A Studio by the Water
Keith Perelli and Sergio Alvarez’s Bywater residence is bustling with creativity and bursting with art.
At the edge of Bywater, where Gallier Street meets the river, artist Keith Perelli and his partner, mental health case manager Sergio Alvarez, share a shotgun single that serves as home, office and studio. From the porch, the skyline of the Central Business District is visible over the levee wall, along with the occasional freight train. The neighborhood buzzes with proximity to activity –– the roiling Mississippi, the electric French Quarter and the indispensable neighborhood bars and restaurants are all within striking distance, as is the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where Perelli teaches artistically talented high schoolers coursework that he describes as college-level. “I’m trying to teach them what I didn’t
learn in college,” he says of his technique-oriented teaching style.
Perelli and Alvarez came across their home entirely by chance.
“We happened upon a little pink house while visiting a Bywater restaurant,” remembers Perelli. “We bid on the property, and within 24 hours the home was ours. After a year of cautious searching and near-closings on two other separate properties, this home somehow immediately felt right.”
The house’s location was a happy coincidence. “The Marigny/Bywater neighborhood was always of interest to me due to its location and strong arts community,” says Perelli. “As a professional exhibiting my artwork locally … having a studio-home was a must.”
The house flows fluidly from one dynamic in the front through to a very different one toward the back. The front room is Perelli’s studio, where he is currently working on several printmaking projects. The walls are hung with examples of his work –– some are commissioned pieces, and others are exercises in technique and media. The studio, which is usually in a state of stimulating chaos, opens into a living room decorated with more art.
Most of the pieces were composed by friends of the couple, particularly nine small panel paintings by Douglas Bourgeois. Two soft leather armchairs and a cozy loveseat converge on a high-tech but modest media center, and surround-sound speakers are hidden unobtrusively in two corners of the ceiling. Perelli’s computer desk, which he himself constructed when he was an undergraduate, is tucked into one corner of the living room, adjacent to the archway leading back into the studio. “I enjoy living with my work,” Perelli says of this convergence. “By surrounding myself with my work in progress, I can reflect on a series as it emerges.”
Through a smaller door at the other end of the living room is the bedroom, which features the only set of matching furniture in the house. (The furniture in the other rooms was assembled from different sources to reflect the couple’s eclectic taste.) Of the bedroom’s color scheme, Perelli says: “This is the warmer room. I try to find harmonies in the cool and warm palette. Various pairings of wood finished in each space were intended to add texture and warmth, while hues of blue color schemes create the illusion of coolness during New Orleans’ hot summers.”
Past the bedroom is the kitchen and a common area for hosting parties, filled again with art –– Perelli’s and others’. While replacing their old windows with new energy-efficient ones, the couple moved a side door from their bedroom into this common area, which now opens up onto the side garden.
At the back end of the kitchen is a laundry area, the only room in the house painted white. “When we purchased the 1920s home in 2000, every square inch of the interior was painted antique white,” Perelli says. The couple frequently repaints the various zones of the house to keep the spaces’ “personalities” fresh; when they purchased a new washer and dryer, both stark white, Perelli felt compelled to turn the laundry room back into a black-and-white-themed space.
The last room of the house acts mostly as Alvarez’s office and, sometimes, as a guest room –– though not for everyone. “My mother refuses to sleep here,” Perelli says, because the blinds block most –– but not all –– of the room from the outside.
The back room was originally intended to be a screened-in porch, but the couple took the advice of a friend and installed sliding glass doors to enclose the space.
Outside the back room are two fountains, one of which hosts a painted turtle and jumbo goldfish. Around the side of the house there are flower beds, potted plants and an herb garden, and at the head of what was once a white-shell driveway stands a miniature greenhouse Perelli constructed to mitigate some of the complications of caring for plants during the colder months. There was once a 60-foot pecan tree in the side yard, standing so tall and so close to the river that it could be seen from the Crescent City Connection, but it got out of hand and had to be removed. “Sergio is the garden caretaker and green thumb,” Perelli says. “His efforts have added to livable space and function of our property. As an artist with carpentry and gardening skills, I find gardening, building and modifying the property a healthy aspect of my energy cycle.”
Besides periodically repainting various rooms, the couple plans to restore the house’s façade. “We hope that we are preserving a sense of New Orleans’ unique architecture,” says Perelli. Of their home in general, he says: “We have tried to create a familiar, comfortable environment through small vignettes of objects, furniture and memorabilia. … For two occupants in a single shotgun, creating a balance of tastes, schedules and work space has always been a challenge of compromise and reward.”