Home is Where the Art Is

A stop on the Secret Gardens Tour reveals artistic passion – inside and out.
JEFFERY JOHNSTON PHOTOGRAPH
The dining room prominently displays a Murano glass chandelier|!!| Judaic silver and a Richard Johnson painting above the mantle

The Uptown home of Julie Wise Oreck and husband Marshall is one full of life and light. Art from local and regional artists adorns nearly every inch of the three-story home’s walls, and that sentiment continues into their expansive yard. Large windows throughout the home cascade light onto everything from hardwood floor to high ceilings and every nook in between. A neutral wall color, as well as the pale hue of the wooden floor, allows the art along the walls – and the collected Asian and African pieces dispersed throughout the home – to shine through on their own.

The Orecks purchased their home in April of 1989. “I always remember the date because we moved in 10 days after my daughter (Zoë) was born,” Julie Oreck says. “When we bought the house it was actually two apartments. We began renovating in ’89.”

The home, built in 1888, sits gracefully on Exposition Boulevard, that envious expanse of homes bordering Audubon Park. The view from the Orecks’ living room and foyer is a majestic one: Lush green oaks stretch as far as the eye can see, and a moss-covered bridge and pond add to its Jane Austen-esque appeal. The interior design of the home, however, is thoroughly modern, playing off its surroundings well.

“We blew off the back of the house during that first renovation,” Oreck says. “We converted a back porch into living space; we opened up the floor plan to have an open kitchen; and upstairs we created a living space from what was once a porch as well. We also converted a play area between our daughters’ rooms into a study area once they were older. We did the bathrooms 15 years ago, and the back of the house about 10 years ago.”

The most recent revitalization took place in the kitchen, which Oreck says was recently completed. The open space boasts granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and recessed lighting. “We haven’t re-hung everything just yet. We added a new floor and redid the cabinets.

“John Chrestia is our architect, and has been from the start,” she adds.

Having traveled across the globe through the years, Oreck has amassed an interesting collection of wooden tribal masks from Africa – though some were purchased locally – and antique pieces from China. The masks descend down the leopard print-carpeted stairs, at the foot of which is displayed a beautiful red Chinese piano. Oreck says the small African metal figurines are among her favorites in the home.

Also from her years of travel is an extensive collection of Judaic silver, used in traditional Jewish ceremonies, displayed prominently in the art-laden dining room.

“I go to Israel three or four times a year, and every time I go I bring back more silver,” she says.

Oreck says she didn’t have a personal decorator per se, but credits Heidi Friedlander as a source of inspiration and great help throughout the home’s revitalization.

“Upstairs we have what I like to call ‘the pink room,’ and that was definitely Heidi’s idea,” she recalls. “My husband’s mother left him an antique couch done in a funky green fabric; Heidi said, ‘Let’s make it hot pink!’ so we recovered it. Now there’s pink everywhere!”

Oreck is hard pressed to name a particularly favorite room; the individuality of each space certainly makes this a complicated question to answer. “The front of the house is certainly one of my favorites: I can look out onto the park.

… The painting in the dining room by Shirley Rabe Masenter is the actual view of the park from our living room.
“Actually, the dining room might be my favorite room,” she says. “We used to entertain a lot, but now that the kids are grown and gone we only have a few people over.”

Oreck is a great lover of local artists: Works by Richard Johnson, Ida Kohlmeyer, Bill Isles and Chris Burkholder are displayed prominently in the dining and living areas, in addition to the intricate Judaic silver. A dazzling Murano glass chandelier with coral-hued arms hangs above the dining table, with matching sconces hung above the buffet.
“The back den is a lot of Dr. Bob and local folk art. This (Bill) Hemmerling is one of my favorites,” she says. “Billy Solitario did the large beach scene in the living room, and it’s a view of Western Lake (Florida) – it’s my favorite spot in the world.”

Her love of art continues outside into her garden and backyard. A sleek modern fountain by Luis Colmenares features a dark stone exterior and a metal sculpture protruding sharply from the center, with vibrant koi swimming below.

There are blown glass sculptures and various ironworks in the space behind her home, and the wooden fence that lines the driveway is almost completely covered in art.

“As I look around, it’s just pieces from everywhere,” she says. “Dr. Bob, Joanne Greenberg, Nini Bodenheimer … I bought a painting by D. Weant-Lane in Grayton Beach at this great gallery called Big Mama’s Hula Girl Gallery.

And lots of these were made by my children.”

Despite the unseasonably harsh chill of the past winter, Oreck’s gardens are still vibrant. Landscape Images is responsible for the much of the orchestration of the gardens: Camellias are in bloom everywhere; looming bamboo trees shade most of the side yard; and the standout of the garden can be found along the side of the house.

“We have a 100-year-old crepe myrtle tree,” she says. “It’s huge! It’s one of the oldest in the area, and that’s saying a lot since they don’t normally live this long.”

Oreck’s magnificent garden is just one of many hidden gems along this year’s Secret Gardens Tour, held this month the weekend of March 12-13. The 2010 Secret Gardens Tour will include many other homes along Exposition Boulevard, bordering Audubon Park. Available either as a private, guided tour or a self-guided one, tickets can be purchased by calling Kathleen Waring at 914-4855, or from their Web site, www.secretgardenstour.org.
 

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