Talk of the Town - Lights, camera ... paint? May 07 2003

Three-story contemporary Old 4th Ward home

Cara Cummins sits
on a curb in front of her house behind a large green crane. But for once, it's not one of her construction projects. The crane is actually a boom — and it belongs to the makers of an independent film. As actors sit on the curb across from Cummins, rehearsing their lines, crewmembers radio instructions to others inside the house, where reflective panels are being adjusted and cameras are moving in for close-ups.

Both architects, Cummins and her partner (in business and in life), Jose Tavel, started building their contemporary Old Fourth Ward home in September. Cummins calls the house "international craftsman" in its use of hardwoods, stucco and metal — but more for the fact that they employed craftsmen from Nigeria, Romania, Nicaragua and Russia.

They received their permit of occupancy two days ago, but before they could finish their floors and paint their walls, a friend and movie scout asked to use the home. Why not? They still have their studio and home in a two-story unit downtown in the Gordon Lofts. So Cummins sits and watches as cars drive up, trailers with costumes and props are unpacked, and a life in miniature begins its drama indoors.

Creative Loafing: Your home is a star even before it's finished being born..

Cummins: Yeah, the [staff] came out to look at the house the other day. I actually forgot the key, and they just looked around through the windows. They wanted to see it from the inside but decided it would be OK. Actually, our friend, who is a scout, already knew about the site. Before we built on the property, the lot was used to film a video.

What made you decide to let them use it?

I'm up for any sort of collaborative effort. But they're not looking at the house itself. They were using the garage and didn't want us to even paint it. They wanted it raw. They brought furniture, curtains. Oh, but you missed the car scene! They were down on Freedom Parkway screeching their tires in front of the house.

This house looks so different from the rest of the community. You mentioned once before that you were able to do it because there are little restrictions in this area. But were there people who didn't want it?

There were many people adamantly against it. A group even petitioned against the house. A lot of people are afraid of things they don't understand. We had to apply for a variance; we followed all the rules. With the variance, we went before the NPU and the zoning board. At that level, you open yourself up for any other kind of criticism. Some people in the neighborhood were against a modern house; they wanted another little house like the ones in the area. But the board said we weren't asking anything different than what anyone else in the area has a right to do. They have the right to not like it, and we have the right to like it. But we've invested a lot of money into this community.

How much did the place cost — if you don't mind me asking?

Let's leave that off the record. It was a leap of faith. It cost more than money to build this house — it took time and an emotional cost. Already people drive buy and ask if we're going to sell it — they want to buy it. But I can't begin to put a price tag on it.