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It didn't mean painting everything, installing two new bathrooms, refinishing the floors, replacing a rotten porch or excavating a garden -- all on the to-do list at Perry's house. Instead of torpedoing the budding romance between the couple, the unsettling introduction to Perry's house may have actually strengthened it."Once I got over the shock, I realized that it meant James wasn't afraid to make a commitment," Harris-Perry said.
"If he could take on a project like that and stick with it, it was a good sign."The couple wed in October 2010 and by Thanksgiving, Harris-Perry was en route to New Orleans and the Esplanade Ridge house with her daughter, Parker, 9; Parker's "Grammy," Diana Gray; a dog named Pebbles and two cats.
Perry admits that their impending arrival put the heat on a renovation that had been years in the making."I was renovating the house after I bought it in 2002, before (Hurricane) Katrina, and then the storm added more to the work list," said Perry, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and a homeowner whose post-Katrina trials were profiled in The Times-Picayune's "Long Road Home" column.
"I'd say things were about 80 percent done by the time I knew Melissa would be leaving Princeton and taking a position at Tulane" University, he said, where she is a professor of political science.
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Out went its vintage pink tile, in went smart black-and-white tile, and the floor was repaired so that the toilet was no longer at risk of falling through the floor.
There was just one nagging problem: The lack of doors."Right before I bought the house, someone came in and stripped out all the doors, shutters and mantels," Perry said.
"I took one look at it and told him we needed to get a hotel room instead," said Melissa Harris-Perry, who was living in New Jersey and teaching at Princeton University at the time.
"He had told me he was in the process of renovating, but what he didn't say was that the house was a construction site."For Harris-Perry, "renovating" meant choosing new cabinets or the perfect hardware for a new kitchen, as she had been doing at her house in Princeton.
When James Perry first laid eyes on the sidehall shotgun in Esplanade Ridge, it was love at first sight.But it was another story altogether when he first brought his future wife to see the place during Mardi Gras 2009.