the integration of dark and light and her lyrical sensibility and poetry," she says.
Walls painted gold, two overstuffed couches, Persian rugs and antiques create a warm environment perfectly suited for curling up with a novel or inviting close friends to share a good bottle of wine.
The stylish condominium strikes a perfect balance between "community and privacy," Waller says. The warehouse complex was architecturally designed to be like a neighborhood, with the five-story atrium at the center allowing residents to feel connected while preserving their privacy.
Waller may choose to join neighbors for conversation by the pool or take one of her solitary evening walks to Esplanade Avenue.
"I don't get lonely," she says.
-- MARY RICKARD
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