Compact Living for a Big Life

Decorative painter Bekye Fargason chose a small living space to allow for a big studio, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a sacrifice.

The corner chair in the living room has a seat cushion painted by the homeowner. The vintage toy dog was the first antique Fargason ever purchased at the flea market in Paris when she was 11. The green ceramic lamp, chevron pillow and orange felt pillow are from the shop of Chet Pourciau.

Sara Essex Bradley Photograph

Not too many shopkeepers live above the store anymore, but in a throwback to another era, artist and decorative painter Bekye Fargason lives above the garage behind her gallery and place of business on Magazine Street.

Fargason has traveled the world and has lived in homes that were both big and small, grand and humble. At this time in her life, she felt that she needed a large studio space more than a big house, so she has chosen more compact and convenient living quarters. Her smaller loft-like space is certainly big in style and large with creature comforts. She proves that with good design, a space can feel as big as you want it to regardless of its square footage.

As you climb the stairs to her elegant aerie, you are reminded of turn-of-the-century Parisian artist garrets. The space was once the office for a doggie day care facility (now the current gallery and studio space below), seemingly uninhabitable. But Fargason saw that the bones of a good usable space were there, and the landlord was willing to make upgrades, including a new wood floor and a new kitchen and bathroom. He also skim-coated the cinder block walls, giving Fargason a blank canvas to do some masterful decorative finishes for herself.

The walls now have a beautiful wash of color that looks like Venetian plaster, and Fargason also did an amazing faux bois paint job on the generic ceiling beams above, a difficult project that is truly stunning. She added off-the-rack shutters from a big-box home improvement store to let the light in. Using shutters instead of drapes or curtains is a space-saver both visually and physically.
One of the chief joys of small-space living is not having too much stuff and knowing exactly where it all is. Editing her furnishings, Fargason chose to live with things she really finds useful. She advises, “Only keep what you can’t live without.” Every piece of furniture serves a purpose. Chests and armoires are not only beautiful pieces for display but are also filled with everyday items. Vintage suitcases are tucked under the bed to hold bed linens. Pretty baskets all around the apartment contain myriad household items.

Collections of artwork are grouped together gallery-style on the walls and displayed on the stairwell ledge. The tops of kitchen cabinets serve as storage space for large pitchers and tureens. A clever floor-to-ceiling pot rack was fashioned from an iron gate. Countertops hold trays of bottles of cooking oils and jars of spices.

The main room is an open floor plan with the living area at one end. There are beautiful silk-screened toss pillows by New York fashion designer JoAnn Berman on the apartment-size couch. Fargason transformed the mid-century coffee table with a painted tortoiseshell finish. A pair of antique corner tête-à-tête chairs got the touch of her paintbrushes on the seat cushions.

Near the kitchen, Fargason used an iron folding table to create a dining area/study. The table can be used as a desk or a place to read, and when guests come over, it can be set with a beautiful collection of antique linens and china for a cozy meal. The table can be also be folded and tucked away.

The space has the luxury of having a lovely separate bedroom, where once again Fargason’s handiwork imbues the room with glamour. She silver-leafed the bed her mother had custom-made for her when she turned 18. A nightstand, an antique French chair and the lampshades on a pair of vintage Murano lamps also got the silver touch. The antique coverlet on the bed was a recent Christmas gift from her sister-in-law, who just had to bring it home from the Paris flea market when she saw the initials BF embroidered on it. Fargason also did the cheerful hand-painted pillows and quilt on the bed, taking the color cues from the watercolor hanging over the bed by Mississippi artist Ann Carruth Jackson.

The gallery/studio below her glamorous garret is an extension of the living space above. Besides hosting gallery openings, Fargason also uses it for her larger dinner parties and even recently held a baby shower for a friend there.

Fargason has a big life. Born in Laurel, Miss., she left to study art and decorative painting in New York. She made ends meet with some modeling jobs until her son was born. When he turned 13, she decided it would be best for him to grow up outside of New York City. She settled them in New Orleans, attracted to all the good things the city had to offer and its proximity to her mother in Mississippi.
World travel is in Fargason’s wheelhouse, and she has been endlessly and artistically inspired by countless trips to Europe and Turkey. Her recent jaunts have taken her to Colorado, where she recharges with mountain hikes and long bouts of reading, dreaming and relaxing.

Currently she is preparing a three-woman show called Atchafalaya Reflections: She is doing a collection of large canvases, Louisiana photographer Debbie Willson Richardson is presenting a collection of black-and-white photographs encased in her handmade nichos, and Fargason and Monique Munoz are launching a line of hand-painted pillows and fabrics.

You can find Fargason in the studio every day. Music will be playing. She sings along and sometimes breaks out into a dance move while she’s at her easel working on a canvas or making hand-painted pillows or doing one of her signature decorative paint finishes on a piece of furniture. Fargason says, “If it can be painted, I can do it.”


Five Take-Aways for Compact Living

1. Make storage pretty so it can be out in the open. Use vintage suitcases, baskets, chests and armoires.

2. Use a wall-mounted pot rack in the kitchen. Julia Child used a pegboard, but Fargason uses an iron gate to hang pots.

3. Use mirrors and reflective surfaces. Fargason applied silver leaf to several large key pieces of furniture.

4. Install shutters instead of bulky drapes or curtains. Let in the light to create the feeling of space.

5. Use the same table for a desk and a dining surface. Fargason uses a pretty iron outdoor folding table.

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