Prime of Their Lives
Retiring in style on St. Charles Avenue
The living room’s neutral underpinnings are brightened with notes of crimson; antiques from the McNulty’s previous home were combined with new upholstered pieces and acrylic tables (both through Dixon Smith); hand-knotted Khotan rug from NOLA Rugs; the framed landscapes are by Louisiana artist Rhea Gary.
Photographed by Greg Miles
With all three of their grown children living in New Orleans, and a grandchild on the way, Lake Charles residents Mary and Mike McNulty knew they wanted to be closer to their growing family. The first step was a pied-a-terre in The Octavia, a venerable St. Charles Avenue apartment building that was renovated and converted into condominiums in the 1970s. Turnover of properties in the 18-unit 1907 building is rare and coveted. But the McNultys lucked into a one-bedroom on the ground floor and began spending weekends in the city, where they’d met years earlier. Mike, a native of Franklin, Louisiana, attended Tulane. Mary, raised in Lake Charles, attended Newcomb.
“Mike said ‘what are the chances of all three of our sons landing in the same city and a city that we love?’” says Mary of the couples’ impetus for returning to New Orleans.
The McNultys fell in love with The Octavia’s location, amenities and residents, and made it known to the owners of one of the building’s two penthouse units, that they’d like to purchase the space if it ever became available. It did and the McNultys moved quickly.
After 40 years of practicing law, Mike retired and the couple began a new adventure as full-time New Orleanians. Their retirement, which is anything but sedate, involves daily visits from family, lots of travel, frequent houseguests, non-profit work, tennis and Mike’s part-time job as a DJ at WTUL. Though Mike initially had reservations about condo-living vs. home owning, the condo’s convenience and comfort proved tailor-made to their lifestyle in New Orleans. “The reality is that it fit our retirement needs,” he says. “We’re best suited for the condo.”
Top: An antique farm table and Irish pine sideboard are modernized with the addition of midcentury modern style chairs; the abstract painting above the sideboard is by Alexandria, Louisiana artist Lynn Eustace Sanders. Custom chandelier by Chris Wynne of Chris Wynne Designs.
Bottom, left: The façade of The Octavia. Bottom, right: Mike and Mary McNulty.
In Lake Charles, the McNulty home was a 5,500 square foot raised coastal cottage they’d built new, but imbued with a sense of age. It was on the water and centrally located to important things, including tennis and Mike’s law firm. In New Orleans, the three-bedroom penthouse, which the couple likens to a treehouse, offered something fresh and different. In addition to having the perfect amount of space for downsizing, while still being large enough to entertain family and guests, it has wide-ranging views of the river and city, several enclosed porches high above the street, plenty of privacy, the sound of streetcars rumbling by and ample morning and afternoon sun.
“The first thing I noticed was the light,” says Mary. “The condo is just above the trees and has three exposures. The light is beautiful.”
Like the Lake Charles house, it also is within easy access of the things that matter most to the McNultys. Family members, tennis activities and Tulane University are all nearby. The couples’ grandchildren live just two blocks away.
Rather than the wide-plank pine floors and the cozy French Country antiques of their previous home, Mary envisioned a simpler look that would make the most of the condo’s abundant light.
She enlisted the help of her friend Joel Fazende of Dixon Smith Interiors in Baton Rouge and told him that the goal was “a clean, quieter, simpler vibe.”
“I was particularly struck by the need for simplicity,” she says.
Top, left: Blue and white toile and white bed linens lend a crisp feel to the master bedroom, which has views of St. Charles Avenue; toile by Brunschwig & Fils, Matouk duvet and shams from The Linen Registry; at right, is a portrait of the McNultys’ three sons by Lafayette artist Bobbie Houston.
Top, right: The galley style kitchen with room for a dining table and chairs at one end, was lightened with Carrara marble counters and backsplash and with ripple glass tear drop pendants from West Elm.
Bottom, Left: Above the foyer’s English Regency mahogany sideboard is a signed Leroy Neiman lithograph titled “Love Story,” purchased by the McNultys when they married in 1974.
Bottom, right: Blue and white Chinese porcelain and a painting by Connie Chapman accent the living room mantel.
Together, with Protocol Construction, they refurbished the condo’s already good bones with white walls, dark stained floors, new lighting, renovated bathrooms and Carerra marble in the kitchen; then created an interior that Fazende describes as bright, airy and easy. Antiques from the McNultys’ former home and new upholstered pieces anchor the rooms and are lightened and modernized with touches of acrylic and gilt.
In an effort to streamline their home environment, Mary sifted through the couple’s years of mementos, keeping some and letting others go. She also made the conscious decision to make the house completely user-friendly. She uses the fine silver every day rather than keeping it stored away, changes throw pillows according to the mood or season, relishes having her grandchildren visit and never worries over spills.
“There is nothing precious in this house that people can’t use,” she says. In fact, she confesses to being more comfortable in this space than in any other home. “I had some reservations about condo living at first, but having lived here now, I have none,” agrees Mike. “It was the right decision for us.”
Top, left: The bathrooms, like the kitchen, were updated with Carrara marble; the same toile used in the master bedroom is carried through to the master bath.
Top, right: Mary changes the guest room’s bedding and appointments to accommodate both her grandchildren and adult guests.
Bottom: The McNultys kept the library the same warm brick-red color favored by the previous owners.