Karyl Pierce Paxton's New Orleans Style

The January issue of House Beautiful has a very nice feature on the home of Karyl Pierce Paxton. Paxton is a nationally-acclaimed designer of home products that are licensed and sold worldwide. Her home, an 1890's Queen Anne side hall cottage has many features which embody what I think of as "New Orleans Style." As I've stated before, New Orleans is a tropical, antique city of contrasts and paradoxes and this is part of what is embodied in our decorating style. It is a style which has what I like to call "dramatic tension." Karyl's front parlor shows dramatic tension to great effect. New Orleanians love and respect their old homes, especially their "parlors" because this allows them to retain the formal quality these houses were built with. And yet, within that formality we like a sense of relaxed elegance, and very often some element of fun. Almost every fabulous New Orleans home contains at least one french chair because this is an understated way to set a formal tone, and as you can see here, Karyl has many more than one. Placing them on seagrass rugs (another decorating element which New Orleanians seem to be very fond of) lends the note that the elegant atmosphere is also one of relaxation. We like our rooms to be decorative and beautiful but we want to live in them and feel comfortable in them. This is probably why New Orleans decorating usually includes pieces which show the history of the elegant wear and tear of a life well lived. All good New Orleans rooms contain pieces which both show and celebrate their age. Notice the floor lamp by the window. It was created by the talented local lighting designer, Paul Gruer, who also happens to be a friend of Karyl's. This piece is the definitive element of fun for this room. It is described by interviewer Mimi Read as looking "like a tree too drunk to stand." In fact, it's a sinuous, gracefully curved lamp which sprouts hand sculpted clay leaves which seem to wave and flutter around. It is a brilliant balance to the overall formality of the other furnishings. Since New Orleans is a city of artists and artisans, it is pretty likely that you will have at least one beautiful piece which has been created by an artistic friend, and this room is no exception. The contemporary sculpture behind the french settee by Craig Henry further reinforces the push and pull of the old against the new, the classical against the contemporary, the french gracefulness of the sofa against the monumentality of scale of the handcrafted contemporary piece. In the adjoining parlor,notice the ivory and gilt french tabernacle and the carved wooden cherubs. Religious artifacts reflect our love for and fascination with our european forbears and with pieces of a spiritual nature. It is the dramatic combination of the spiritual and the earthy that we are so in tune with. This photo is an example to the New Orlenian love for handpainted furniture. This is an Italian piece, but in this town, there are so very many talented painters and finishers that handpainted pieces are not hard to come by. Notice the "tablescape" on top of the desk. A scuplture of the Virgin Mary happily shares space with a primitive African sculpture, a fairy doll, an architectural fragment and another Paul Gruer lamp. The next three photos show another very important aspect of New Orleans Style, that of living spaces that celebrate the interaction of the indoors with the lush tropical outdoors. The double french doors in the master bath open to the courtyard. The palm plant reinforces the tropical feel. How wonderful to soak in the antique tub and experience the warm summer breezes coming from the courtyard, and feel the cool marble underfoot. The sink base is an eighteenth century buffet fitted with a marble top and a new sink. In the kitchen, and thoroughout the house, the beautiful drapes, made of silk or linen add another layer of easy elegance. New Orleanians are very enamored of beautifully made draperies which clothe our windows and decorate our rooms while softening the intensity of the tropical climate outdoors. These drapes are dressy and add a sense of "fanciness" but they are easy going and not overdone. New Orleanians love "outdoor rooms" which are an extension of the indoors, and they love to dress and decorate these spaces. On the porch outside the master bath, Karyl has hung canvas curtains and set a table with coffee and pastries, because in New Orleans, the favored place to drink coffee is out on the porch. This picture of the front of Karyl Paxton's house brings us to the final element of New Orleans style which will conclude this post. And that is the love of and exaltation of handcrafted architectural details. Built in the 1890's this home possesses many of these treasures. Notice the fishscale shingles in the pediment above the porch and on the second floor, the turned columns and the decorative horizontal balustrade. These are all characteristic of the sometimes quirky architectural combinations of the Queen Anne style. It is the historic and decorative details that delight so many of us and motivate us to lovingly preserve the many architectural treasures this city still possesses.
"A house that looks dusted with gold has all the elements that make New Orleans style so poetic: French formality, fearless drama, and the ethereal beauty of faded elegance."
For most New Orlenians, our unique homes, decorated to please us and to entertain our friends are our greatest treasures.

Jennifer Shaw


Imagine my happiness and excitement when I received this gorgeous photograph for Christmas last year from my friends, Adam and Amy Farrington. The artist, photographer Jennifer Shaw quickly become one of my favorites.
Jennifer has a way of capturing her subject matter that gives each photograph a monumental feel. They are both ethereal and operatic. Each one seems to portray a kind of drama which elevates the subject or situation that is presented.
Jennifer's personal impressions of New Orleans, which she presents so gracefully, reflect both the tender and the passionate feelings New Orlenians have for their home.

