This story appeared in the June issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door nine times a year? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!
I’m a Preservationist
Principal of Operations, Entabalature Design + Build; Principal and Broker, Entablature Realty
You have a doctorate in psychology. How did you become interested in the construction field?
I grew up in construction. Both my father and my great uncle were builders, so it is literally in my blood. My summer job for a number of years was sweeping out houses under construction. It was insanely hot, but I loved being around construction. Throughout graduate school, I never felt like I had to pursue a traditional career in psychology. I was more interested in the ways psychology was being applied to the business world. When my wife and I finished our doctoral residency work in Nashville, it just made sense to make the move at that time. I kept my psychology license for a long time just in case the construction thing didn’t pan out. Almost 20 years later, there is no turning back now.
Many of Entablature’s clients want to give their older New Orleans homes a more up-to-date interior layout and design. What do you think is the biggest challenge and biggest reward of renovating historic houses?
I always like to say that on the rare occasion when we get a new construction project, it is like a vacation. Renovating a historic structure is an exercise in problem solving, and it is time intensive. You can’t rush it because there is so much to think through. Every decision has an impact on 10 other things in the house. As one small example, if you replace your siding and decide it’s a good time to also add sheathing, you have just increased the thickness of your wall assembly. This will have an impact on your exterior and interior trim, your windows, and how your house breaths, etc. Working through the pros and cons of each element is both challenging and very rewarding. There is never a dull moment.
What is the most important thing a homeowner should consider before taking on a big renovation project?
First, move out. Everyone thinks they can handle the stress of living through even a small kitchen and bath renovation. Things are just better all around if you move out. Most importantly, I have seen over and over how critical the pre-construction process is. Sending a set of plans to a handful of contractors and asking them to understand your project and give you a fair price in two to three weeks is setting yourself up for problems. Architects and contractors bring different skills to the table. During design and pre-construction, why wouldn’t you want all of the experts at the table early on, working through any potential issues long before the first hammer swing? This is so important for large renovations in which there is a tremendous focus on existing conditions and construction methods.
We’ve read so much about supply chain issues and inflation lately. How are they affecting the construction and remodeling business in New Orleans?
Both supply chain issues and inflation are having a tremendous impact on the construction industry. Materials are often back ordered and then back ordered again. Pre-Covid, suppliers would notify us about price increases once a year. Since the pandemic, we are getting price-increase notices constantly, and the percent increase is significant. The cost for a major renovation has exploded over the past couple of years. Amazingly, the volume of work has also exploded. People do not seem to be scared off by escalating costs. Many of our clients are having babies and renovating to accommodate a growing family. They do not have the option of waiting for costs to come down.
You serve on the Board of Directors for the PRC. What does historic preservation mean to you?
I wish I could come up with something better than the PRC’s mission of “preserving New Orleans’ historic architecture, neighborhoods and cultural identity through collaboration, empowerment and service to our community,” but I can’t. Through my job, I focus primarily on buildings, but the buildings are meaningless without context. If you took our amazing buildings and put them in Vegas, they would feel pretty different. The culture is the critical ingredient. It is so important for everyone to actively participate in protecting and handing down traditions, stories and knowledge to the next generation. That is the only way to preserve our incredible culture against the pull to just bury our heads in technology and lose track of everything that makes our city vibrant. I love how house floats and porch concerts have evolved during the pandemic as a means of fostering traditions that were temporarily limited. It’s a great example of people putting in the effort to sustain the elements that make us unique. At Entablature, we talk a lot about company culture. I like to tell our staff that it doesn’t just magically happen. We have to work to preserve it.
Former PRC Director of Conservation and Education Anna Pernas, left, with Chris Kornman filming for PRC’s Maintain Right video series. Click here to view the series. Photo courtesy of Harmonic Media.