When artists Nancy Rhett and Garland Robinette’s daughter, Charley, went off to college, the couple decided it was time to downsize. They wanted to remain near Audubon Park, a place they consider to be their spiritual center, but they also wanted a smaller, low maintenance footprint and enough space to work at home. Voila! The Uptown townhouse they found met all of the couple’s criteria. Then came the edit and decoration.
As Nancy explains, “Both of us embrace change and letting go. We’ve edited our possessions and art throughout the years and we find it liberating. At this point, Garland’s portraits of Charley and me, as well as treasured pieces of art traded with friends, are the most important things we live with.” And with that mindset in place, Nancy and Garland created a vibrant and cheerful home that’s filled with the things they love: eclectic family heirlooms, textiles found while traveling, and of course an abundance of wonderful art.
A sunny light-filled room in the front of the house was designated as Garland’s studio. Here, the former WWL-TV news anchor and WWL radio journalist, paints daily. Long celebrated for his portrait art, which by its very nature is precise and exacting, Garland has lately been working on his wildly popular Juju Doll Series, a total departure from his previous works. Playful, imaginative, and rich in symbolism, each juju doll painting comes from the heart delivering a resounding message of joy. Part folk art, part sentimental, the funky jujus are colorful storytellers of New Orleans culture and beyond. Nancy writes the engaging messages that each doll comes with and manages their growing website. “Of all the places we have lived,” says Nancy, “this little townhouse reflects us more than any other. We love every object we live with and there isn’t much to distract us from our creativity.”
Sunshine pours into the main living room which is painted Dove White by Benjamin Moore. It features a soaring ceiling and French doors that open up to a lush private outdoor patio. “Being in nature daily is part of how we keep the creativity flowing. We fling open the doors as much as possible and eat outside every chance we get,” Nancy explains. This strategy practically doubles their living space. Favorite plants include lady palms, ligularia, and blue plumbago. “And I always have palmetto and palm leaves throughout the house,” Nancy points out. “Although the house isn’t old, our New Orleans garden definitely gives us a strong sense of place.”
Nancy is design savvy and knows how to maximize square footage without sacrificing personality. Colorful rugs are used to define separate areas for her “office”, a dining spot, and family room — perfect for lounging with their teacup poodle, Jojo. An oversized coco bead chandelier that Nancy found on King Street in Charleston brings the wow factor and some of their favorite large scale artworks make stylish statements. Hanging above a charcoal gray sectional from West Elm is a folksy oil painting by New Orleans artist Nilo Lanzas. Hand-dyed and embroidered pillows by local textile artist, Karen Gadbois, and a vintage Kantha blanket amplify coziness. With a patchwork ottoman from artist Jill Dupre doubling as a little snack table, this is definitely a popular spot in the house. In the dining room, a bold painting by John Scott from the Arthur Roger Gallery is balanced by streamlined vintage armchairs and an easy mid-century all-natural tulip table.
When it comes to Nancy’s desk, it is all about her exuberant vibe and layers of favorite things — red juju Rodriguette and blue juju Carnivette (she switches them out as the mood strikes), a custom textile nest by artist Kaki Foley, and a vibrant Boucherouite rug from Morocco. Exuding positive energy, she describes each well-loved possession. “Kaki created this meaningful nest out of colorful remnants from my favorite old clothes, old family letters, and sheet music Garland and Charley played while she was growing up. She totally captured our spirit. The rug is woven by modest Berbere women from discarded scraps repurposed into lively works of art. Can you tell I love artful upcycling?” says Nancy, all smiles.
The small interior kitchen has no windows and little drama, so Nancy had to “build it in.” She removed cabinets and added open shelving with mirrored backing to expand the space visually. Collaborating with Park City in Los Angeles, she designed a unique lighting fixture that works with the low ceiling (on dimmers of course) and splurged on handmade decorative tile from Stafford Tile. Another splurge for a small space is the iconic Martinique banana leaf wallpaper in the master bathroom. “It transformed our small bathroom and is another way to bring the outdoors in,” Nancy explains.
In the master bedroom, a pair of inherited Bombay chests and vintage porcelain lamps flank a bed loaded with pillows and collected textiles. A cream Moroccan wedding blanket that Nancy found on eBay, a pair of Indonesian dolls they purchased in Jakarta, and small pottery vases by local artist Evelyn Jordan are just some of the sentimental treasures. But the real star of the room is a series of pencil portraits on paper that Garland did of Charley each year on her birthday. The one at age six sports missing front teeth and at 12, she is wearing braces. There are 18 charming portraits in total.
There’s so much soul and good juju in this house; you can feel it in every nook and cranny. Stacks of well-worn books, a bamboo hall tree, and French metal chair that belonged to Nancy’s mother, and artful things made by friends create a beautiful visual history that is as warm as it is wonderful. “We try not to get too attached to things,” says Nancy. “Everything we have tells our story. If the house was flooding, I’d grab the oil painting of Charley from the landing and Garland’s purple heart and we’d be fine, just fine!”
This article appeared in the Fall 2019 Issue of Adore.