Kevin Gillentine is a self-confessed imperfectionist.
“I like things to show a little wear,” he said. “It’s why I don’t worry about the stains and cracks in the marble countertops in my kitchen. I like being able to see that the marble has a past.”
The marble countertops, salvaged from a bank, are just one element that makes the kitchen in Gillentine’s Uptown home a standout.
There are others, including the red base cabinets, the old oak table that serves as an island and the lack of wall cabinets.
Add to the mix an extraordinary art collection, a marble-topped café table for dining, and a copper gas lantern that hangs above the doors to the pantry, and the kitchen reflects the singular personal preferences of its owner, the home’s chef.
Visitors will have the opportunity to see it for themselves on Saturday, May 2, when the Junior League stages its annual spring kitchen tour.
One of a dozen on display, Gillentine’s kitchen may be the only one where a 19th-century Italian cupboard is favored over a bank of wall cabinets.
“I like to see the walls and I need a lot of room for art, so upper cabinets aren’t for me,” Gillentine said. “I can hang my pots and pans on the wall on either side of the stove, where they’re always handy. If they look dinged up and crusty, it’s because I use them all the time.”
A much-collected artist and Magazine Street gallery owner, Gillentine made his way to New Orleans via New York about 20 years ago.
“My favorite things to cook are old fashioned Southern dishes, the kind of food my grandmother taught me to cook when I was little in Tupelo, Mississippi,” he said. “I make biscuits and cornbread from memory, but I consult with a lot of cookbooks for more complicated dishes. I like the challenge of cooking something really intricate, but once I figure out how to do it, I might never cook it again.”
Gillentine bought his Eastlake two-story on Prytania Street in 2006 and spent a year renovating it before moving in.
He shares it with his partner, Vincent Bergeal, and three Westies: Daisy, Lily and Miss Peabody. The renovation included enlarging the size of doorways from the parlor and dining room to the entry hall, demolishing a non-original addition and combining four small rooms at the rear of the first floor into the kitchen and pantry.
Gillentine’s eye for interior design can be seen in the selection of handsome furnishings that fill every room and include chandeliers, mirrors, a French day bed and an immense dining table. Works of art, ranging from Audubon prints to framed botanicals to oil paintings, cover the walls of the hall, parlor, dining room, informal living room and kitchen downstairs.
Unlike many homeowners, Gillentine and Bergeal actually use their dining room often enough, in fact, that it has grown tedious to take out leaves in the dining table and then put them back in to accommodate large parties.
“The proportions of the table in the room are better with some of the leaves out, but I leave them in because we entertain so much,” Gillentine said, “Vincent and I will have dinner parties for eight or more at least every other week.”
Smaller parties can dine at the round table in the kitchen or, smaller still, at the red cafe tables and chairs on the brick terrace accessed from via French doors from both the kitchen and the informal living room.
Lined with garden pots filled with verbena, salvia and other flowering plants, the terrace overlooks an L-shaped pool rimmed with Savannah hollies for privacy.
“I love to garden. It’s really personal for me,” Gillentine said. “I know what I like and I don’t care if it isn’t trendy.”
His gardening skills are evident the moment a visitor approaches the house. Thick clusters of small pink roses (Tausendschön, or “thousand beauties”) climb the low iron fence in front, obscuring it completely. On the left of the house, a parterre garden features pea gravel paths surrounding raised beds where a dozen antique and David Austin roses bloom. In the center, a giant pot holds an olive tree and rosemary. Gillentine consults with well-known rosarian Eddie Sanchez twice a year to make sure his roses stay in top form.
At the rear of the parterre garden, a gate leads to an enclosed garden where figs, citrus, artichokes, pole beans, tomatoes and a variety of herbs are thriving. All eventually land in Gillentine’s kitchen and some in a pot on his Viking range.
In the kitchen, crockery vessels atop a low cabinet near the stove hold wooden spoons and wire whisks; on the shelves below is Gillentine’s cookbook library. Vintage crates, tucked beneath the table-turned-kitchen island, hold additional kitchen accessories. An expansive pantry holds ingredients for Gillentine’s creations.
“I love my kitchen because it’s a place where I feel at home and where guests can feel comfortable,” he said. “It’s the kind of place where you can spill something and it doesn’t matter.”