Man adds large entertaining space to home
The first time John Hooper saw his Kenilworth home a little over a year ago, he knew what he wanted to do to make it perfect for his lifestyle. His plan was to open up the living room, dining room, den and kitchen area to make one large entertaining space and to create one wall as an artistic point of interest.
“When I walked into the house, I saw the potential immediately,” he said. “I knew what I wanted to do. I love fine dining, either at home or out. I wanted a large dining and entertaining area, and I wanted a professional kitchen, and I wanted it all to have personality like you were going out to a restaurant.”
Doing most of the carpentry work himself, Hooper removed the walls that separated the four small rooms and created one large area. “I had others do their craft of granite, electrical and plumbing,” he said. “I did a lot of the painting, but I had someone remove the famous popcorn ceilings and paint the ceilings, but other than that, I did the rest.”
Hooper did not draw plans for the project. “When I build something, if you have it pictured in your head, plans are not necessary,” he said. “My father taught me that. Go with what’s in your head, and before you know it, it’s done.”
Using cedar fencing and shingles, Hooper fashioned the facade of an Acadian cabin on the wall opposite the kitchen area. The wall is so realistic that guests in his home often try to open the door. “It’s just a plain wall. Just the facade covers up what was there,” Hooper said. “People tug on the door to see if it goes anywhere. No, it doesn’t go anywhere.”
To Hooper, building the wall was like creating a work of art. “Crafting with wood is exactly like painting a picture,” he said. “Something decorative like this moves from your head to the surface of the wall.”
Hooper finished what he calls his Cajun wall in about a week. Then he had the fun of finding items to decorate it, such 19th-century country-style items as iron skillets, an old French drip coffee pot, a Cajun sausage maker, lanterns, a tin tobacco box and an old crab steamer.
In the left corner of the wall is a three-dimensional outhouse that hides his high definition box and his stereo equipment. It even has some storage. Flower boxes at the front of the Cajun wall conceal the speakers to his cordless stereo system.
Above the door is a sign, “P.J.’s Creole Cafe.” “My former stepkids, when I married their mother, were trying to decide what to call me,” Hooper said. “They came up with Papa John. So I told them to call me P.J.” Now even Hooper’s four grandchildren call him P.J.
A native of New Orleans, Hooper came to LSU in the 1960s. His first degree was in music. “My father was a carpenter and a musician, and he taught me both those skills,” he said.
Hooper later got master’s degrees in education, educational supervision and counseling. He is also a board-certified therapist. In 1970, Hooper started teaching but later went into educational leadership.
In his career, he served as principal at Nicholson Elementary School, Magnolia Woods Elementary School and Forest Heights Academy of Excellence. Several years ago, he retired from the school system and went to work for the Louisiana Department of Education evaluating new teachers. After a year, he returned to the school system as a music teacher and later as a counselor and school therapist. He is now dean of students at the Baton Rouge Center for the Visual and Performing Arts.
“They are wonderful kids, a wonderful school to get to do all the things I like — music, theater, drama and, of course, academics too,” he said. “It’s a perfect position for me.”
Hooper enjoys cooking in his modern kitchen and entertaining in his large room. “I am an amateur cook,” he said. “I love to at least cook an elegant and romantic meal with all of the atmosphere that I try to create with a meal.”
When Hooper hosts a dinner party, he always prepares two entrees and offers his guests a choice of salad and dessert, just as they would have in a restaurant. He had an artist sketch his Cajun wall and uses copies of the sketch on invitations as well as on menus he prepares for each guest.
The walls of the large room contain framed sheets of music of his favorite love songs, which are all recorded to be enjoyed by his guests. “I am a hopeless romantic,” he said.
Now that his yearlong renovation project is complete, Hooper is delighted with the results. “I ended up with the professional kitchen I wanted and ended up with a wide, open dining area,” he said. “To me, it’s comfortable and homey like a good New Orleans Commander’s Palace would be, elegant but comfortable.”