New Orleans is full of hidden beauty. In fact, secrecy is one of the main characteristics of old Creole architecture. In the French Quarter and other early neighborhoods, what you see from the sidewalk often masks with simple stucco and shutters the luxurious rooms and elaborate gardens inside.
It was an American proclivity to show off one’s wealth to the world, an attitude that resulted in the large front yards and ornamental façades of the Garden District and St. Charles Avenue later in the city’s development.
Patricia O’Brien’s 1842 cottage follows the Creole tradition. Behind a simple fence, in a neighborhood just above the intersection of the Marigny and Tremé, hides a timeless cottage and its vast, storied gardens.
From 1895 until the middle of the 20th century, when the home was owned by sisters Marie Philomene “Mimi” and Pauline “Popo” Abadie, the gardens gained local fame as the setting of an annual May Day celebration. A 1925 publication described the ceremonial crowning of the May Queen in the Virgin’s Garden as a great tradition among old French families in the city, attracting 400 visitors.
KM: This house certainly has what I think of as classic Creole style, a main ingredient of the New Orleans aesthetic. How did you create this interior?
PO: I don’t think of style when I’m doing a room. I have renovated a lot of very blighted houses, and each house demands a different approach. I have to look at each one from the point of view of that particular house. They know what they need, and I try to give it to them. I also have the help of my cousin Peter Patout, who has a fantastic eye and knowledge of Louisiana and American furniture. Most of what I have in my home now has come to me through his careful selection of what is just right for me and my early-19th-century Creole cottage.
KM: You have lived here for four decades. How does it reflect your character?
PO: I recently saw an article on the apartment of Yvonne (née Alciatore) and David Davis above Antoine’s restaurant. There were so many things that reflected their passions and their past. [It’s] the same with me. I treasure my grandmother’s mandolin. She was one of five sisters, and they all played some form of musical instrument and entertained themselves with their performances. I have a mirror and dining room table that once belonged to my aunt’s [Ruth Jackson Burleigh from Jeanerette] best friend. They mean more to me because of that connection to the past and to friendship. My godchildren, Melanee Usdin and Monique Gardener, gave me a vase by JoAnn Greenberg and a bust by Charlie Bohn. These will be my new treasures.
Style is more than decoration to me. It is a combination of the past and the present. Some magic ingredient makes it all work together and gives me what I think is uniquely New Orleans.