Tour an Architect’s New Orleans Home, Where Breezy Style Meets Italian Panache


When architect Morris Adjmi left his hometown of New Orleans to pursue a career in New York, he “vowed never to go back,” he recalls. Yet life, as it often does, had other plans. On a visit to the Louisiana City’s lush Garden District in 2016, Adjmi stumbled upon a stately raised Center Hall Cottage, its for-sale sign listing a real estate agent whom Adjmi had known growing up. He called her on the spot. “‘Of course I remember you!’ she’d said. ‘I’m at the beauty parlor, getting my hair done,’” Adjmi recalls with a laugh. “But she said she could be there in 20 minutes.”

A series of scattershot renovations had left the house feeling disjointed. Built in the 1840s, the Greek Revival–style home was adapted into an Italianate-influenced one in the 1880s. Then, it was renovated again post Hurricane Katrina. That last overhaul, shares Adjmi, “wasn’t sensitive to the original architecture. It was clear that it was a great house and had an amazing garden, but it needed a significant amount of attention.” Adjmi and his architect-photographer wife Lisa Mahar bought the house, devoting significant energy to historical research before renovating its sprawling 4,500 square feet over the next two years. Tripp Morris served as their general contractor.

“We tried to bring the original architecture out,” Adjmi says, and, given the house’s legacy of additions and reconfigurations, his work was cut out for him. Master plaster artisan Janusz Urbanski was brought in, taking casts of the house’s only remaining original plaster crown molding from the entry foyer to recreate molding throughout the rest of the house. The home also had some intact fireplaces, but a prior owner had replaced most of them with simple wood ones. Only one still had its original cast-iron gate. They couldn’t find a suitable replacement, but Urbanski posed a seemingly outlandish solution: “He told me, ‘I can cast the whole, entire fireplace!’ I was like, ‘What!” Adjmi remembers exclaiming at the suggestion.

But he did, and he also cast rosettes, measuring 18 to 20 inches in diameter, for use with pendant fixtures. “For the parlor, dining room, and library, which are much bigger-scale rooms, with 15-foot tall ceilings, I’d said, ‘Let’s just find one off the shelf,’” Adjmi recalls. “But Janusz said, ‘You need to do something true to the original house.’” Drawing inspiration from a photo of a similar house, the artisan worked out a 40-something piece pattern featuring Acanthus leaves. Adjmi then set modern light fixtures—Apparatus’s Cloud 37 chandelier in the parlor; a three-tier Matter Made Arca chandelier in the dining room—against the exquisite recreations.

The house’s driving aesthetic? “Somewhere between the weathering and the decadence of New Orleans,” says Adjmi, whose mentor and prior associate was postmodern master and Pritzker Prize–winning architect Aldo Rossi. Rossi’s influence is nowhere more apparent than in the dining room, where a table he designed, inspired by a sketch of a small carved walnut table belonging to Rossi’s grandfather, now sits. Rossi’s original design clocked in around three by five feet; Adjmi’s version, a custom-size marble piece, measures a larger-than-life 10 by four feet. “It commands the space,” says Adjmi. High-level Italian inspiration for the home also arrived via Casa Mollino, in Turin, where, “the juxtaposition of texture and color resonated” with Adjmi.

The two-year-long renovation, says Adjmi, who is behind luxury buildings in New York and Washington, DC, paved the way for the architect to do what he might have found unthinkable years earlier: open an office in his hometown. “Things change,” reflects Admji on breaking his decades-old vow to never come back. “It’s been a good place to do both: play and work.”

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