Railroad Bridge

Young Indians

Winged Statue

Adam and Amy are partners in a wonderful gallery with their friend Scott Smith and this month they are showing new and amazing works by this talented artist.
In my town, we are all still processing and dealing with the emotional effects that Hurricane Katrina had on each one of us. For everyone living in New Orleans at that time, the experience of evacuating their homes, seeing their town devastated by the worst natural and manmade disaster in our nation's history, and then returning to pick up the pieces of their homes and their lives has left a mark on each of us that will never go away.
Jennifer Shaw chose to chronicle her experience through her art. It is an amazing piece of work.
In Shaw’s own words:
“I was nine months pregnant and due in less than a week when Hurricane Katrina blew into the Gulf. In the early hours of August 28, 2005 my husband and I loaded up our small truck with two cats, two dogs, several crates containing my favorite negatives, all our important papers and a few changes of clothes. We evacuated to a motel in southern Alabama and tried not to watch the news. Monday, August 29 brought the convergence of two major life changing events; the destruction of New Orleans and the birth of our son. It was two long months and 6000 miles before we were able to return home.”

We Left in the Dark of Night

It Was Nice to Have a Distraction

Jobs Were Offered and Declined

In Spite of it all There's No Place Like Home

“Hurricane Story is a depiction of that evacuation experience - the birth, the travels and the return. These photographs represent various elements of our ordeal. The project began as a cathartic way to process some of the lingering anger and anxiety over that bittersweet journey, and grew into a narrative series of self portraits in toys that illustrate both my experiences and emotional state during our time in exile.”
Shaw has self-published a book of her photos, and they are for sale at the gallery at 504-942-8600 or farringtonsmithgallery@gmail.com for more information.


I love the dreamy, sultry old New Orleans feel of this one. It could be a still from "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Palm Pilot

I'll close with this one; it embodies so much of what we're all about: This gorgeous, timeless, tropical photograph with a title and subject that shows the subtle humor that underlies life in New Orleans.

Welcome to My Blog

Welcome to my blog, Bayou Contessa. My name is Julie and I just discovered the world of design blogging a few short weeks ago. I stumbled into this wonderful world of design ideas purely by accident while searching on Google for a good lampshade source. Imagine how thrilled I was to find a group of people who are thinking and writing about the very things I’m interested and involved in. I'm a lighting and home furnishings designer and I grew up and live in New Orleans. I have a shop and workroom here on Magazine Street where I design and create my pieces. For more, see my website www.julieneill.com The city of New Orleans has always been at the center of my heart and soul not only because it’s my home, but because there’s no place quite like it anywhere else in the world. I’ve already made many friends in the blogosphere, and I want to especially thank Stylecourt and Cote de Texas for featuring some of my pieces in their wonderful blogs. And when Dianamuse posted an interview with me on her excellent blog, she asked me about the influence that New Orleans has had on my work. It was my response to this question that ultimately led to me wanting to do a blog myself. An excerpt from that interview follows:
“Far and away, the city of New Orleans, my home, my heart, my native city has the greatest influence on my work. This is a city of artists, it’s an antique city that’s beautiful, and decaying and intense and European and peopled by an amazing array of characters. The beauty of the architecture and the elegance of the old homes inspires me in every way. It’s a city of decoration and grandeur that’s tempered by a patina of decadence, a city that thrives on celebration, a city that stimulates all your senses. In this place, there is no way to escape being inspired."
So I’ll be blogging about the many treasures New Orleans has and how each of these inspires and enriches me and I hope they will inspire and enrich you, too. One final note: the "Bayou" part of the name is obvious, but the "Contessa" part refers to a small town in Sicily called Contessa Entellina where my ancestors migrated from to New Orleans in the late part of the 1800's. Many people from this little town came to New Orleans at that time, and many of their descendants still live here, and this, too has been part of my inspiration. Here are some photos of Bayou St. John and the lagoons in our City Park,which is adjacent to the Bayou. The lagoons were once part of Bayou Metairie. My "Bayou" Pictures: Now for some "Contessa" pictures. Here is an excerpt from Leita Spoto's very informative website about Contessa Entellina:
In the late 1800's people in Sicily began to emigrate to various countries. The people of this town began immigrating to America. They immigrated to Chicago, Illinois; New York City, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, Newcastle, and Stockton, California; Madison, Wisconsin; Hammond and Independence Louisiana and Tampa (Ybor City), Florida; Houston and Dallas, Texas. The greatest number immigrated to New Orleans, Louisiana. Their exodus was such that at one time there were more Contessioti in New Orleans then remained in Contessa Entellina. Today New Orleans is the home of the greatest concentration of Arbreshe-Americans.
I'm sure you can see from these photos how these immigrants were both drawn to New Orleans and great contributors to the city's diverse culture.

I am the owner of Julie Neill Designs in New Orleans where we create beautiful custom lighting. This blog is my love letter to the unique people, places and happenings which make New Orleans the amazing place it is.

Please visit my website to learn more about my lighting and our fabulous shop on Magazine Street.


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