Garden of Cherie & Jonathan Thompson transformed by artist Max Bernardi

See this and other Garden District landscapes filled with custom-designed, larger-than-life art installations during PRC’s Holiday Home Tour presented by McEnery Residential on Dec. 11-12.

Click here for tickets and more tour details.

This double-gallery home was built circa 1856, designed by architect James Gallier and commissioned by James Robb, a prominent businessman of the time.

The current owners, Cherie and Jonathan Thompson, bought the property 13 years ago. Not long after they purchased the home, they renovated the yards into both formal and more relaxed spaces.

“Though the Thompsons started from scratch when they renovated the yards, the formal front garden echoes a design that has been part of the house for at least two decades,” according to a 2013 article in The Times-Picayune. “Symmetrical beds feature cone and sphere-shaped boxwoods, two espaliered European olive trees and a fountain the couple had moved from their previous home, creating a majestic — and meticulously manicured — space.”

The wall and gate that borders the front garden was moved and rebuilt to make more room for the backyard. The gate opens to a slender pool and spacious covered patio. “The yard was leveled and completely rebuilt to incorporate a pool, patio and private garden designed by landscape architect Rene Fransen, and the front courtyard was reconfigured to accommodate boxwoods and a French fountain that we had obtained before purchasing this house,” Cherie Thompson said.

Traditional elements in the backyard include New York red flagstone laid in a diamond pattern, a large, urn-shaped fountain and Bevolo lights. Some of the family’s favorite elements are “the colorful bougainvillea, fragrant gardenias and orange trees flanking the pool,” Cherie Thompson said. “We wanted low maintenance but fragrant and/or colorful plants that attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.”

The yard features two rare dogwood trees, one in the front courtyard and one directly in front of the house. The couple engaged Aaron Adolf for garden maintenance and Bayou Tree Service for tree care.

“We are out here every chance we get,” Cherie Thompson said. “The way we use it has evolved greatly over the years since we purchased the house in our late 20s, and now we have two young children who enjoy the space as much as we do. It’s been fun to make kid-centric additions, such as the playhouse and swings. Most of all, we love that we can all enjoy it together as a family.”

Photo by Charles E. Leche




The Artist: Max Bernardi

Max Bernardi loves the fluidity of paint and all the possible color choices available to her when she is creating a work of art.

It’s “a perfect medium for expressing the soul,” she said in her artist statement. “I use my color palette like a spiritual electric current, charging an image with the spiritual resonance I felt while portraying a person or a scene. While my style tends toward realism, I try not to allow it to straight-jacket my entire approach to painting.”

Bernardi’s art career began in 1992 while she was enrolled at the Atlanta College of Art, and her moody scenery led to work in film and commercials, elaborate trade show booths, and murals for exhibitions at the Alabama Power Water Course, a former educational center in Clanton, Ala.

In 1996, she moved to what she described as “the more culturally vibrant” New Orleans. Bernardi has become known for her contributions to the urban landscape through her boldly colored murals, created with exterior-grade acrylic paint, as well as her portraiture.

Her early local projects came through Kern Sculpture, for which she painted Carnival floats and sculptures for Las Vegas casinos, and through Spangenberg Studios, creating scenery and backdrops for Carnival balls. She served as the scenic charge at Maloney Productions from 2001 to 2004 and at Southern Repertory Theatre from 2002 to 2004.

In 2007, Clarence Becknell, the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club’s historian emeritus, asked Bernardi to lead two groups of high school art students in creating two educational murals: one at McMain High School, the other at Warren-Easton High School. They depict the historical contributions of the Buffalo Soldiers.

She also was selected to be the artist-in-residence at the Isidore Newman School. There, she “researched, designed and painted two murals with their very talented and motivated students,” according to her website,

Bernardi has painted large exterior murals for the International House of Blues Foundation, Gulf Coast Bank and Breaux Mart, the Louisiana grocery chain. She’s also painted various murals for the Audubon Nature Institute, as well as ones for private residences and businesses. Her latest project is a large mural installation for Jefferson Parish’s Walkertown Bus Terminal in Marrero. “Most of my mural work has been on a commission basis, but I enjoy the collaborative process,” Bernardi said. “I often research my subjects with a combination of reading and perusing images before puzzling them together in sketches to an entirely new cohesive image.”

Bernardi’s portrait-like paintings, which layer acrylic and oil paints, capture people at specific moments in time, whether that’s a woman taking an afternoon nap, someone deep in thought or a local musician on stage. “Generally, I am drawn to portraying moments when people are truly present in the moment to remind the viewer of the beauty of life,” she said.

For the PRC’s Art & Garden Holiday Home Tour, Bernardi worked with homeowner Cherie Thompson in developing a concept for the artwork: “Christmas in Candyland.” It was suggested by Thompson, Bernardi said, “who has two adorable daughters and has enjoyed playing the board game with them.”

The Candyland game is one “that connects nearly every American to their own childhood because, though the board itself has gone through many iterations, it is one that sparked the imaginations of all of us,” Bernardi added.

She plans to “take some of my personal favorite characters from the game and add in a few nods to local New Orleans culture throughout, setting the make-believe land in the season of Christmas.”


The PRC’s 46th annual Holiday Home Tour presented by McEnery Residential is back with a fresh new format for this year!

Dec. 11-12

Learn more & buy your tickets today!