A splash of the unexpected

Karyl Pierce Paxton creates new New Orleans style

The second parlor features antique fauteuil chairs with the original tapestry upholstery from Uptowner Antiques, a 19th-century tabernacle from Bush Antiques and antique architectural prints. The sheepskin rug is from ABC Carpet & Home in New York,

Kerri McCaffety photographs

Karyl Pierce Paxton’s turn-of-the-century Uptown Victorian is a perfect example of what I have come to think of as new New Orleans style. In the home she renovated just post-Katrina, the essence of New Orleans style is there: the mingling of European antiques, religious icons, local art, cultural references and eclectic personal touches enveloped in gracious 19th-century architecture. But somehow, the elements combine to create a fresh and exciting look that exemplifies the beauty of New Orleans style in the 21st century.

KM: What does the phrase “New Orleans style” mean to you?

KPP: The most distinctive aspect reflects a French influence that dominates our style and our culture. New Orleans was the gateway for importing French furniture in the 18th and 19th centuries. They also imported Georgian and other English furniture, but those styles were more popular in North Louisiana and the rest of the South. New Orleans always had an affinity for French style. Even the vernacular furniture produced in Louisiana was simpler but based on the French. It is very French the way we mix inherited furniture and incorporate contemporary elements so our houses don’t look like Grandma’s house. It is very French to take old and new pieces and make it work. New Orleans homes don’t look like a decorator came in and matched everything. We prefer a rich combination of textures, a few worn edges and also a splash of the unexpected, a bit of surprise. There is a definite aspect of New Orleans style that is elegant without being prim or prissy, reflecting our looser approach to life.

KM: How do you personally combine antique and contemporary pieces in a way that looks fresh and fun but still has the character of old New Orleans?

KPP: There is always a link [among things that] aesthetically please you. Whether antique pieces or contemporary art, the things that catch my eye are not so different in color and subject matter. I mix African art, Catholic art and contemporary sculpture. What attracts me is texture, patina and richness, things that feel like New Orleans.

KM: The splash of surprise you mentioned shows up in your house as the bold orange color against a predominantly neutral palette. How did that evolve?

KPP: The pumpkin color –– it was not intentional. It’s just the color that I was drawn to. It’s kind of an exciting, warm citrus color.

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