Marcus Fraser has no bedroom in his 1894 sidehall house in the Bywater.
When he’s ready to sleep, he unfurls a bedroll on the floor of the one-time dining room and drifts off.
“It isn’t that there are no rooms in the house that could be bedrooms,” he said. “It’s just that those rooms are full of stuff.”
It’s true. As the proprietor for 30-plus years of Le Garage on Decatur Street in the French Quarter, Fraser has come across enough religious statues, cookie jars, marble busts, Buddha figures and antique mirrors to last several lifetimes.
So what if the amassed treasures — on display tomorrow from noon to 4 p.m. during the Bywater Home Tour — have crowded him out of a proper bedroom?
Considering Fraser’s wildly unconventional approach to space planning and home decor, it’s a surprise to learn that his beginnings were rather traditional.
“I was born in New Orleans and grew up in Lakeview and some other neighborhoods,” he said. “I went to Kennedy for high school, then to UNO for college where I majored in art history and studio art, paintings mostly.”
But once he graduated from art school in 1978, Fraser threw the rule book out the window and began shaping a lifestyle that would lead to hosting the first Decadence Ball in 1979 and, more recently, the Fat Tuesday gathering of the Society of Saint Anne.
“A friend asked me to manage a vintage clothes and antique shop she had on Decatur, and I did that for about five years. I really liked it … so when the space down the block came up for lease, I decided to go out on my own and opened Le Garage.
“My friends were always saying, ‘Marcus, you have the eye, you have the eye,’ so I put it to use.”
Since then, Fraser has met people from all over the world at Le Garage, a quirky mix of vintage clothes, fine art and military surplus from Europe and Russia.
It was inevitable that at some point Fraser would need a house for the items he couldn’t part with. His good friend, Bywater real estate goddess Robyn Halvorsen, worked with him until he found the right place: an Eastlake sidehall with a wraparound porch, 12-foot ceilings, pocket doors, mantels and two distinctive bays, one front and one side. It didn’t hurt that the lot was more than 250 feet deep and included a rear cottage.
“The house was on the market, but it seemed like the owners didn’t want to sell it until it was about to go up for auction. They wanted $80,000, so I offered $60,000 and they rejected that.
“I went back to them at $50,000, and every time they asked for more, I offered less,” he said. “I ended up getting it for $26,000 and didn’t find out until the act of sale that all the shutters and doors were in storage and could be returned to the house.”
Cabbies stayed away
The low price wasn’t quite as insane as it sounds, Fraser said, considering the state of decline of the Bywater neighborhood in 1987.
“It was largely abandoned,” he said. “Cab drivers wouldn’t even drive me here. They’d drop me off at the Press Street railroad tracks and I’d have to walk the rest of the way home.”
Today, the home is artfully furnished with items that Fraser couldn’t help but love, discovered perhaps on a buying trip or at thrift stores. A statue of St. Anthony of Padua was discovered thrown out on the street.
Separated by working pocket doors, the double parlors off the home’s entry hall hold items like a holy water basin from a convent, a chandelier from Villa Meilleur in Tremé, a carved marble bust of Paris from an antique store closeout, a petite Newcomb Pottery vase from an estate sale and worn oriental rugs.
‘Elegance and Decadence’
Beyond the parlors is a tiled bath with a clawfoot tub, a serviceable kitchen outfitted with a mid-20th century dinette table and the would-be bedrooms, used for storage.
It’s unclear when, if ever, the walls and ceilings were last painted, but the benign neglect of painted surfaces accrues to the home’s singular texture. That quality earned it the cover of “New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence,” the classic 2003 book by Richard Sexton and Randolph Delehanty.
Floors are a different matter. After Carnival this year, Fraser applied several coats of vivid magenta to the decking of the side gallery at the rear of the house.
“When the sun hits it, it reflects up and gives everything an eerie glow,” he said.
And the floor of the semi-hexagonal bay room where Fraser spends much of his time has been rendered a glossy blue. It’s the brightest room in the house, lit by the sun shepherded in from several directions by its bay windows.
Filmmaker is a fan
In about 1998, director John Waters became friends with Fraser and stayed at his home on a visit to New Orleans.
Intoxicated by the mix of worn surfaces, religious objects and art intertwined with Fraser’s personality, Waters proclaimed the Clouet Street home “the most beautiful house in New Orleans.”
“It is to me, anyway,” Fraser said. “I feel blessed to live in this house and in this city. I just love New Orleans.”
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @rstephaniebruno