How’s Bayou? Home, Sweat Home #1
Those of you old enough to remember Metropolitan Home magazine will recognize me as the type of guy who created the $1,000 renovation on the left-hand page that mimicked the exquisite $10,000 remake on the right.
That standard layout was like the pairs of photos where you're asked to find the differences in subtle alterations. Or, to play more to a younger, 21st-century crowd, to find the IKEA armchair that nails the authentic 1920s Art Deco bergere in the high-priced spread.
My mother knew how to get more from a dollar than a counterfeiter.
It’s how she whipped Madewood into shape in just six months in 1964 and opened the house for a Christmas soiree, every piece of her art collection covering the washed-down but still-peeling and unpainted walls of the ballroom, punchbowls and wobbly tables scavenged from the Salvation Army thrift store strategically placed at every turn.
She was frantic, trying to pay construction bills that had mounted since her purchase of the mansion in June; and this decorative sleight-of-hand still leaves me in awe of her manipulative skills.
Formed in that same mold, I'm constantly searching for the best way to achieve a remarkable effect with minimal cash outlay.
From time to time in this column, I'll share ideas and tricks I’ve employed both at Madewood and in other locations -- some simple, others that, by eschewing professional help, will bring out the sweat in your sweet home.
Let's start with the recent renovation of our bedroom on the Private Side at Madewood.
Its genesis was, I suppose, the day I discovered two perfect Tiffany & Co. gift boxes atop a heap of refuse that newlyweds near our condo in New Orleans had discarded. Clio tugged at the leash while I propped one box under each arm as I headed home and hid them from Millie, who’s convinced I’m a hoarder, at the back of a closet.
Our bedroom at Madewood has been a source of contention for almost 30 years. Before I married, I decided to paint it a soothing, dusky shade of Olympic Blue. I thought it was charming, authentic and thoroughly in keeping with late-19th-century bravado. Until the day I walked into a visitation room at Lamama, Panno, Fallo and realized that the color was more appropriate to sorrow, mourning, and a general funereal sensibility.
Had to go.
Fortunately, a high-end wallpaper company wanted to do a shoot for its catalogue at Madewood. They didn’t have much money, but they could pay in wallpaper. I leapt at the opportunity and selected a muted rose paper, flecked with silver. The room sparkled.
Millie hated it.
That was in the late 1980s. I would need only one extra big toe to tally up on my digits and phalanges the number of times she’s reluctantly slept in the room. (The fact that anything broken at Madewood -- along with boxes of items from our former New Orleans residences -- ends up in that room, does, I admit, mitigate its charm.)
I’d begun to envision over the bedroom fireplace the large 1962 portrait of Lester Epstein, registrar at NOMA (then the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art) by Kay Johnson, New Orleans’ first beatnik artist, who showed at Mother’s Downtown Gallery on Jackson Square. Kay decided to move on -- to the Beat Hotel on the Left Bank in Paris, where she continued to paint while serving as amanuensis for Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Peter Orlovsky, so Mother held an auction of Kay’s works to raise money for her trip and purchased a number of the paintings herself.
On the fly one day, I noticed that some spots in the painting were the shade of a Tiffany box. That was it. I headed to Lowe’s and to my amazement discovered that Valspar CI249, “Dive In,” was a dead-on match to the Tiffany box I’d brought with me. I bought a sample of the next shade down to use on the Greek-Key motif on the mantelpiece and approximated a cool gray in the painting for the mantelpiece itself.
Mr. Kruse, Madewood's fix-it-all guy, steamed away a square of wallpaper and painted a section of wall; satisfied, I headed to New Orleans.
On I-10, I passed two 18-wheelers whose cabs were the color of the box. Interesting. The blurb on the Cajun Casino billboard looked like it, too. And the large Interstate signs. The green of stoplights. And the green Newman school letter N adorning the lift-gate of the Porsche SUV stalled in front of me at Jefferson and Freret.
Oh, God -- had I made a terrible mistake? The real-world applications all seemed so garish. I began to clench, though the sweat here was metaphorical rather than damp.
What will Millie think when she returns from North Carolina, where she has spent the summer? Will I be able to go to sleep at night with that color, even in the dark? Have I lost my touch with the paint chart?
Here’s where you go with your gut and don’t look back.
I’m happy to say that the room, to me, is an immense success.
The KAJA (Kay Johnson’s pseudonym) portrait could be on the right-hand page of a Metropolitan Home comparison, and my collection of Regionalist lithographs, hung on multiple levels, each illuminated by an IKEA LED-lamp picture light, makes the room feel like a salon in an 18th-century Irish Georgian mansion.
I think I hit it just right this time, a blend of the economy and high-priced spreads.
All that remains is to prepare Millie for this newest incarnation of the bold, uplifting experience that I call our bedroom.
How's Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now juggles his time between Dixie Art Supplies in New Orleans and Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.
How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.