Take a virtual tour of this home, and five other stunning New Orleans residences, at PRC’s 45th annual Holiday Home Tour presented by McEnery Residential on December 12 & 13.
Debra Shriver says her French Quarter side-hall townhouse is not the biggest or grandest house in New Orleans, but it must be one of the most loved.
“This house has been a refuge,” said Shriver, who has owned the property for 15 years, purchasing it right after Hurricane Katrina.
On frequent trips to the Crescent City from New York City, where Shriver worked as a media executive for Hearst Corp., she had fallen in love with “the seafood-rich cuisine, the obvious influence of French culture here, the sense of Southern hospitality and the familiar Gulf Coast climate that I grew up with in Alabama,” she said.
In early August 2005, a friend’s real estate tip led her to the French Quarter house. Stepping inside was a “coup de foudre” — a French expression that literally means stroke of lightning but is used to describe love at first sight — as Shriver wrote in her 2010 book Stealing Magnolias: Tales from a New Orleans Courtyard.
“The moment we walked in, looked upwards at its high ceilings, then down the hallway to its small, leafy courtyard, it was familiar to me. Its walls, its winding stairway seemed like a known and comfortable haven: a reflection in my mind’s eye,” she writes in the book, which she calls part-love story, part-scrapbook about New Orleans and the house.
Three weeks later, just before Shriver was to sign the purchase papers, Hurricane Katrina struck. She decided to “soldier on and go through with the purchase. It felt like the right thing to do — to plant roots here and start a home, to help the city come back to life,” she said.
Photos by Liz Jurey
A storied history
Records for the property date to the 18th century. In 1722, “lot No. 349 was granted to Sr. Albert De Baulne,”, according to the Collins C. Diboll Vieux Carré Digital Survey at The Historic New Orleans Collection.
The property then changed hands a number of times. It sold in 1809, with the listing describing the house and its neighbors as “all new and in the best possible condition,” a sign the original buildings on the site may not have survived the 1794 Vieux Carré fire.
Stanley Clisby Arthur’s book, Old New Orleans: A History of the Vieux Carré, mentions that a structure was built on the lot by Guiseppi Giordano in 1832. Yet, an 1859 entry in the property’s chain of title shows a contract between builder Nicholas Duru and the widow of Jos. Giordano for “three houses with slate roofs at Dumaine and Dauphine.”
According to the Vieux Carré survey, Shriver’s home is “a two-and-a-half story masonry townhouse (that) is one in a row of three,” built circa 1859 as “simply detailed Greek Revival buildings.” Her home is separated from its right-side neighbor by “a narrow pedestrian passageway in the Creole tradition,” the survey says, and shares a common wall with the building to the left.
Original exterior features include granite lintels and sills. An ornate cast-iron gallery — Shriver’s portion is accessed from a floor-to-ceiling bedroom window — unites the front facades of the three buildings, which also feature central dormers.
Inside, the house’s symmetrical features and layout are typical of the Greek Revival style. On the first floor, there are double parlors, with matching fireplaces, separated by original pocket doors with architrave trim. Also original are the pine floors and wide baseboards, as well as the 12-foot ceilings’ intricate crown molding and plaster ceiling medallions.
Photos by Liz Jurey
Making it her own
Shriver wanted the home’s decor to reflect New Orleans’ roots in French and Afro-Caribbean cultures, as well as her time in New York. She worked with interior designer Hal Williamson to achieve that vision in just three months.
In an effort to help the city rebound post-Katrina, she intentionally bought antiques, artwork and furnishings from local businesses, such as Petricia Thompson Antiques, Shop Nadine Blake and Libird Studio. Over the years, she’s also found unique pieces at B.Viz Designs, Leontine Linens, La Maison Provence, Lucullus Antiques, Julie Neill Designs, and Brockschmidt and Coleman, among other favorite local haunts.
“Through contrasting textiles, such as silk and straw, cotton and stone, paint colors and carefully picked antiques and furniture, we’ve constructed a home that combines the tastes and inspirations of the three cities, though it heavily leans towards Paris and New Orleans as its key reflections,” she said.
