A manicured formal garden centered with a huge iron pot of blooming flowers greets you on the walk through the glass archway that houses the broad front doors of this University Section home. Once you step into the space with a second iron-and-glass-arched window you may feel as though you’re entering a mansion in Spain.
“We loved the Mediterranean style of the house as soon as we saw it,” says Mary Vega, owner of The Vega Group, who shares the home with her husband Cesar Martino, a retired hotelier and co-founder of The Vega Group, who now enjoys being a gentleman farmer. “I am from Cuba where my family owned a grand Spanish-style mansion that’s now a museum in Havana,” he says. “The architecture of our New Orleans home may not be as grand as the mansion where I grew up, but I can see a similar charm in both the outside and inside.”
Built in the early 1940s, the approximately 6,000-square-foot home (on a square lot that measures 120-by-120 feet) has a tropical feel. “The house with its inner atrium and lush rear garden is unique,” Mary says. “The garden is a quiet hideaway in the heart of New Orleans.”
True to its Spanish architecture the living room even has a unique stairway and balcony to the second level. “You could call it our Romeo and Juliet balcony,” Cesar says. “It’s original to our home and one of the unique features that immediately caught our eye when we first discovered the house.”
Furnished with an eclectic mix of fine antiques, the bold accessories in the living room include a large bust of Emperor Hadrian on a long table under an oil painting of Lake Como in Italy. The large urn on the coffee table is a memorial to the house’s survival of Hurricane Katrina’s flooding. Decorative painter Bekye Fargason – who is also responsible for the silver-leaf molding in the living room – created the walls and ceilings that give both the living room and adjoining dining room an old-world charm.
Columns define the arch that leads to the higher-level dining room adjoining the living room. Versace plates purchased in Florence grace the table. “We enjoy the formal feeling of the room that is just the right size for elegant dinners,” Mary says.
While there are many treasures in the house, Cesar proudly shows off his favorite: a handwritten letter from President Abraham Lincoln that has a place of honor in the library. “I purchased it in 1968 from actor Vincent Price,” he says. He also notes his extensive collection of Napoleonic memorabilia, including a large original painting over the couch. French doors lead from the library into the light-filled center atrium that is filled with plants. While not a large space, it definitely adds to the Spanish character of the house.
The opposite side of the atrium opens into the large garden room that boasts a wall of glass overlooking the swimming pool, patio and rear garden. “It’s an inviting happy room where we love to gather for quiet times together or to entertain our family and friends,” Mary says.
Her green thumb is evident in the many pots of blooming flowers that fill the patio and surrounding garden. “Here we have found a refuge,” she says. “We enjoy our home that is warm and comfortable with just the right touch of elegance.”
Cesar agrees. “I enjoy the entire house, but the library truly is my inner sanctum where I relax, read, meditate and contact business. Our home is our sanctuary.”