Artfully Done

The houses on Coliseum Square bring to mind the great residential squares in European cities such as London. Perhaps that is what drew Jessica Bride and Nick Mayor to the double-gallery Greek Revival house there. Built in 1847, this pre-Civil War beauty was originally owned by a merchant named Hugh Wilson. He lost it during the Civil War but got it back after. Like many old houses, it has seen its glory days and its dark down-on-its heels days.

The couple purchased their home 10 months after they met. Both were living and working in London when a mutual friend introduced them. It was girls’ night out and guys’ night out, and the friend arranged for the two groups to meet up at a cheesy nightclub on The King’s Road. Mayor and Bride knew they were meant for each other when the old disco song “YMCA” came on and everyone left the dance floor except for them. A few months after meeting, during a road trip from London to Italy, they decided to take a career break and travel the world for six months. It was during that six-month break that they also decided to get married and buy a house in New Orleans.

Bride is a New Orleans native who spent a few years in New York and London, returning with Mayor in 2006 when they bought the house on Coliseum Square. It was in terrible shape, and as a new couple, they took on the daunting process of totally renovating the grand old girl. The guesthouse, described by Bride as a biohazard, got a complete overhaul, including several sets of new French doors (the originals had been replaced with windows or boarded up for bookshelves).

Once the guesthouse was habitable, the young couple used it while the main house got under way.

The main house needed a ton of work. There was a tremendous amount of termite damage and outdated electrical and plumbing systems that had to be redone.

The exterior gallery had been closed in with vinyl siding. There was a red wool carpet up the stairs and through the hallway that had been installed over linoleum and glued to the original wood flooring. The front porch had acquired 3-foot-thick ugly concrete. The HVAC system had to be replaced. The floor in the front room was beyond repair, and a new one was installed. The kitchen and all the bathrooms were gutted and redone. All of the other rooms were stripped back to their lovely old bones, and then walls and ceilings were re-plastered.

Once a clean slate and a fresh bill of health were in place, the interior design unfolded. Both Mayor and Bride had modern apartments in London. They love spare furnishings and spaces with an open studio feeling. Bride describes her apartment as a place with “not an inch wasted and not one bit of extra stuff in it.” She attributes this phase in her life as the beginning of her style makeover.

When they bought the house on Coliseum, they knew immediately that they were going to stay true to the architectural elements of the house but were also going to bring in some very modern touches. To get just the right look, they worked with Bruce McNally of BKLN Design Studio in Brooklyn, N.Y., on the interior design.

Bride is a food maven; she cut her teeth in the restaurant business bartending and cooking at Sammy’s Grill in Baton Rouge. She worked as director of development for a gastropub restaurant company based in London and spent five years in New York, exiting as vice president of lifestyles for the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group. She loves restaurants – cooking in them, eating in them, running them and strategizing for them. Hence, the design for her new kitchen was given plenty of thought.

The kitchen has a long narrow footprint, which plagued the couple’s plans for its ideal design. They had developed a real appreciation for European kitchens while in London, where it is common to install gleaming high-gloss cabinets, white or light floors, slick tone and steel countertops, usually with huge glass doors opening to a patio.

They got no fewer than five sets of plans for the kitchen. Everyone wanted to make a U-shaped floor plan or split the space in two and add a sitting room. None of those ideas were to their liking. They already had two living rooms and didn’t want a third sitting area. Bride also has an impressive cookbook collection that needed a functional place in the kitchen.

They finally just embraced the floor plan of the house instead of trying to change it; they drew the design themselves and took it to Randall Shaw at Nordic Kitchens. He came out to measure and made one huge change to the drawing the couple did, flipping the orientation, a change they are really happy with. They cook a lot and love the indoor/outdoor feeling of the kitchen, which is similar to what they saw in their favorite spaces in London.

Among the modern furnishings throughout the house, there is an extensive art collection emerging. When they were single, both Bride and Mayor dabbled in collecting art, but as a couple they have expanded their mutual interest into a passion. They both like minimalist, light, white and monochromatic pieces with texture. They have a piece by Karina Wisniewska in the living room along with a piece by Sidonie Villere. The upstairs landing holds an installation by Raine Bledsoe. One day they would love to own pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Banksy, a pseudonymous U.K.-based graffiti artist, political activist, film director and painter.

Bride and Mayor are among the crop of vibrant young people who decided to make their home in post-Katrina New Orleans. They support the city through many endeavors. Mayor sits on the board of the Contemporary Arts Center, and Bride co-founded a full scholarship program with chef John Besh called Chefs Move! The scholarship sends the recipient to culinary school in New York and covers travel, tuition and other expenses. She is also involved with the Arts Council and the Junior League and is a board member of The Culinary Trust. Mayor, an Oxford man with a politics, philosophy and economics degree, is a consultant for an investment fund. In addition, they keep busy with their two young children, a dog and various house renovations. Their current project is a 1960s beach bungalow in Pensacola, Fla.

One last word about life on Coliseum Square: Bride and Mayor say the best thing about living there is the neighbors. They have drinks and dinners with them a few times a year. Everyone knows the histories of the houses and their mutual struggles with renovations or just keeping them up. The neighborhood is populated by an older group, many of whom quite literally saved Coliseum Square from destruction 20 or 30 years ago. As newer residents, Mayor, Bride and other new families moving in are picking up the torch and carrying it on.

Editor’s Note: In 2010, Nick Mayor and Jessica Bride were honored with a Renaissance Award from New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and the Preservation Resource Center for their renovation.

Digital Sponsors

Become a sponsor ...

Sign up for our FREE

New Orleans Magazine email newsletter

Get the the best in New Orleans dining, shopping, events and more delivered to your inbox.