A Magical Garden District Retreat
Melinda McSpadden finally found her dream job running The Sully Mansion, a luxury, nine-suite bed and breakfast in the Garden District, and she adores her apartment sanctuary where she can escape from the 24/7 demands of operating a hotel. For more than a century, the attic was a dusty storage space. Now it is a fabulous living space where the roof shape creates a symphony of intersecting and juxtaposing ceiling lines and the windows look down on the vast canopy of the quintessential Garden District live oak tree.
McSpadden says she didn’t design the interior, she just “put her furniture in it.” Well, she put her furniture in it the way Picasso put paint on canvas. The result feels like a meditation on harmony, inside spaces that mimic outside gardens, midcentury and India mixed with Queen Anne Victorian.
The mansion was designed by, and is now named for Thomas Sully, one of the most important and prolific architects in the city in the late 19th century. Sully’s innovative designs ranging from Italianate to Queen Anne to Colonial Revival helped define the look of New Orleans in the boom years following Reconstruction. Sully’s towering talent draws visitors to the city from all over the world a century and a half later to be seduced by an architectural landscape unique to the Big Easy. Sully’s commercial and residential buildings still standing today include the Whitney Bank building on Gravier Street, The Confederate Museum on Camp and the Hennen Building on Carondelet. Like his famous Columns Hotel, many of Sully’s residences feature massive curved staircases lit by towering gothic stained-glass windows and grand asymmetrical porches.
In 1890, the illustrious architect designed the residence that is now called The Sully Mansion for insurance tycoon John Rainey. The Mansion is the most intact of Sully’s surviving buildings in New Orleans. The Preservation Resource Center describes 2631 Prytania St. as: “a raised Queen Anne-style residence with a curved front porch, Ionic posts and gables decorated with fish-scale pattern shingles … 14-foot ceilings, stained-glass windows along the grand stairway and a second-story gallery. Rainey lived in the home for several decades. He also would have Sully build three equally impressive houses on Fourth Street for his daughters.”
After changing ownership several times, the Mansion became a bed and breakfast around 1980. In 2016 Mike Bertel of real estate and design/build firm Inhab Group, purchased the inn, giving it a fresh renovation and bringing in McSpadden as innkeeper. Today, the inn’s rooms are lovely and bright updated traditional, but the secret in the attic, the innkeeper’s apartment defies all decorating categories.
Maker of exquisite interiors and costumes alike, it comes as no surprise to learn that McSpadden studied art history and worked as an artist before shifting into hospitality, working at some of the city’s most illustrious establishments including Bayona, Windsor Court and the Ritz Carlton. She shares her serene, sacred space with two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Henri and Babette.
A lot of things about this apartment are unexpected. For example, you wouldn’t think her father’s circa-1960 dental office furniture would create such a fabulous tableau in the den of a 19th-century mansion attic.
Instead of a traditional headboard, McSpadden created a spectacular medallion on the wall using a string, a thumbtack and paint. She says it’s a “magical thing that kind of created itself.”
Using the tack and string to draw concentric circles, McSpadden added dots of color that look like jewels. The strong teal wall color came later.
“My bedroom feels like the inside of my own genie bottle,” she says.
An exterior window divides two interior spaces, painted scorpion toys adorn the wall and the foyer is home to a garden swing.
With McSpadden as the creator, this sanctuary could be nothing but magical.