By Paul A. Greenberg Photographed by Sara EssexSome homes simply have more history and family heritage than others. Gregg and Louise “Weezie” Porter each have rich family histories and well-established roots in the South. Weezie, from Louisville, Ky., has family links to Mayflower descendents, and Gregg is a native of New Orleans. Their Uptown house is a rich mix of Southern architecture—a wide center hallway with parlors off to each side—and worldly treasures. From seating to artwork to book collection to garden flowers, every item in the Porter house tells a story.
A bass fish caught by Gregg Porter’s grandfather is just one of the many curiosities in the library.
The best way to begin to understand the Porter family story is in the front parlor. Gregg’s beloved piano graces one wall, while an imposing Chippendale secretary draws a visitor’s eye across the room. The rug, a Christmas gift from Weezie to Gregg, is a post-Napoleonic directoire needlepoint. The secretary houses Weezie’s collection of miniature houses, gifts from her aunt, who brought the pieces from her world travels to London, Paris, Bavaria and the Mediterranean.
The dining room’s subtle yellow faux finish—done by GreggPorter—gives the room a warm glow during the day and at night. Thetable—set with Christian Dior china—and a reproduction Sheraton chinacabinet are family heirlooms. The fireplace mantel was added during arenovation done by the previous owners. Gregg created all of the flowerand plant arrangements in the photos.
“I like the parlor because I like the lithographs on the walls. I feel they are intellectual and have that librarian quality about them,” says Gregg. “I have been given these gifts from around the world and they work together as a composite. They are really from different countries: Ireland, Scotland, Greece, and several from Brazil.” Weezie’s miniature houses and Greg’s lithographs—two international stories without even leaving the first room in the house.
When the Porters had a chance to get these kitchen cabinets fromfriends who were redoing their kitchen, it gave them the excuse torenovate their own kitchen.
The paintings are by Gregg Porter.
The lithographs, 19th-century archivist pieces, are a fitting backdrop for lamps made of classic lawn ornaments. Gregg, a retired lawyer, started his own landscaping business. “The outdoors is very important to me, so my making these elegant lamps from lawn ornaments is bringing the outside in.”
The master bedroom is a study in simplicity. The Colonial bed andthe mahogany bureau, circa 1830s, are noted for their clean lines. Onthe bureau are just a few of the dolls that were gifts from WeeziePorter’s grandmother, who collected one from each country she went to.
Through traditional pocket doors, guests enter the dining room from the front parlor. The dining table, once in Gregg’s mother’s home, is a French writing desk with influences from the South of France, featuring Neapolitan inlays. Seating is provided on Chippendale chairs. “Weezie’s grandmother had too many Chippendale chairs, so she gave them to Weezie’s mother, who used them in the children’s breakfast room. The children scratched them up, so one day she painted them all black. I considered stripping them, but my mother redid them in a heavy Chinese red enamel.” A nearby Sheraton reproduction china cabinet once belonged to Gregg’s grandmother.
The painting is one that the Porters—who are great supporters ofthe Contemporary Arts Center—got through an auction there. Thesideboard is a flea market find.
A smoky gold finish was achieved on the walls with guidance from faux painter Sherry Haydel. Gregg applied a heavy glaze at the top of the room, as if it had been stained by generations of men smoking, he says. “We used a base color and our friend Joanne Clevenger [owner of Upperline Restaurant] gave me her secret recipe for the underlying yellow color,” Gregg says. “Stacey Bolt, an architect, came up with an orange glaze that went over it.” Clevenger’s yellow carries into the adjoining butler’s pantry.
A neighbor who was getting rid of furniture gave the Porters theentryway mirror, and the Eastlake Victorian table was a gift as well.The sconces were found during a trip to Paris. The figure in the bowlis from Pompeii. The prints reflected in the mirror are from London.
Across from the front parlor is the library, lined with first editions of Fitzgeralds, Steinbecks and Hemingways, Gregg’s favorite 20th-century writers. (A respectable collection of coffee table art books is also housed in the front parlor). The room also contains biographies of most American presidents, and a collection of the Porters’ travels. There are bird cages from Hong Kong, an apothecary cabinet from Korea, prints from Brazil, tea caddies from London, and subtle watercolors they had made from their travels in France, depicting them in common Parisian locales.
The bathroom was given Turkish bath feel. The silver paint is actually aluminum boat paint.
“There are references to our families in the library,” Gregg says. The rug has been in Weezie’s family for five generations. “I like the tread on it,” Gregg adds. “It makes me feel like everybody who walked on it ended up with us. And on the wall there is a wide mouth bass my grandfather caught in 1959—the year I was born.”
The library is full of exotic reminders of Gregg and WeeziePorter’s families’ travels—and of their own. The cages are from HongKong (and yes, there is a stuffed lemur in one), the apothecary fromKorea. More homegrown is the Delaware Valley Chippendale desk, circathe late 1700s—an heirloom from Weezie’s family, as are the Orientalrugs throughout the house. The painting is by Tucker FitzHugh.
Also in the library is a Delaware Valley Chippendale desk, probably from the late 1700s, and an Empire mirror reflecting afternoon sunlight from the front windows. Gregg traveled to New York to buy vibrant red fabric for the windows, and his mother designed the finials and lambrequins.
The house was built in around 1900 and is a raised center hall Creole cottage with early Arts and Crafts motifs. Next door is its twin. Gregg Porter, an attorney who needed “creative outlet,” he says, is also a landscape designer and did the gardens in front and back.
On the main floor is the master bedroom, complete with a very tall American Colonial bed that has been in Weezie’s family for five generations. A cypress hutch holds Weezie’s doll collection, gifts from her grandmother, one from each country to which she traveled starting in the 1920s. The late Napoleonic mahogany carved Dolphin bureau with original pulls is from the 1830s, and a wedding gift from Gregg’s mother. Over the mantel hangs an over sized composite photo of all the attorneys in New Orleans in 1953, a gift to Gregg from a New Orleans judge.
The photographs by Deborah Donnelly were a gift and are from the book “In the Company of Sisters.”
Just across the hall, the Porter kitchen is a story in itself. It was brand new and was once installed in a house on State Street. The Porters actually moved everything from there to their house, retrofitted the cabinets and bought new appliances, including Vikings and Sub Zeros. The stainless steel results in an industrial feel, but the heart of pine flooring adds warmth.
Gregg with Mick Jagger and Delta 88.
Three upstairs bedrooms open onto a common area. One serves as the bedroom for Whitcomb (Whit) Porter, 11. Gregg painted the walls and the floor to evoke a feeling of being at the bottom of the sea.
As captivating as the interior is, the gardens in front and back are lush with flowers and greenery. In the back there are satsuma trees and the flowers—cleome, stokesia, 19th-century rose bushes—brings the word sanctuary to mind. “I take something from every old garden of mine with me,” Gregg says. “Even the elephant ears, common as they are, are from my great aunt’s garden in the Garden District.”
In the front parlor, the furniture, art and other items are a successful blend of styles, centuries and countries. The Delaware Valley Chippendale secretary—an heirloom from Weezie Porter’s family—is framed on one side by 19th-century engravings from Europe. Inside the secretary are ceramic houses from around the world—a gift to Weezie from her aunt. The lamp base was crafted by Gregg Porter out of a garden ornament.
Soon, Gregg and Weezie Porter must decide which plants to uproot again. The house is for sale, with the new one already being readied just blocks away. “I just felt if I’m ever going to do a really big house, now is the time,” Gregg says. “So, we’re moving.”
The Porters are on the move, but not without generations of ancestors and their worldwide collectibles.