Perched high atop the Colonial Condominiums bordering the New Orleans French Quarter on the corner of North Rampart and Esplanade, Glen Carimi is taking in the afternoon view from his 1,600-square-foot outdoor living area adjoining the elegant penthouse he lives in with his wife, Carol.
“You can hear the church bells from Mount Carmel and all the other churches nearby,” he says. “At night, you can see the twinkling lights from the boats. We have lived in the French Quarter before, but had never seen the city from this side. There is no other view like this in the Quarter.”
On hot summer days, the Carimi family enjoys the shallow “martini” pool which is “perfect for the grandchildren,” he says. “We put chairs in the pool, have drinks, and read. It’s fun to have breakfast out here because you are in the morning shade.”
When Carimi acquired the building, which now has 30 units downstairs from his penthouse, it was in complete disarray. “This was the ugliest building in the city, but it had great bones,” he exclaims. “We gutted the building, which had been abandoned before hurricane Katrina. The storm only did minor damage. We crawled up on the roof through the hatch and I loved the view,” he says. “The building didn’t have this floor on it. We came up three feet with support columns and penetrated the whole roof and put in a separate slab three feet above the old roof for the penthouses.”
Carimi engaged Jim Blanchard for the design elements of the project. A decorator, designer, and an artist who focuses on architectural renderings in watercolor, Blanchard had previously designed all the buildings at Houmas House Plantation, where he has an artist’s studio perched in the top of an 1828 garconierre surrounded by lush gardens. He also designed Kevin Kelly’s elegant New Orleans home with its sweeping grand ballroom and balcony overlooking the parade route.
The owner of Houmas House, Kelly is an art and antique collector with impeccable taste. “I always pay attention to details for my clients,” Blanchard modestly explains. Before embarking on a trip to Australia for another client, Blanchard had dropped by Carimi’s house for some “finishing touches with the draperies.”
“This building has a Hollywood history,” Carimi explains. “Scenes from A Streetcar Named Desire were filmed here. Rene Zellweger, who was doing her new movie, My Own Love Song, with Forest Whitaker, stayed here and they had all of their cast parties in my penthouse. I lived in the back penthouse when they were here,” he says. “Sylvester Stallone was considering moving into the penthouse but he ended up at the Ritz Carlton. His crew is staying here in some of the downstairs units for the filming of their new movie.”
Carimi’s penthouse has all the electronic, user-friendly elements of a Smart House and was designed for entertaining, complete with surround sound and key pad commands for nearly everything, including the kitchen and the remote-control curtains surrounding the living area’s large windows. “There are no light switches in the house. Everything is on a computer board,” Blanchard divulges.
The dining room located just off the foyer serves as the focal point upon entering the spacious penthouse. “I put the dining room here because you see the most beautiful room in the house when you walk in,” Blanchard reveals. “This is the new style of living. You don’t separate your elements,” he says.
Solid marble pillars were placed between the dining and living rooms. “They are timeless,” Blanchard says. “All the tiles in the dining and living area were laser cut and imported from China. They are travertine and marble,” Blanchard reveals.
A mantel marbled with a tiger pattern complements the dining room, with its stately round dining table near French doors leading to the outdoor living area. Blackout shades in the living room are utilized when the remote-controlled movie screen is lowered. “At night you get to see the city through the sheers,” Blanchard says. A built-in bar flanks the living room with its grand view.
A similar tiger pattern ties into the decorative peninsula in the well-appointed kitchen. “Cooking in this kitchen is like theater,” Blanchard says. The semi-circular seating around the peninsula was designed to be conducive to visiting with guests while cooking.
“We purchased an old gasolier at an auction and had it rewired. It is the centerpiece of the kitchen,” Blanchard says. A cook’s dream, the kitchen has a six-burner stove, an industrial 90-second dishwasher, and a built-in barbecue pit surrounded by brick. “It was designed for maximum viewing,” Blanchard remarks of the adjacent tall windows overlooking the city from the cook’s station. A small “helper kitchen” is adjacent to the main kitchen, convenient for caterers.
The powder room off the foyer is adorned with black marble walls and an antique wall sconce. “The sink was carved out of a large rock,” Blanchard says. “The black marble has fossilized animals in it. I kind of picked the good ones,” he says while pointing out a small fish skeleton in the marble.
Just off the foyer, etched glass French doors open onto an office/TV room that is warmed by walls painted an eggplant color. “I don’t allow any white to be used on any walls in the entire building,” Blanchard exclaims. “I believe in color. I also don’t care for recessed lighting. I am a fan of track lighting.” An English bookcase, circa 1840, and fine oil paintings including an 18th-century European landscape grace the room.
The lovely master bedroom, softened by chocolate faux-marbleized walls, offers another great view and a fireplace. “I raised the fireplace so you can see it from the bed,” Blanchard explains. “You can also see the fireplace from the Jacuzzi tub in the master bedroom.”
The master bath is cleverly designed with a fireplace near the tub, heated floors, and a warming drawer for hot towels. A mini-frig under the warming drawer adds another convenient element to the bath with his and her vanities and a TV above the tub. “We used one block of granite for the base in the full steam shower,” Blanchard remarks. A separate room for the toilet has a computer terminal for added convenience. “As I said, I pay attention to details,” Blanchard smiles.
It is no wonder that this beautifully designed penthouse overlooking the city has attracted silver screen stars while shooting movies in New Orleans. It’s a little slice of Eden on the edge of the French Quarter, within walking distance of myriad attractions. “When I first saw the view I knew I wanted to live here,” says Carimi. “It’s really great for entertaining and we love the neighborhood.”