Notable are the color choices for the home’s walls and ballgown-like drapes. In Stealing Magnolias, Shriver writes that she wanted “glorious color-upon-color on every floor, like the stacked jewel tones of Ladurèe confection boxes in Paris’ most famous pâtisserie.”
Silk tassels she purchased on a past trip to Paris became inspiration. “The colors were a luscious mixed bouquet of soft pastels and bold hues: peony shades of white and pink, a cornflower blue, an icy aqua, a hot Schiaparelli pink, a wasabi green and a bright fuchsia,” Shriver writes in Stealing Magnolias.
Williamson took one look at the tassels and knew what to do. He found a silk fabric embroidered with flowers in many of the tassels’ shades and used it for her bed’s duvet. He tried 11 different shades of white for the trim before finding the right one, Shriver said, and unearthed a dusky plum paint chip he’d saved for years (Shantung by Martha Stewart for Sherwin-Williams) for the dining room. The living room is painted Benjamin Moore’s Driftscape Tan, according to a 2008 House Beautiful feature on the home.
Tones of pink and purple, Shriver’s favorite colors, are peppered throughout, including in the Louis XV dining chairs’ upholstery (a toile called Louisiana Purchase). Plus, there’s purple in an original Hunt Slonem bunny painting, a serene Mallory Page piece above Shriver’s desk, and the pop art poster of Mahalia Jackson she bought at Jazz Fest that often solicits comments from visitors.
Hints of purple can even be found in the vibrant banana leaf wallpaper that a previous owner, architect Lee Ledbetter, hung in the kitchen and Williamson kept in the new décor scheme. The wallpaper, inspired by the hallways at the Beverly Hills Hotel, echoes the lush banana trees in the adjacent courtyard.
Shriver counts the courtyard as chief among her many favorite spaces. “It’s where I start my day each morning, with a café au lait or an espresso and the morning paper. The lush foliage and sense of serenity amidst the bustling French Quarter serves as a kind of sanctuary to me,” she said.
Another favorite is the original garçonniére, which holds Shriver’s studio. Painted with a tart green (Benjamin Moore’s Castleton Mist), it features an African headdress found at Jazz Fest, while a map of Paris — found by Williamson and framed in eight sections — covers one wall.
Pale blues can be found in the second-floor bedroom and its adjoining parlor, whose original six-over-six window shows how the house and the exterior kitchen were once separate buildings.
“I always wanted a bedroom that opened up to a parlor,” said Shriver, who filled the rooms with pieces of her blue-and-white ceramics collection and some of her many coffee table books. Sixty-nine boxes filled with art and design books came with her when she made the permanent move from New York to New Orleans, with a nine-month sojourn in France in between.
The first-floor entrance hallway became the perfect gallery space for pieces from Shriver’s black-and-white photography collection. Works by David Halliday, Lisa Alpach and Walker Evans hang alongside fashion photography and images of iconic Southern women.
Her own color photographs of New Orleans and Paris also can be found throughout the house. Some are uniquely displayed diptychs: one image sits atop the original onyx mantels, while the other stands in front of the fireplace in lieu of a traditional screen. The images juxtapose “how the mother city influences its daughter,” said Shriver, who is completing her third book, The French Leave: From Paris to Orleans Parish, which will be published in the spring.
While she worked closely with Williamson on the home’s decor, Shriver also was inspired by some of her talented friends in the design world, including Thomas Jayne, a New York-based interior designer, who has a home in the French Quarter, too. “Thomas and I bought homes in (New Orleans) in the same year, and we were frequent flying companions,” she said. “He encouraged me to mix contemporary with traditional. That’s one of his many talents. He’s also good at reeling you back to earth when you’re levitating away from budget and sanity.”
Shriver counts the house as a character in her life, a place that’s inspired her books and where she’s thrown spur-of-the-moment dinner parties and spent quiet moments tending to her grandmother’s gardenias and other plants in the courtyard garden.
“A lot of things have happened because I’ve lived in this house,” she said. “You can have a romance with a house, and I’ve had a torrid affair with this one.”
Photos by Liz Jurey
Dec. 12 & 13 • $40
Our Holiday Home Tour will be a virtual experience this year! Tour six stunning private New Orleans homes through a series of festive holiday video programs.