For an out-of-town client with ties to New Orleans, Penny Francis created a dreamy getaway in the French Quarter that honors the rich history of the property, while meeting the needs of a vibrant young family and their frequent visits. Built in 1810, the compound includes a two-story Creole cottage, a carriage house, a handsome two-story garçonnière, and three private courtyards. The residence exudes all the soulful beauty one might expect from such stunning old bones. Extraordinary charm is inherently there, but the clients needed a smart design and modern conveniences that would allow them to enjoy the home with relatives and friends. This is where Penny's experience and expertise comes in. Under her watchful eye, original elements such as the antique wood floors and fireplaces were thoughtfully refinished and restored. Her renovation plan maximized the use of the existing interior spaces while bringing the lighting, air conditioning, and kitchen all up to date. The end result is a colorful and distinctive sanctuary in one of the oldest parts of the city.
"The architecture of the home and preserving its integrity was important," Penny explains. "Small changes improved the flow on the main floor and allowed the living, dining, and music rooms to work seamlessly together. As a vacation home, they wanted lots of bright color and whimsy." Most importantly, it had to be kid-friendly, so Penny utilized hard-working textiles and finishes that provide durability without sacrificing style. The magic of a house this age speaks to you the minute you enter the cottage and with Penny's extraordinary talent, your heart sings.
"The decoration all started with the living room paper," says Penny. A custom-fitted wallcovering, Enfumé from Flavor Paper, creates an immediate sense of wanderlust. The painterly, atmospheric mural evokes far-flung locales and idyllic escapes, making the interior landscape just as seductive as the property's lush location. Decorator's White wall color allows the mural, artwork, and furnishings to take center stage. Penny deftly mixes materials, patterns, and eras to achieve that collected look that feels so relaxed. Outdoor Caracole wicker armchairs come inside, a Queen Anne side chair is recovered in bold Matisse like linen, Sauvage by Zak + Fox, and a dynamic gestural painting by New York artist Francine Tint from Octavia Art Gallery hangs near the restored staircase. The fireplace, gleaming in glossy black paint, keeps everything well-grounded.
A guest room and piano parlor are seen from different ends of the living room, so Penny subtly ties them visually together with color, texture, and mood. The paint color for the door trim leading to the bedroom is an interesting green plucked from the mural and custom matched. The room's palette is a moody and restful plum with touches of silvery gray. Decoration is kept minimal, so that the heart pine floors can tell centuries of French Quarter stories. It's the music room, however, that really gets my imagination going. The original St. Joe brick floor and beamed ceiling transport me back to entertaining in a 19th century New Orleans — fashionable and fun. The present day room has a swanky vibe with sexy lighting — a Plumes lamp and a textured lighting fixture, a piano which both homeowners play, Highland House swivel chairs, and a deep blue Thibaut grasscloth. Mixed media wall sculptures by Mia Kaplan from Octavia Art Gallery are a brilliant nod to our diverse cultural influences and many traditions.
For the dining room, Penny chose Frutto Proibtio, a whimsical wallpaper by Cole & Son. With its sprawling tree branches, overscale pomegranates, and playful monkeys, it's exuberant and slightly mischievous, much like the neighborhood. Continuing with Decorator's White wall color (high gloss for the tongue-and-groove ceiling) amplifies the natural light streaming in from the original French doors. The fireplace in Patriot Blue — a pure and saturated color — defines the space and separates it from the kitchen. Decoration is again kept minimal with a low-maintenance Parsons table and modern metal chairs with performance velvet cushions, allowing the rich tones of the flooring and existing architecture to stand out.
The upstairs master bedroom is so joyful. "We knew we wanted to create a cocoon up high in the trees with a sense of imaginative escape. The wallpaper — Cleo Vine by Anna French — was the perfect foliage piece. It's an exotic botanical and quite elegant," Penny explains. A gray ombré carpet from Jaipur Rugs and cozy bedding, charming rattan stools, and a stylish shagreen chest from Eclectic Home add lovely color and texture. In the children's room, the client wanted to sleep the maximum, so Penny made use of the vertical space of the steeply pitched roof. Bunk beds from Room & Board featuring a twin at the top and full at the bottom with a hidden trundle beneath was a smart solution. There's still lots of room to play. With great light already so abundant, she installed a large Calder-esque mobile for a strong dose of whimsy. Extendable brass reading sconces were attached to the bunks. For subtle pattern and additional warmth, a textured horizontal striped wallcovering runs counter to the oak beadboard ceiling, a rich turquoise rug is layered over carpeting, and adorable woven poufs are scattered here and there. Dramatic art by Dawn DeDeaux from the Arthur Roger Gallery delivers a definite wow moment. It's futuristic, substantial, densely pigmented, and uber-cool all at once, making this such a fantastic placement.
The guest cottage is a fabulous example of a very small space with enormous style. "Because you enter the cottage through the tiny kitchen, we wanted to make a big statement from the get-go. With such a small footprint, wall cabinets were eliminated and we paid special attention to the vertical square footage. A graphic ceramic tile by Stacy Garcia acts as the 'art' for the space and the see-through lighting brings a sense of openness." A tidy guest room features an oversized chandelier made from reclaimed driftwood and a vintage throw from Sunday Shop.
I've long admired Penny's work and although each project is so vastly different from the next, I have noted some of her signature concepts executed flawlessly. Wallpaper — no one does it better. In addition to adding depth and pattern, her delightful choices deliver so much artful personality to each room. The powder room paper with little pink ribbon and bows (her exclusive design) is a cheeky nod to the home's French Quarter location and I'm in love with the dining room monkeys; I bet the children in this family are too. Lighting — functional and necessary, but Penny seizes it as a major decorative opportunity. Each fixture, whether through shape, material, or color, is a gutsy selection that moves the design scheme forward. Many of the things in this alluring home — rugs, lighting, textiles, accents — can be found at her beautiful shop on Oak Street. I'm happy to see that this stunning property is alive and well after centuries of loving use. Here's to decades more history and memories.
This story appeared in the October and November issue of Adore