Jennifer and Lee McMillan celebrate their Art Deco dream home on Audubon Boulevard
From the beginning, it was meant to be.
Jennifer Farris flew home from her New York City apartment for some New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival jams and jubilee. During the visit, her friend Ansley Marshall introduced Jennifer to her future husband, Lee McMillan III.
“Two weeks later, we ended up walking down the aisle together,” Jennifer laughed, noting that they were serendipitously in the same wedding party. “I was good friends with the bride and he was friends with the groom.”
Jennifer and Lee McMillan got hitched, moved to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and had two beautiful children, daughter Randall, 9, and son John, 5. In 2019, the family of four moved back to New Orleans.
During the height of the pandemic, the McMillans wanted to buy a home. They were floating between long-term Airbnb rentals and needed to feel settled. They also wanted the perfect nest.
The McMillans’ friend who had played Cupid at JazzFest, became the family’s real estate agent. “She gave us each other and our dream house,” Jennifer said.
In June 2020, Marshall discovered a blighted Art Deco property built in 1920 behind Tulane University. Originally built with red brick, the previous owner and developer had wrapped the home in white stucco, and maintained the original iron work and windows.
“The home was basically just a shell,” Jennifer remembered. “But it had its original marble fireplace and an exquisite pool with hand painted Israeli tiles. The backyard felt like walking into hotel in Palm Springs. It was us.”
Jennifer, a third generation New Orleanian, grew up around midcentury modern antiques, her mother Patti Farris’ favorite. Lee, whose family has also lived in New Orleans for multiple generations, was raised in the company of English and French antiques in the family’s Uptown home.
“Our travels and places we lived and grew up shaped how we wanted our new home to feel,” Jennifer says. “Because of our life in New York, Tokyo, and our travels, we gravitate towards modern architecture and floor plans, things that are more unusual.”
With the family’s eclectic mix of midcentury modern furniture, Murano glass and vintage finds from Palm Beach staple Circa Who, Jennifer turned to Eclectic Home’s mom-daughter design duo to freshen up her family’s new home. Jennifer’s mother has long been a patron of Eclectic Home and Jennifer had already purchased a handful of furniture pieces from the Oak Street showroom. It was a no-brainer.
In June 2020, Eclectic Home designers Penny Francis and daughter Casi St. Julian launched the McMillans’ project. The designers took care to edit the family’s heirlooms and pieces they picked up along their travels.
“Some items did not make the cut, others were repurposed or refinished,” Francis said. They recovered several antique and midcentury chairs and paired them with new custom upholstery with bold prints and rich hues.
And Francis challenged Jennifer to embrace color and bold design.
“Every home I’ve done has always been grey or taupe. Everything is always subdued,” Jennifer said. “When I started working with Penny, I told her to push me out of comfort zone.”
When entering the home on Audubon Boulevard, an original terrazzo staircase greets guests upon arrival. The home is atypical in that the mother-in-law suite rests on the first floor, accompanied by the family room, a playroom, laundry and gym. A casual dining room and bar lead out onto the pool area, equipped with navy-and-white-striped umbrellas and bright white chaise lounge chairs accompanied by a slide-out cocktail table, perfect for a cool glass of afternoon rosé.
The second floor of the McMillan home is dedicated to more formal entertaining. The living room boasts a pair of Louis XVI armchairs, which Eclectic Home reupholstered. They used a rich cerulean ZAK+FOX fabric from the Fantasma collection on the back of the chairs and a green cotton velvet fabric for the seats. To add high drama, the team painted the ceiling a high-gloss dark emerald shade, which highlights the wallpaper with chimerical blossoms. Also included is Jennifer’s mother’s midcentury club chairs in a whitewashed frame with a button back.
“Neighbors see this room from the street. They tell me they love my wallpaper.” Jennifer said.
Also on the second floor is their son John’s room and the master suite. The master suite is Jennifer’s favorite room in the house. “The contrasting wallpaper matches the drapery. There’s a beautiful soaking tub in our ensuite bathroom,” Jennifer said. The bathroom also has a Slim Aarons photo and a Murano chandelier Jennifer bought while visiting Palm Beach. “It feels like an escape, like a beautiful hotel room.”
The McMillans’ daughter reigns over the third floor, a long and narrow attic space anchored with stairs in the middle. It’s one of the most magical rooms in the house. Floating in the center is a custom-made little girl’s bed, which they’ve dubbed “Lady Fingers.” Deep dormer windows allow light to flood the bedroom. The window spaces are accented with hand-painted pink scalloped trim.
“On the other side of the space, we carved out a reading area with ceiling-suspended woven chairs as well as a desk for studying,” Francis said. “The end walls of the rooms feature an amazing wallcovering by Thibaut that inspired the entire color palette. The end result is a happy, layered space.”
The designer said the McMillans were involved in the design process every step of the way. Francis added, “They trusted us and the process and we delivered what we believe is a true reflection of their personalities and how they live.”
On Christmas Eve 2020, the McMillan dream home was ready. “We hosted Christmas Eve for my whole family,” said Jennifer, who’s the oldest of six girls. Her mother had wanted to host the previous year, but Jennifer said it didn’t feel right.
“Now we have a family tradition,” Jennifer said. “And everyone ended up in the pool and hot tub. It was perfect. It was just meant to be.”