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“We have to go through the back,” apologized interior designer Jennifer Kelly, unlocking a side-alley door to the Esplanade Avenue townhouse she was about to show me. The narrow path took us by a bright landscape mural, recently completed by artist Michelle Levine. “It’s a paradise,” said Kelly, “not just any one place.” She points out a tiger prowling through painted undergrowth. “That was the husband’s one request,” she smiled.
“The husband” is Billy Means, who bought the 5,000-square-foot Creole townhouse about two years ago. Wife Denisa immediately set about making it her dream home, which meant first converting it back to the original 1830s single-family floor plan from the five apartments into which it had been subdivided. The Meanses, who live in Bossier City, La., with their two sons and daughter, love to visit New Orleans, so in February 2012, they decided to invest in a second home right in the middle of the Quarter.
Aside from the floor plan, high ceilings and classic French Quarter courtyard, the house’s original interior aesthetic has changed a great deal. Denisa knew exactly what she wanted: new crown moldings, marble and lots of gold. The black and gold Saints-themed kitchen, bedecked with fleurs de lis everywhere you look, is one example. The walls are metallic gold; the stove’s backsplash features black and gold tiling. Even the granite counters are flecked with gold. “I could never bring a preservationist in here,” laughed Kelly.
From the entryway’s Venetian plaster finish to the meticulously sourced tile, new staircase banister and many glittering chandeliers, Kelly and Denisa teamed up to find the house’s new design elements locally. “The brass and wrought iron is all from New Orleans,” said Kelly, who met the Meanses through their building contractor. “We had a blast running through the Quarter.”
The joy of the renovation is in the details, said Kelly: gleaming, ornately tooled doorplates and drawer pulls, Mediterranean tile and painted plaster medallions. With so many small pieces to consider, she kept the floor plan handy when shopping.
Having dreamed of this house for a long time, Denisa also had a few larger pieces in store — literally. The house’s first floor sports solid mahogany columns, a hand-carved marble fireplace and the biggest bar I’d ever seen. Carved of dark wood and decorated with stained glass, it fills what would have been a formal dining room if Denisa had wanted one. All three items lay waiting for almost 15 years in a storage unit after Denisa bought them at a Dallas auction.
Standing under the newly created archway that shows off the columns, Kelly gestured to the living room. “We call this the salon,” she said, and turned to the giant bar. “And this is the saloon.”
Next, Kelly led me from a light-filled staircase landing to the house’s former slave quarters, now converted into a guest room referred to as “the boudoir.” Ensconced in this lushly carpeted space, it’s impossible to hear any noise from outside. A floor-to-ceiling window offers guests all the sunlight they could want, along with a view of Levine’s mural.
The second-floor master suite boasts access to the lower of the house’s two double-gallery balconies. The porch is surprisingly spacious, furnished only with two large raffia recliners. This is Billy Means’ favorite spot to relax, catch the occasional Mississippi breeze and take in the music, sights and smells of the Balcony Music Club next door.
After a spin through the Meanses’ teenage daughter’s space, a silvery set of rooms that Kelly turned into a fantasy garden of vines, butterflies, mermaids and flowers, we reached the airy, luminous attic. “This is where the boys hang out,” said Kelly, showing me an enormous sectional sofa and giant flatscreen TV. The space — a standalone apartment for a long time — overlooks the Quarter, the Marigny and Esplanade Avenue.
Though the renovation is not Kelly’s own taste, she’s happy because the Meanses are. “I’ve always believed that less is more, but Denisa taught me that sometimes ‘more is more’! They’re the clients,” she said. “Whatever they want, they should get.”