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Home Away from Home
Lisa Donofrio and Brian Valzania split their time between New York and New Orleans, but their Creole cottage in the French Quarter is second to none.
Interior decorator Evelyne Clinton met her potential clients Lisa Donofrio and Brian Valzania when they strolled into her chic home furnishings store, Source., on Magazine Street.
The couple met in New York. Donofrio went to medical school at Tulane, and shortly after she was married, she brought Valzania to visit New Orleans. She loved New Orleans on her own, and now he loved it, too. They decided to purchase a home in the French Quarter, and Donofrio simultaneously opened a branch of her dermatology practice in New Orleans. Once the house was purchased, Clinton was signed on to decorate and design.
The 1830 two-story Creole cottage has a generous 2,800-square-foot floor plan. Clinton had every wall repainted, changing dark-green walls to white – with pale blue ceilings in most rooms and a spectacular metallic blue ceiling in the dining room. Floors were refinished, and a new stamped concrete floor was added to a completely renovated kitchen. She also selected luxurious silk drapes, sea-grass and Oriental rugs and unique chandeliers and lighting fixtures. Clinton curated an eclectic, unique and personal collection of furniture and artwork for the couple.
Some furnishings were custom-made, such as the living room couch, and all of the furniture was custom-upholstered with beautiful designer fabrics. A 19th-century daybed that Donofrio purchased in her student days was reupholstered in purple velvet. It makes a striking stand-alone piece in the foyer, which has old stone floors and a fireplace. This grand entry hall was once a part of an open-air courtyard that was eventually enclosed.
The dining room features a table custom-made to resemble an antique, with mismatched French 18th-century chairs with a distressed finish. A Swedish-style wood-turned chandelier hovers overhead. Clinton used a painted bibliothèque for china and an additional piece, an 1840 Louis Philippe buffet, for linens. A modern gold leaf bar cart adds a touch of glamour. Adjoining the dining room is the living room with another fireplace. A gilded Louis Philippe mirror hangs over the mantel, with a modern painting juxtaposed.
This mix of vintage, antique and contemporary furnishings gives the room a fresh, updated feeling while honoring the historical bones of the house.
There is a striking pair of mid-century-modern thrones upholstered in white silk cut velvet, and two stools upholstered in glamorous pink zebra are tucked under a distressed mirrored coffee table with waterfall sides. The icy blue silk drapes and a gilded iron chandelier with a slightly chinoiserie feeling add more elegance. The wingback bergère-style chairs are fabricated in a lovely soft green that complements the gray-washed wood frames.
Painting the railings white and refinishing the floorboards in a deep espresso color refurbished the curving staircase leading to the second floor. A pair of life-size knights is mounted on the wall to stand guard. They are fabricated from horsehair and plaster, made in Belgium in the 19th century for a church. An Italian-style gold tole lantern from the 1920s lights the way overhead in the stairwell.
The den is open to the stairway, and the original-to-the-house beams have been lightened.
A vivid Oriental rug anchors the expansive room. There is a deep oversize linen-covered sofa perfect for lounging and watching television. A pair of chairs from the estate of Leonard Bernstein is upholstered in vivid teal velvet and nestles under a window in a seating area adjacent to the den. The snug master bedroom is down the hall in a cabinet-style room just big enough for a queen-size bed with a custom-made hand-painted headboard and a romantic grand chandelier. The master suite also comprises a separate walk-in closet with plenty of storage and a large master bathroom, all cleverly fitted under the beams and dormer windows that are part of the vernacular of the classic Creole cottage.
Of course there is the customary French Quarter courtyard, with a stone-paved patio, lush tropical plantings, gas-lit lanterns and a trickling fountain. French-style café chairs are pulled up to a marble-topped table with an iron base. A dependency is close by and is used as a guesthouse.
The corner Creole cottage has many things beloved in a French Quarter home: shutters, fan-shaped windows over French doors and a walled-in courtyard – not to mention proximity to restaurants, music venues and shopping. Donofrio and Valzania are in New Orleans once a month, every month, spending a minimum of a week at a time in their elegant pied-à-terre. The home Evelyne Clinton created for them gives them so much joy.
Says Donofrio, “Making a decision to choose Evie reconfirmed the decision to move back to New Orleans. It’s the best thing we ever did.”