Located on a private street just off St. Charles Avenue, this stately home is immediately set apart from the other grand houses on the broad boulevard by its black canvas drapes, embossed at the top with a gold fleur-de-lis, which hang over the entrance to the front porch. Welcome to the home of Gayle and Tom Benson. Step inside and you’ll immediately realize there is indeed a connection between the homeowners and the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints team. Yes, Tom is the proud owner of the New Orleans Saints and the National Basketball Associations’ Pelicans, and as you may suspect, the home has a large collection of Saints memorabilia, including many items the couple collected from the Saints prize-winning Super Bowl XLIV win in 2010.
Gayle, a talented interior designer, hasn’t let the sports treasures get in the way of creating an elegant home that does double duty, whether used to informally entertain a large group of casually dressed guests or a few at select visitors decked out in their finest for an elegant sit-down dinner at a table with appointments fit for a king and queen.
“We especially enjoy our home during the Christmas, when our goal is to always keep true to meaning of the season,” she says. Both Gayle and Tom are devout Catholics. “The Nativity scene in our front yard welcomes you in the true spirit of Christmas.”
The formal area of the home includes the parlor, library and dining room, with a broad foyer in the center of the floor plan. Leaded glass double doors, topped by a matching transom, adds warm natural light to the space, while the windows in the parlor are dressed in fine silk and softly draped to give a warm glow to the room. It is here in the parlor that your eyes take in the unique Christmas-related treasures, such as a gold-leaf display stand atop an antique round table filled with a collection of sentimental sterling silver ornaments. Another antique round table on the other side of the damask-covered sofa features an eclectic collection that includes a Royal Dalton statue of a pregnant Blessed Mother Mary, a gift from Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Many of the decorations have special meaning because they’re gifts from friends. “I believe good design should always incorporate things with special sentimental meaning side by side with fine furnishings and accessories,” Gayle says.
Of special interest in the parlor is the large portrait of Gayle by Garland Robinette, their good friend, artist and radio host, which has a place of honor over the marble fireplace.
The picture-perfect dining room comfortably seats 16 guests at the broad, antique table. Gayle had the walls and ceiling given a special bronze finish to add to the feeling of elegance. Here, like in every room on the first level of the Benson’s home, there’s a Christmas tree. “We create an individual Christmas tree for each of our five grandchildren and two great nieces, and all of the gifts under that tree are for one person,” she says.
Once you step into the back cozy rooms of the house, your eyes will feast on the sports memorabilia of all descriptions. “This is where we both share the ups and downs of the Saints and Pelicans. Most of all, our home is a place of refuge and comfort and to enjoy special times such as the Christmas season.”
The above article is excerpted from New Orleans Homes at Christmas by Bonnie Warren with photos by Cheryl Gerber, recently published by Pelican Publishing Company.