“You don’t get many jobs like this,” says general contractor Toni Wendel, the owner and president of Olde World Builders and Remodelers. This is quite a statement coming from a woman who has been involved with overseeing the construction of hundreds of homes and interesting projects throughout the state.
Wendel was the former president of the Greater New Orleans Home Builders Association, and was voted City Business Woman of the Year. In June, Governor Bobby Jindal announced appointments to Louisiana’s Residential Building Contractors subcommittee, which serves to conduct hearings on alleged violations by residential building contractors. Wendel was reappointed to the subcommittee after being renominated by the Louisiana Home Builders Association to serve as a representative of the 2nd Congressional District of New Orleans.
“The Batherson clock tower is truly spectacular,” Wendel says. The clock tower refers to a remarkable four-story condominium that she helped create and ingeniously refashion; it is located in the former Maginnis Cotton Mill, which was constructed over the ruins of the Duplessis house in 1882. The Duplessis house had been on the site, now part of the Warehouse District, for 116 years. The mill eventually took over the entire block and served as the largest cotton mill in the Gulf South. When the Maginnis Cotton Mill was completed in 1882, a wing was added with a tower that joined the two wings. Bell towers were used to signal shift changes to the workers.
“By the 1940s, the mill had declined, and the property was leased to various businesses by new owners,” Wendel points out. In the mid-1980s, Pres Kabacoff purchased the building. He is one of New Orleans’ premier real estate developers and specializes in the adaptive reuse of abandoned buildings in historic neighborhoods. Kabacoff converted the old mill into functional condominiums.
Dr. William and Robin Batherson bought the clock tower part of the building with the purpose of creating a unique residence in the historic Warehouse District. After making initial adjustments, they were getting ready to install shingles when hurricane Katrina hit, and the project was temporarily abandoned.
“I met Bill Batherson,” says Wendel, who is also an artist specializing in landscapes and equestrian scenes. “Bill had some architectural plans but they were not what he wanted. He would go into the clock tower at night just to get a feeling of what it should look like. When I first saw it, I was floored. The possibilities were unbelievable, but I knew it would be a challenge,” Wendell recalls. “Bill knew what he wanted and we moved toward that goal. This was his dream.”
The Bathersons were able to purchase the adjoining hallway and condo that was connected to the clock tower. This changed the layout of the initial project Wendel had embarked upon, and added a new configuration and exciting new challenges to the redesign of the residence. “When we started taking the flooring out of the clock tower, the woman next door moved out, so they bought her condominium. We installed several beams to create the four levels in the tower, and we recycled four-and-a-half pine beams for the flooring, and also built a glass catwalk with steel railings,” says Wendel.
The four-story tower includes the first-level entrance foyer that conceals a washer and dryer behind a curved cypress panel; the second floor, which serves as a home theatre; the third-floor living room, appointed with a bar and a spectacular view of New Orleans through four impressive six-foot-round windows (the living room is flanked by an elaborate outdoor kitchen and living area equipped with stainless steel cabinets that were donated by Danver); and the fourth floor, which serves as the master bedroom. The intimate room features a soaking tub and a pair of French doors styled with colored glass.
One of the large, round windows in the living room opens onto the spacious outdoor deck, which has the feeling of a ship at night due to its lighted steel railings and majestic view of the city.
“Cathedral beams rise to a peak in the master bedroom on the fourth floor,” says Wendel. “There was nothing up there but the beams and the wood beneath the roof. We insulated it, and put Venetian plaster on top of the finish. There are two sinks and a waterfall tub in the bedroom; the water closet is hidden behind the French doors.”
The kitchen, dining room, and bathroom (which has a sound system and a steam shower donated by Kohler) were created out of the adjoining apartment that the owners acquired after they purchased the clock tower. Adding to the allure of the sleek kitchen are white onyx countertops and an octagonal island with lighting under the onyx to radiate light. “It looks wonderful at night,” Wendel notes.
The living room is embellished with Venetian plaster walls and ceilings, and is illuminated by energy-efficient recessed lighting. “Every piece of wood in that place was milled, from the crown molding to all of the wood in the entire condo. Even the hinges on the cabinets are made of old cypress. The octagonal kitchen island is made from cypress crotch wood, where two trees grew together. We took that and we veneered it and put the wood on each side, then topped the island with white onyx.”
A spiral staircase begins on the first floor in the clock tower and leads up to the top floors. “You can look up and see all the way to the third floor from the foyer through the glass,” Wendel notes. “When you get to the second floor, there is a glass floor that functions as a catwalk. We installed a glass door on the second floor that we made to resemble a window. You open that and you can walk across the glass floor to the adjoining loft. This isn’t a typical condominium. For one thing, you don’t see any ducts, plumping pipes, or wiring—it is all hidden. This is a feat, because you are looking up at three floors through glass.”
The clock tower condo was a labor of love, says Wendel. At the time of this writing, she had temporarily furnished the residence with the help of Dop Antiques and Architecturals. “I have been working on this project for three years and we just recently finished, but we were still waiting on various items,” Wendel explains. “The project just drew me in; it was so very special,” she adds. “Bill wanted everything done the right way. I am happy to say that we achieved his vision.”