If the Tudor Revival brick architecture with ornamental half-timbering and a huge arched garage door don’t immediately spur curiosity about Wade and Farron Tornyos’ Mid-City firehouse-turned-residence, the official-looking plaque near the front does.
Neighbors and passersby routinely stop to read the inscription, which commemorates the city’s 1998 rededication of the early 1900s building as a New Orleans Recreation Development Commission community center for the elderly. People even have been known to peer through the mailbox for a look inside.
“When we’re doing yard work, somebody at some point always asks about (the house),” said Farron Tornyos. “It’s definitely a conversation piece.”
Wade Tornyos’ interest was piqued back in 2013, however, when the couple, then living in Houston, were considering moving back to New Orleans and temporarily decamped to Farron Tornyos’ parents’ pool house less than a block away. The building, which served as a firehouse from 1912 to 1975, had been shuttered since Hurricane Katrina and had fallen into disrepair. There was graffiti on the façade, holes in the roof and mold that needed to be remediated.
“When it rained outside, it also rained inside,” said Farron Tornyos.
The ceiling was falling in and the courtyard was completely overgrown. Nevertheless, when the city put the century-old building up for auction, the Tornyoses, who hoped to renovate it as their home, submitted the winning bid.
“We both like cool, interesting, unique properties,” Farron Tornyos said. “Also, we like projects. This house has become a hobby to us.”
The airy ground floor, visible ductwork and huge windows of the Mid-City property all spoke to the Tornyoses’ vision of an urban loft-inspired home. According to Farron Tornyos, her husband brings the big ideas, and she reins them in. But they both knew what they hoped to achieve with the house.
“The day we won the auction, we were so excited we … bought some champagne and we … jumped the fence to celebrate,” said Wade Tornyos. “But we left because we were being bitten by fleas. It was a rude awakening of what we had just gotten ourselves into.”
Luckily, the couple, who say they were “blissfully naïve” when they took on the renovation, found that the building was in relatively good structural condition despite the more obvious damage. Forty gallons of beehive (and bees) had to be removed, but there was no termite damage.
They stayed on budget by using restraint and letting the original house come through.
Working with a general contractor who had a reputation for quality millwork and who had a draftsman in-house, the Tornyoses turned the two-story portion of the property into a four-bedroom, 3½-bath house that also includes an office. The single-story L-shaped building that was originally the stable now houses guest quarters and Wade Tornyos’ woodshop.
“We call (the house) Hotel Goodell,” said Farron Tornyos of the moniker that comes from her maiden name. “Our joke is that the reservation book is always full. Out of 52 weekends, we have somebody here at least 30 of the them.”
Today, the graffiti is long gone and the exterior looks much as it would have 100 years ago. Inside, the couple carefully preserved as many of the historic details as possible.
They kept the original doors and windows and happily discovered wood flooring beneath four subsequent layers of various material upstairs.
A bank of wooden lockers that once belonged to the firefighters is showcased on a guest room wall, and large circles on the floors where the firemen’s poles once resided are purposely highlighted rather than camouflaged.
The ground level’s concrete floors had been noticeably sloped toward the arched garage door (it’s now a permanent window) leading to the street. The couple surmises this was for hosing out the firehouse in its heyday. But concrete was a natural choice for the industrial architecture and for foot traffic, so the Tornyoses had the floors leveled, resurfaced and stained a glossy brown.
They likewise chose track lighting and exposed ductwork because of the way they go hand-in-hand with the deconstructed quality of the surroundings.
A 17-foot-long kitchen island provides a focal point for the linear first floor and a multifunctional work/eating/relaxing space for the revolving door of family and friends who visit. Custom cabinetry, Carrera marble on the island and counters, and silvertone lanterns add polish.
Upstairs, the homeowners devised a new floor plan with private bedrooms and baths. The separation of rooms, along with use of the original wood floors, the addition of classic crown moldings and window coveringss, creates a more traditional aesthetic.
Wade Tornyos, who works in the energy industry, also is a skilled woodworker. He designed and built the dining table and the home office. When the smallest of the bedrooms lacked an optimum place for a bed, he crafted three built-ins: a bunk bed against one wall and a single under a window.
To accommodate the bunks, the antique wooden lockers that belonged to the firemen of old were moved to the opposite wall, where their rustic patina stands out in contrast to the clean white of the beds.
Farron Tornyos, a sales manager for a company that purchases food for colleges, universities and schools, did some of the stripping, painting and tile setting. While the walls on the first floor are white, she indulged her love of color in each of the bedrooms and in her closet, where she went with a vibrant pink.
The Tornyoses also incorporated things with special meaning. The newel posts on the stairwell are reclaimed from a house that Farron Tornyos’ parents owned. An elegant grandfather clock was handed down from her paternal grandmother.
A vintage child’s firetruck that once belonged to an aunt is displayed above the kitchen cabinets like a firehouse mascot. Farron Tornyos’ stepfather drove to Chicago to retrieve it from her aunt’s garage during the renovation.
One big moment for the renovated home came on New Year’s Day 2021. The house across the street caught on fire, and after the blaze was out, the Tornyoses invited the curious firefighters in for a tour. They marveled at how the residence honors its firefighter past.
“We cycled in about 20 of them that day,” said Wade Tornyos. “They were excited to come in because they’d seen it a lot and it still looked like a firehouse. They thought it was cool that it had so much original stuff.”