A Penthouse Above “The Avenue”
Lucy Mitchell’s inspired hideaway
LUCY Mitchell has created a hidden treasure high atop a large red-brick building on St. Charles Avenue. Walk through the front door of her corner penthouse facing the Mississippi River and you will feel as though you have been transported to a charming home in the Provence region of France. It is an amazing space with antique wall paneling, doors, bookcases, furnishings and accessories that have made the long voyage across the ocean, mostly from France to New Orleans.
“It’s been an exciting work in progress since 2005,” Mitchell says of her country-French-inspired hideaway. “I don’t think it will ever be completely finished because I am always discovering just one more thing I think I need.” Her primary home is a ranch near San Augustine, Texas.
According to Mitchell, none of this could have happened without the guidance of her friend Gay Wirth, owner of Wirthmore Antiques on Magazine Street. “She taught me so much about how to convert architectural elements for use in a contemporary building. It was her creativity that guided me in my interesting and happy journey from a raw, “blah” space to the unique place with warmth and charm that it is today. Nothing here is ordinary. Every piece has a history and I have wonderful recollections of where, when and how everything came to live in my home.”
Walking from room to room in the 2,600-square-foot space, there is no mistake that Wirth has a special eye for color and that her sense of proportion is keen. “I am not an interior designer,” Wirth is quick to point out, while Mitchell will dispute the statement. “I think she has been a genius in guiding me every step of the way. Her greatest contribution has been her ability to listen to me and then find exactly what I want.”
Two examples of Wirth’s great finds are the wall of drawers in the kitchen that came from a spice shop in the village of Precy-Sous-Thil, in the Côte d’Or Region of France, and the one-time shop counter in the study that began life in a French store that sold sponges, chamois, torchon and other kitchen-type cloths.
“I always feel happy when I think about how I purchased an entire spice shop in France on a huge leap of faith because I trusted Gay completely. Imagine buying an old building in another country just to get the display shelves behind glass doors and the drawers,” she explains. The story of the former shop counter is another special find. “Gay had it shipped in from France to use as her workbench. When I discovered it in her workroom I simply had to have it. Today it is one of the most-used pieces in my home.”
It is easy to see how Mitchell and Wirth became friends during the near-decade of working together. “She guided me to where my heart wanted to go, but my brain and experience didn’t know how to get me there,” Mitchell says. “When I would get impatient to finish, she would encourage me to put on the brakes by telling me, ‘Just live in it, let it evolve, and the room will tell you where it wants to go.’”
The juxtaposition of the interior of the French-influenced home with its distinct New Orleans setting adds special interest. “The location is all about the view,” she says. “I love my view of the Crescent City Connection over Mississippi River, especially when it is all lit up at night.” She says she always finds the rooftops of the Garden District fascinating, and her northwest view from the terrace offers fabulous sunsets over many of the city’s landmarks such as the Pontchartrain Hotel, the “Eiffel Tower” and, of course, the recently color-enhanced Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Along the way Mitchell’s love of antiques led her to work part-time at Wirth Antiques. “It has been such a joy taking the journey of creating my home with Gay that I love to be in her presence and work with her. Each time I walk into her shop I am inspired, and I must admit that I’m always on the lookout for just one more unique and wonderful thing for my home.”