For Mike Atwater and Todd Tartavoulle, there are never too many holidays to celebrate. Or occasions for inviting friends over. Or, for that matter, costumes.
Today, they celebrate the biggest day of the year at their Irish Channel home: St. Patrick’s Day.
“We go all out,” said Atwater. “Hang flags, paint the driveway, have a balloon arch. … This year, my family is coming to town to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday and they’re helping us blow up the balloons.”
A look across the street from their home in the 2400 block of Constance Street indicates that Atwater and Tartavoulle aren’t alone in their devotion to St. Patrick’s Day décor. Bunting festoons one neighbor’s iron fence, with giant shamrocks serving as accents. Another neighbor has edited his collection of Mardi Gras beads hanging on fence pickets so that only the emerald-green ones remain. And a quick survey of front doors reveals an array of themed wreaths.
When Atwater and Tartavoulle bought the 1905-era cottage in 1998, it wasn’t necessarily with St. Patrick’s Day in mind.
They were attracted by the classic bones of the cottage and its wealth of existing architectural details. And because it was painted all one color on the inside, they recognized the opportunity to take it to the next level by employing their eye for color and design.
While in the process of putting their personal stamp on the cottage, Hurricane Katrina ripped off part of its original slate roof.
“Rain just poured in. I was out of town, but Todd had 12 buckets out to catch the water and he would hold the phone up so I could hear how loud it was,” Atwater said. “We replaced the roof and then we really got to work.
Atwater and Tartavoulle have made the house theirs by repainting every room, tiling the bath, installing a tin ceiling in one room, texturing some walls with plaster paint, building a deck off the rear, putting in a pool, and refurbishing a shed to serve as a bar and cabana. Almost every room is a different color, including the ceilings.
“I really like color on the ceiling rather than white. I think it adds a lot of interest and makes a room feel bigger, even if it’s just a couple of shades lighter than the walls,” Atwater said.
The parlor to the left of the entry foyer features a comfortable sofa in the front bay window and a silver mirror atop the mantel. The fleur-de-lis symbol can be seen everywhere: on the pillows scattered on the sofa, on the valance over the windows, as curtain tie backs and in the pattern in the carpet. In the dining room, where a long trestle table sits beneath a fancy crystal chandelier reconfigured from a candelabra, the fleur-de-lis finds its way onto the shades of tabletop lamps and onto the surface of a vase. In the kitchen, cabinet pulls are shaped like the fleur-de-lis. It may be understatement to say that the image is present in every room.
“Some of our friends call this ‘the fleur de lis house’ because we use it so much, but it has such a great history and is such a symbol of New Orleans,” Atwater said. “I’m from Chicago originally, but I have totally embraced everything about New Orleans and its culture.”
For Atwater and Tartavoulle, embracing the culture means cooking and entertaining.
“Todd is the cook, and he makes traditional local food like gumbo but also some fancier dishes. I always make a specialty cocktail, the soup and the dessert,” Atwater said. “If we don’t host dinner parties, we have wine tastings — any excuse to have people over.”
Costuming is yet another New Orleans ritual that has captivated Atwater.
“Even our dog, Beignet, has a whole closet filled with costumes,” said Atwater. “At Carnival, I march with the Disco Amigos, so I’m always in costume.”
The Disco Amigos is a co-ed dancing and marching club that appears in half-dozen parades and at charity events. The men wear black pants and shirts with red sashes; the women don silver dresses. Wigs and sunglasses are de rigueur. There’s even the occasional sombrero.
“I tried out for the 610 Stompers and totally froze during the audition — it was a disaster,” Atwater said. “So a friend told me about the Amigos, and now I’m the membership chair. We don’t just perform for the crowd, we engage with it. When the parade stops, that’s when we go to work getting people line dancing. And it’s all to disco music. It’s a sound that’s making a huge comeback.”
Comeback or not, disco plays a big role in the parties that Atwater and Tartavoulle throw at their home.
“We couldn’t afford a light-up disco floor, so I took a bunch of old CDs and glued them down on the deck and when the light hits them, it looks a lot like a light-up dance floor,” Atwater said. “We play a lot of Bee Gees and the soundtrack of ‘Saturday Night Fever,’ but we try to mix in some modern music, like Pitt Bull’s ‘Fireball.’”
With the recently installed backyard pool and its fountains to cool things off, the guys figure they’ll spend most of their recreational time outside and on the deck — even in August. But today, as the couple hosts their annual St. Patrick’s Day open house, the action on the street and the view from the front porch can’t be beat.
“It’s a big holiday for us, even if the decorating can get a little competitive on our block,” Atwater laughed.