Few homeowners would leave graffiti on the walls of their downtown loft, but Jim Lestelle and John Stephens aren’t just any owners.
“We love the scribbling and the blocks of color on the columns because it reminds us of what this place used to be and who used to work here,” said Stephens, an interior decorator who also works in an antiques store in the French Quarter. “Why would anyone paint over that?”
The “place” is the building at the corner of Natchez and Tchoupitoulas streets in the Picayune Place Historic District, a former manufacturing plant for Walle printed labels. Built in about 1910, it was converted to loft apartments by developer Sean Cummings in 1995, then to condos a few years later. The condo that Lestelle and Stephens share is one of the urban residences on tour today from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. when the Preservation Resource Center and the Friends of the Cabildo team up to present a tour of residences in the smallest of the city’s historic districts. Go to prcno.org for ticket prices and details or to tour the headquarters, the International House Hotel (221 Camp St.), for tickets and a map. A talk by Richard Campanella precedes the tour (11 a.m., 220 Camp St., third floor).
Lestelle said that when he was looking for a place to live 15 years ago, he knew he wanted to be in the middle of New Orleans’ downtown area, rather than in a more traditional neighborhood with lawns, gardens and fences.
“I just liked the idea of walking outside and not dealing with a car to get to restaurants and entertainment,” said Lestelle, who runs his own public relations and marketing firm. “It was a lot quieter down here then, before everyone seemed to have discovered how great it is to live downtown.
“The plus of the new trend is that there are dozens more restaurants and establishments here now, and more every day.”
Lestelle and Stephens, who met in 2000 and married in Darien, Connecticut, in 2009, didn’t need to do anything in the way of changing the configuration of the floor plan when the condo was purchased.
“We really liked the layout and didn’t see any reason to change it,” Stephens said. “It feels incredibly roomy for 1,550 square feet. Pretty much all we did was add paint and some lighting.”
The spacious feel can be attributed, in part, to the high ceilings and bank of factory windows along the street-side wall. Floors are stained concrete, and the exterior wall in the living room/dining area is aged brick. A hallway leads to the main living space where a compact kitchen, dining area and living room flow seamlessly together.
“Sometimes, big spaces without dividing walls can be tricky when it comes to defining uses in, but we did it with furniture groupings instead of adding walls,” said Stephens.
Rather than an all-white canvas for the couple’s furnishings and art collection, walls are painted rich colors drawn from paint relics remaining on original concrete factory posts.
“That’s where I drew inspiration for the wall colors we used,” Stephens said, referring to the green, tangerine, blue and other hues found on accent walls in various spaces.
A pair of glass doors in the living room leads to what was intended as a second bedroom but is used by Lestelle and Stephens as a library and office.
“It’s a cozy place to work because you can close the doors and have complete privacy,” said Stephens. The desk faces a glass-fronted cabinet in the room holding shelves of clothing and hats. “It’s basically closet overflow; I admit I am a bit of a clotheshorse.”
A second hall (in tangerine) leads from the public living space to the master suite in the rear of the loft. As is the case with every wall in the condo, the hallway’s walls are lined with intriguing artwork, including cast glass objects by Mitchell Gaudet opposite a second bath. In the master suite, a black leather upholstered bed by Ralph Lauren is complemented by midnight navy walls and a charcoal artwork purchased from Cole Pratt Gallery.
Objects and furnishings have a distinctly Asian and contemporary feel. A set of silvered foo dogs and Chinese statuettes (from Hazlenut) make an appealing display in front of the windows. A black lacquer cabinet with coral pulls in the dining room serves as a display area as well as buffet.
Even a desk and leopard spotted chairs in the living room, designed by Steven Daniell, are artful.
“Over the years, John has been editing the furnishings so that there are now only about four pieces remaining of the pieces I owned before I met him,” said Lestelle. “The ones that we still have are all family pieces, like the original Stickley chair that was my grandfather’s, and he’s going to have a problem if he thinks I’ll part with them.”