Pontalba Panache

There is probably only one address in New Orleans where people wait for up to 15 years to rent an apartment. Even being on the waiting list of the Pontalba Buildings carries a certain cache, but when the call finally comes about the highly anticipated vacancy, most people take quick action to become residents. Maybe it has to do with the prestigious address, but more likely it has everything to do with the colorful surroundings: Jackson Square, world-renowned restaurants within walking distance, St. Louis Cathedral, the Mississippi River and Jax Brewery, just to name a few nearby attractions.
Designer Tyson Geary, age 26, has come to know the Pontalba Buildings intimately, since designing the interior of an apartment for a special client. Tyson, who splits his time between New York City and his hometown, New Orleans, knew just what his clients wanted. “The idea in this space was first and foremost for entertaining and enjoying downtown New Orleans,” Tyson says. “The clients live Uptown, and until they had an apartment here they couldn’t really have the same experience just coming downtown for the day.”
The residents of this classic, airy space are consummate people lovers. They have a big extended family, lots of friends and the idea of having a place to let their loved ones stay when they come to town was irresistible. “Anyone who lives in these buildings knows how much fun this place is,” Tyson says. “A good part of the client’s family lives out of town, and several of them stayed here this past Thanksgiving. It was definitely a whole different experience for all of them this time. When you combine the music, the activity in Jackson Square, the smells from the restaurants, and the riverboats, this is just another whole side of the New Orleans experience.”
Tyson’s job was to create a space that would be multi-functional—perfect for entertainment and parties, but also functional enough to sleep several people overnight. “There is only one full bedroom and every other room has more than one function. Mostly natural, calming colors were used to maintain a laid-back, elegant feel. The clients are casual people and they wanted something that would fit their lifestyle.”
After the strenuous walk up the long, long winding stairway so familiar to Pontalba residents, the first glance in the spacious apartment yields a feeling of exquisite comfort. Eclectic doesn’t begin to describe the ambiance, but somehow everything falls nicely together. The client already owned some of the furnishings, and those that are more recently acquired were largely selected by Tyson. “I had already worked with the client on a house in Mississippi, so I knew what they were looking for,” he says.
That includes the circa 1930s trompe l’oeil benches in the dining room that started out as storage chests from a Palm Beach estate. The dining table is actually an antique French refractory table, while the chairs are French country style, from Countryside Antiques in Mississippi. The bar in the adjacent sitting room is an old family piece that was a dry sink. The artwork varies from wall to wall in terms of style and period, most noticeably the sheer water prints by Walter Anderson, found in Ocean Springs. A pair of richly colored abstract paintings in the dining room were actually painted by the designer himself. A friend of the family painted a striking representation of St. Louis Cathedral, which hangs on the living room wall. In the master bedroom is a Tony Green painting of the clients and their guests at a birthday party at nearby Bella Luna restaurant. A rustic architectural element that hangs over a living room sofa was found at Orient Expressed in New Orleans.
The long narrow construction of the Pontalba apartments offers an expansive feel. A short walk down a few stairs leads to a guest room, also done in light, soothing colors and scattered with treasured family photos.
Keep an eye on Tyson—younger than most of his colleagues in the city and well educated (M.A. in architecture from Savannah College of Art & Design), his clients are well heeled and spread out geographically, but his heart and soul remain in the city he has not forgotten. Creating a contemporary environment that pays homage to the city’s history, in a building that dates to the 19th century, is no small achievement. Tyson has accomplished that with panache and distinctive style. •

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