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House Calls: An Inn-Owners’ Bywater Home is a Place You Can Stay Awhile

Mark Heck and Kelly Rayner's live-and-work space is modern but friendly

In 2012 the newly married Kelly Rayner and Mark Heck were looking to buy a house, and Rayner was looking for a new career. After a fortuitous Bywater outing they got exactly what they wanted—all at once.

"We were having lunch in the neighborhood at the Joint, and we were going to visit our friends down in Arabi," Rayner says. "We were driving down Poland and ta-da! There’s a big ‘for sale’ sign outside this inn. We needed a house. I desperately needed a new job."

The Lookout Inn, a successful Bywater guesthouse, was looking for new owners, and the couple decided they would be the ones for the job—especially since the owner’s side of the house was larger than your typical b-and-b’s.

The inn has a fun retro flair: The logo has a 50s diner look, and there’s an Elvis-themed suite. While the couple’s side of the house has a healthy dose of kitsch (that’s due to Rayner’s influence), it’s tempered by a clean, modern sensibility (thanks to Heck’s architecture background) for a look that can be described as "inviting modern."

While the inn was in good condition when the couple bought it, the owner’s half needed a facelift. The house had low ceilings, the kitchen had peeling linoleum floors and was inadequate for a couple that likes to cook, and there was an upstairs portion that was left incomplete. The couple—along with many friends and family members—got to work adding necessary upgrades and uncovering the home’s good bones.

"I love tchotchkes. Kudos to the tiny house people, but I like a lot of stuff."

They decided to keep the original layout of the house, but took out the living room’s dropped ceilings to uncover the original 12-foot ceilings. The kitchen was completely gutted, and reborn with Carrara countertops, IKEA cabinets, and all-new appliances, but the couple decided to keep and repurpose the original Vent-a-Hood. Originally beige, Rayner took the hood to an auto body shop in Chalmette, where it was sandblasted and painted with auto-grade mint green paint, which makes it heat resistant but with a high-gloss factor.

Heck, an architect with Williams Architects, says the decision to repurpose the hood speaks to the couple’s ability to mix their differing styles.

"We don’t let any particular aspect take over," Heck says. "Our kitchen is the most straight modern room, but a lot of people would have gotten rid of that hood because it didn’t fit with the IKEA cabinets we chose. That piece was a history of the house that had to stay. We try to find ways to blend."

Nowhere in the house epitomizes the couple’s fused style more than the sitting room off the kitchen, which is filled with funky objects but has some mod furniture.

"You have a lot of modern things in that room, but I had to have the cowhide rug and the tchotchkes," Rayner says. "I love tchotchkes. Kudos to the tiny house people, but I like a lot of stuff."

Speaking of stuff, the couple’s furniture and accessories reflect a mix of youthful big-box brands like IKEA, West Elm and Crate and Barrel; pieces from local stores Modern Market and Greg’s Antiques; finds from Etsy and ones picked up while traveling; and some repurposed items.

That sitting room is painted a pale mint, and the other rooms feature bold color choices.

"Obviously our house has color everywhere," Heck says. "I grew up in Chalmette in the suburbs and—I love my parents—but they had beige white walls."

Another bold paint choice in the home is an accent wall in the living room, which is a stenciled gray and lavender pattern. The stenciled paint came out of a disagreement—Rayner wanted to incorporate wallpaper somewhere, Heck has removed enough wallpaper in his life and didn’t want to touch the stuff—and Heck’s sister offered the compromise of a stencil.

"Obviously our house has color everywhere. I grew up in Chalmette in the suburbs and—I love my parents—but they had beige white walls."

Perhaps one of the biggest upgrades to the home, besides the kitchen and restoring the high ceiling, was building out the space upstairs, which the previous owners started and never finished. The incomplete design included recessed storage, making it so that the room doesn’t need bedside tables, a headboard, and dresser.

"The old owners, I have to give them their due, they framed everything out upstairs. He was a carpenter, and he framed out something so excellent," Rayner says. "I love that there’s no furniture up there. The night stands are recessed, you don’t need a headboard."

The framing also included space for a desk, which the couple turned into a dresser with his-and-her closets, plus an additional walk-in closet for taller items.

They also made huge changes to the bathroom, turning it into a spa-like retreat with a big tub, rustic recessed storage with lighting, and black-and-white subway tile on the floor and backsplash. Rayner is giddy just thinking about it: "I love that bathroom. It excites me every time," she says.

Before the upstairs was complete the couple would sleep downstairs in what is now the guest room. With the master bed and bathroom the only rooms upstairs, that part of the house feels like a cozy retreat from the bustle of the neighborhood and the action from the adjoining inn.

"Our bedroom was that front room, so we heard everything that happened in the neighborhood—," Heck says.

"… the garbage man, drunk girls coming back, everything. It’s nice to have a little more distance from the street," Rayner adds.

The couple loves to cook and host gatherings, and when the inn isn’t full they host pool parties. Even though the inn has guests coming and going, the couple is building a home that is stylish but warm, inviting people to linger.

"I want people to stay awhile when they come," Rayner says.

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