More Than Just a Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts


Victor Bruno (Cabinet Maker/Architect)

They had a kind of a guild, you know [in Tunisia]. And my father . . . at the time when he was very young, they had an original Boys' Town group there. As a child, he was a member of this Boys' Town group, which was in the city. And they taught kids to play music, to do cabinet-making work, and all those kind of things. So it was like a little workshop for these kids.

I guess [my parents immigrated to New Orleans] because everybody else was coming. You know it was a land of opportunity, gold in the streets. And you can be a millionaire, and there was a lot of poverty there. Just like a lot of people left the continent.

We were very young [when my brother and I started helping in the workshop], . . . while all the other kids were out there playing football and basketball, we were in the shop working. And those were Depression days, so my father needed all the help he could get. And also he believed that we should learn the trade. . . . He didn't know what the future would be, but he figured that we should all have some kind of a trade, or knowledge of a trade.

I was very interested in music and I started playing the violin when I was about ten years old. In fact, I wanted to be a musician. And my father had-he was a musician also. That's one of the things he learned in this Boys' Town group. He learned how to play the trumpet. It was wonderful. . . . So I studied and practiced it all the time. [After a while], I figured, "I just don't have it." So then I gave up the idea, but I've played music all my life. I'm still playing.

When I got out of school, I went and worked for a contractor. I loved Frank Lloyd Wright. I thought he was a great genius and everybody does. But Wright always said that to be an architect you have to know how to build. Go out there and build. And he had all these students building houses, building everything. So I figured, well, I'd go out and build too.

When you put the living room, dining room, and the playroom in the back, opening out to the yard, all of the sudden you have communication between the two and it almost becomes one, you know. The outdoor area becomes an extension of your living area. In the old days, I guess because there was no air conditioning, people just sat on the porch. And there was a different style of living then. Everybody knew their neighbors. I don't know any neighbors. Nobody talks because you're in the back yard. But when you're on the front porch, the other guy's on the front porch, you say, "Hello, how are you?" and they can walk over and talk. People walk the street. It was a different situation those days. Very early in my life it was that way. Everybody lived almost in the street, really. Some city planners at that time called the street the living room.

If you say, "I want the kitchen here and the living room there and the bedroom," that's it. You haven't given yourself a chance to experiment with what could be, what couldn't be. And that's where you get a little more imagination, when you give yourself all this latitude. In fact, when a client would come to me, I would give them five alternatives. And we would discuss which would be the best way to do it. [I'd say] "I designed this house. I have maybe ten different alternatives for designing this house. But again, you select what it best. And you decide within the space, you see."

Victor Bruno was interviewed as part of the New Orleans Building Arts Project. Laura Westbrook edited More than Just A Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts in 2004 for publication online.