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An Eye for Art

An Uptown showcase cottage inspiration

Bright color and geometric forms in the office; vintage mid-century modern desk doubles as a bookshelf; the stained-glass piece in the window, inherited from Wheeler’s aunt, came from the First Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, La., which Wheeler’s father attended; the layered light fixture previously hung in the front of the house; totem by John Geldersma.

 

Unlike many art galleries that present spare white walls as a backdrop for the work that’s exhibited, Beth Wheeler’s Uptown cottage stands up to the impressive collection of art it houses. The art is the star. But the house and décor, both thoughtfully curated like the art, meet it head on.  

Collecting came first for Wheeler, who was raised in Baton Rouge and is an attorney with Liskow and Lewis.  She moved to New Orleans after college and began acquiring works by artists connected to the state or city in the late 1990s. Transforming her current home came soon after. She originally lived in the house (then a triplex with a main apartment, an efficiency and a rear townhouse) as a tenant. Several years later, she purchased the house and began turning it into the single-family residence it is today.

“I got to live in it and know its quirks before I bought it,” she said.

The first stage of the renovation married the original portion of the house, thought to be about 100 years old, with the small efficiency that had been connected later. Working with architect William Sonner, Wheeler used the added space to create a large centrally located kitchen and made structural changes for an improved master bedroom. The second renovation with architect Lee Ledbetter incorporated the rear two-story townhouse (also added after the original cottage was built) into the floorplan and bumped out the footprint, allowing Wheeler to have a cozy study at the back of the house and an airy second-story master with a master bath and a walk-in closet.

 

Beth Wheeler and her dog Jackson.

 

“Lee raised the ceiling in the bedroom. It now has a vaulted ceiling that makes it feel like a treehouse,” said Wheeler.

Enlarging the house also enabled Wheeler to move art around and give it the importance it deserved without having the house look cluttered. In the formal front of the house, works hang one above the other salon-style. In the more casual living areas, pieces are displayed with a bit more space between them.

Throughout the house, furniture from a range of periods, including 19th century, art deco and midcentury modern, complements the selection of art. Unusual lighting makes a bold statement as well. Wheeler even had a metal stair rail inspired by African Kuba cloth custom-made by artist Christian Hootsell for the stairs leading to the master suite.

 

Contemporary art acquisitions displayed in the dining room have a pop art feel; the dining room table is by Danish designer Poul Kjaerholm, the chairs are antique, the sculpture on the table is by Susan Bowers. Left of window: top painting by Kathleen Ariatti Banton, below is a special commission by Scott Guion featuring some of Wheeler’s favorite New Orleans related things; On right: Pencil by Kyle Bravo, top David Sullivan, center Alan Gerson, bottom Kyle Bravo; the light fixture above the table is a Noguchi.

 

“I go to museums every chance I get,” said Wheeler. “The more you learn, the more your eye develops. You start appreciating things that are not necessarily beautiful or conventional. I’m finding how much I love abstraction.”

As her understanding of art has grown, so has her awareness of the way one piece relates to another, the way abstractionist paintings were often inspired by African art for example. Fittingly, she displays African sculpture in close proximity to large abstracts in several rooms.

 

Beth Wheeler’s Uptown cottage.

 

As her understanding of art has grown, so has her awareness of the way one piece relates to another, the way abstractionist paintings were often inspired by African art for example.   Fittingly, she displays African sculpture in close proximity to large abstracts in several rooms.

Over the years, Wheeler has worked with several interior designers to fine tune the contents of the house. After the first renovation, she worked with Washington, D.C.’s Nestor Santa-Cruz who spent several days shopping local resources with her and helped her with the arrangement of the furnishings. More recently, she worked with her friend, Linda Allen, who helped her find and integrate additional pieces and also place art.

“I trusted her eye,” said Wheeler. “She helped me pull it all together.”

To date, her collection contains more than 70 pieces, including African art, Angola prisoner art, ceramics, sculpture, photographs and paintings in a variety of media. Sources run the gamut from flea markets, bric-a-brac shops and auctions to traditional galleries, artists’ collectives and artists’ studios. There are works by Nicole Charbonnet, Fritz Bultman, Anita Cooke, Alan Gerson, Beatrice Hill, Dan Tague, Brian Guidry, Skyler Fein, Scott Andresen and others, as well as commissions by Stephen Hoskins, Gina Phillips and Scott Guion.

“There is not a single piece that I want to trade out or replace,” said Wheeler, who was on collecting hiatus for a while after the second phase of the renovation but has started to add to her surroundings once again. “I love how they mix and I love living with them.”

 


The interior design in Wheeler’s home meets the art head-on with its combination of antique, vintage and contemporary pieces; the large painting over the sofa is by Nicole Charbonnet. Right: top Jeff Rinehart, bottom Brian Guidry, Left: top watercolor by Stephen Hoskins, bottom Charles Hossacher; brass candlestick chandelier, from Uptowner Antiques.

 Infinito Tiempo by Damian Aquiles

John Robshaw linens dress the bed in the airy master bedroom; the painting above the bed is by Dan Kelly; the airbrush drawing in the corner of the room is by Louisiana artist Brian Guidry.

The minimalist white bath designed by Lee Ledbetter combines penny tiles, subway tiles, marble counters and sleek cabinets.

 African art, one of the first categories of art that Wheeler collected, is displayed in the den; the piece above the mantel by Anita Cook is made of money and maps all folded and built up into a textured canvas with a textile quality; Lee Ledbetter designed the den during the second renovation, which included the office and master suite; Wheeler’s friend, designer Linda Allen, helped with the furnishings and with pulling the décor and art together; the door on the right conceals the TV; metal sculpture by Irish artist James Luke Hayes.

Architect William Sonner enlarged and redesigned the kitchen; Beth and her mother found the painting while traveling in Provence; the table and chairs are Danish Modern.

 

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