Delilah Methe stands on a red rectangular rug in her kitchen and can’t resist telling you: “See this rug, I made it by hand by sewing 6,000 two-square inch pieces of material together … It was painstaking.”
Then there are the two magnificent crystal lamps replete with shades: “I picked those up from somebody’s trash after Katrina.”
LOCAL COLOR:Exquisite Oriental decorator box in the kitchen: “… 25 cents”
Waterford crystal glasses from a thrift store for $15 each?
“No, wait a minute,” Mrs. Methe is quick to point out. “That’s what the guy wanted. I bargained him down to getting the whole set of six for $20.”
And that stunning golden, ornate frame over your mirror? It looks so, so … positively Byzantine.
“I don’t know about that,” Mrs. Methe says, “All I know is I paid a dollar for it.”
Room dividers, stripped of their covering, are turned horizontally to become clever window highlighters. Foreign coins picked up for 10 cents each become backing for medicine cabinet knobs. A huge bedroom lamp, snatched up at a garage sale for only $10 – “Yeah, but I wound up paying $117 for the shade. I must’ve been having an off day.”
How about a retrieved hospital urine specimen bottle converted into a fish bowl in which a Siamese fighting fish named (groan) “Uri” resided?
To be sure, very few items in the entire home were “bought at retail.” Even the Methes’ three show class Persian cats that loll around the house looking like moving balls of fur came at bargain basement rates or less: “Annie” was a gift from vampire novelist, Anne Rice, Zsa Zsa came free of charge from a friend who had relocated to Texas and Sophia came via a giveaway from a neighbor moving to Saudi Arabia.
“Now they’re all over the house,” husband, Frank Methe intones.
But back to “Mrs. Price is Right”:
As she launched her post-Katrina (though seemingly perpetual since the 1970s) redecorating project of her “Asian-eclectic-modern” home, Mrs. Methe stuck by her lifelong rule: “Do it on the cheap, but do it with class … It can’t look like an explosion at a flea market.”
Mission accomplished (or in the process of being accomplished): the white brick, black trimmed Metairie home may one day be honored with an “historic places plaque” as the largest museum of gee gaws, bric-a-brac, trinkets, oddities, garage sale castoffs, restored dumpster resurrections and thrift store bargain bin specials in America.
But don’t get the idea that the interior of this home looks like a going-out-of-business sale at a dollar store. With time, talent and agonizing attention to detail, Delilah and Frank have made their home a red, white and black haven in which any far eastern monk would be proud to pray.
The unflappable Frank Methe says modestly: “She’s the one with the talent. I just take directions and carry out what she wants done.”
If Delilah Methe’s penchant for a bargain, and turning sow’s ears into silk purses, runs deep, it’s because they are rooted in her painfully poor days of growing up in the Florida Housing Project. There was never enough money, and once the family found itself evicted with its meager belongings tossed out on the grimy streets of the Ninth Ward.
“Tough isn’t the word,” Mrs. Methe says. “We were so poor, it actually hurt to just to think about it. But we never threw anything away. I figured if there was always a need for something, there would be something I could find to fill that need. I felt I couldn’t just stand around. I knew instinctively I had to make my own way. It was that, or perish. I remember, I was a kid, seven or eight, I wanted to – had to – make my own clothes. I stood up on one of those old Singer sewing machines with the foot pump. I had to stand because I couldn’t reach the pedal if I sat down. That’s how I learned to sew.”
In later life, Mrs. Methe used those hard-won talents, honed on that old Singer, to open a lucrative business not as a seamstress, but as a “clothes builder;” designing and making elaborate wedding dresses and Mardi Gras costumes for carnival krewes.
“I had sequins all over the house,” she remembers. “I had sequins glued to my behind and in my drawers. I got tired of that and gave it all up.” The former sewing room in her home is literally a cavern of cloth, silks, cottons, nylon and more. From one wall hangs a kimono in the process of being pieced together – destined to become a shower curtain in her bathroom. “I wanted to redecorate this bathroom and not spend more than a buck fifty on anything,” she says. “It may be the best looking, cheaply redecorated, bathroom in the Greater New Orleans area.”
The house itself?
“I bought this in 1971 for a song,” Mrs. Methe says. “Hey, I was a kid and had grown up in the projects. I didn’t know anything about buying a house. I was a single mom (her first husband passed away) with two kids and no job. Anyway, when I came here this place had a $10,000 assumption. I came in and took a look at it and almost fainted. There was purple carpet in the living room, a Volkswagen painted on one bedroom wall. A picture of a dog painted on one wall. Hubcaps hanging from the ceiling and on the walls. It was a real hippie dump. I offered the real estate agent $6,000. Then she starts telling me about closing cost and points … I told her, ‘Hey, the only points I know about are the ones on a lawn mower. Six thousand dollars! Take it or leave it!’ She took it … in a big hurry!”
During her neverending circle of renovating and restoring projects, Mrs. Methe pulled a piece of that infamous purple shag carpet from behind a molding.
“Look at this,” she says, holding the scrap of carpet up with one hand and her nose with the fingers of her other hand. “Can you believe that anybody would put stuff like this on a floor? … On the other hand, if it were a little larger, I could dye it and use it for …”