Pretty is as Pretty Does
A flood-damaged Old Metairie house is given a second chance
Sara Essex Bradley
Elesha Kelleher loves to decorate, and is a resourceful shopper. She and her husband Albert purchased their Old Metairie home right after Katrina. It had been flooded with 18 inches of water, but that didn’t stop them from buying it. They were vaguely looking for a larger home for their family of three children and one dog.
“We have lived in the house since after Katrina,” says Elesha. “The appeal of the house was that it was interesting and quirky.”
The 5,000-square-foot house was built in the 1980s with a traditional floor plan. The Kellehers enlarged the doorways to open up the space. Much to her husband Albert’s chagrin Elesha redid the kitchen a couple of times until she got it right. They eliminated a full bath downstairs to incorporate a larger closet and second laundry room in the master suite. Since the house is so traditional, it created a challenge to mix contemporary design elements along with French antiques, both things that the couple loves.
“We thought it was a beautiful house with great bones and so much potential,” says Elesha. “We were able to put the downstairs back together, keeping most of the structural aspects in tact, but conforming the renovation to our taste.”
The house is best described as pretty, in the best possible way, light-filled with furnishings that are pale against neutral walls with pops of turquoise, aqua, robin’s egg blue, and fresh green. Wallpaper is used throughout, ranging from a custom-printed grass cloth in the downstairs powder room, to a romantic chinoiserie behind the antique Italian headboard in the master bedroom and a kicky print in daughter Ellie’s bedroom. Fun printed fabrics on a bench, drapes and window shade are employed in the breakfast room and kitchen. A murano-style turquoise chandelier in the breakfast area, and the pure white peacock (named Pete by daughter Ellie) perched on the mantle in the living room adds whimsical and quirky touches. Classic French dining chairs in the breakfast have sleek, iridescent, white patent leather upholstery.
In the study, lacquered bookcases are styled with shells collected on the beach. A wonderful collection of colorful glassware lives in a built-in, mirrored wet bar in the adjoining hall between the dining room and living room. The dining room’s glass top table allows optimal viewing of contemporary metal chairs and the antique Oushak rug, which also features a mix of vintage and antique silver.
Elesha frequents the home furnishings shops on Magazine Street and Oak Street, and also sources from local antique and consignment shops. The thrill of the hunt, and working within a budget keeps her ever-evolving point of view fresh and exciting. “I know it sounds cliché,” she says, “but I do love French antiques mixed with contemporary, especially contemporary art and Lucite pieces. I have always been drawn to shades of blue, green, and aqua mixed with white.”
Elesha says that the secret weapon of the home decorator is to enlist the help of the sources that are readily available. These include decorators and designers and stylists, and using in-house services from home furnishings stores.
We do travel a lot and are always inspired by places we visit,” says Elesha. “I love the juxtaposition of a beachy look with a European look.”
The home decorating holy trinity is art, books and flowers. The Kellehers have a collection of art by local artists that is used throughout the house, including George Marks, Gretchen Howard, Shelley Hesse, Amanda Talley, John Drysdale and family portraits by Tim Trapolin. Their favorite work of art is a large painting in the breakfast area.
“The peacock painting was a blast for the family,” says Elesha. “The artist is from Bay St Louis, Ann Adele Blackledge. We went to her studio in Bay St. Louis to participate in the painting. Each peacock represents one family member. We chose fabrics, and colors for our own bird, and then glued the pieces to the canvas, personalizing it.”
A house tells you what it wants and what it needs. It’s a process that can take years of serial decorating until it feels right and becomes a home loved by the entire family. With trial and error, the Kellehers had the vision to transform a flood-damaged, diamond in the rough into something beautiful.