In 1996, then first lady Alice Foster lead the charge to give the rundown Governor's Mansion a face-lift.
When she and Gov. Mike Foster moved into the mansion, which was built in 1963, many of the furnishings were threadbare. There were no curtains at the windows, and little in the way of china, crystal or silverware.
Alice Foster, through the privately funded Louisiana Governor's Mansion Foundation, made it right. Now, some 20 years later, another first lady is making it right again.
“The foundation had basically been dissolved by the time we got here,” said Donna Edwards, wife of Gov. John Bel Edwards. “Nothing had been done since Alice, so I wanted to resurrect the foundation.”
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The foundation actually owns the furnishings, which are on loan to the mansion. A state commission created in 1998 oversees the stately structure as a public trust.
The first improvements were made in the mansion's public rooms — the parlor, dining room, foyer and the rotunda that houses the curved stairway.
New rugs, inspired by those in Air Force One, were installed in the parlor and dining room, centered by a 23-foot-long custom dining room table.
“Glen Armond, of Lafayette, made it during the Foster administration and donated it to the foundation,” said Edwards. “It seats 24 but can be broken into six separate dining tables to seat 32."
Armond recently crafted the accompanying silver chest and chairs, which feature the state seal on each end of the chair backs.
In the parlor, two antique settees and two chairs were reupholstered.
“The fabric used for the chairs is a reproduction of a papal robe designed by Michelangelo that is on display at the Vatican,” said Edwards.
Auseklis Ozols, the artist who painted the mural in the foyer in 2000 during the Foster administration, has updated this depiction of Louisiana history to include references to the governor's military service and the first lady's career as a music teacher. Other additions include hurricane flags, the flood of 2016 and the national headline-grabbing police shootings that same year.
In the rotunda, a new Baccarat crystal chandelier purchased by the foundation hangs from the second floor. It features crystal bells, a nod to the governor’s name, and shines light on the portraits of the governors who have called the mansion home since its first inhabitant, Gov. Jimmie Davis.
Almost all of the art hanging throughout the mansion is on loan from the Roger Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans.
With the first floor spruced up, Edwards and foundation Executive Director Sandy McClelland brought together interior designers from across the state last spring to tackle the mansion’s second- and third-floor living spaces. Heidi Meibaum with the Louisiana Coalition for Interior Designers and Mary Mowad Guitreau, of Holly & Smith Architects, coordinated the project.
“We shuffled furniture from one room to another, reupholstered existing chairs, some of which were found in a storage area,” said Edwards.
“It amazes me how seamlessly the rooms flow together, considering you had so many different designers working on the projects,” added Edwards, who gave each room its own name. “They didn’t collaborate but it all just works together so well.”
Located on the second floor, the former bedroom of Gov. Davis has been dubbed the “Sunshine Room” in recognition of his hit song “You Are My Sunshine.” It's now the bedroom of the governor's daughter, Sarah Ellen. Lafayette designers Justine Hebert, of J Design, and Brian Powell with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, reused and refinished furniture that was already in the room, and added a custom desk made of cypress donated by Live Edge Woodworks.
The “Fleur de Lis Room” guest room doubles as the bedroom of the governor's daughter and her husband, Jonathan and Samantha Bel Edwards Ricau. The existing four-poster bed, writing desk and chaise lounge were given a fresh look by designers Missy Dubroc, of Studio Design in Shreveport; Marion Johnson, of Natchitoches; and Shelby Taylor, of Sutton Beebe Babin in Shreveport.
Ty Larkins, of Baton Rouge, re-envisioned the “Magnolia Room” using existing furniture and adding his creative touch with fabrics for the bed and window treatments. Aside from a framed painting of a magnolia over the bed, it is also home to one of several chairs sprinkled throughout the mansion that feature a needlepoint magnolia.
“They were done by Elaine Edwards (former wife of Gov. Edwin Edwards) and members of her needlepoint group," said the first lady. "They were originally on the chairs’ seats, but we moved them to the backs to protect them from so much wear and tear.”
The first couple's master suite also is on the second floor.
“We swapped the sitting room and bedroom,” said Edwards. “It just made more sense and flowed so much better … we added a balcony that overlooks the rose garden. It is such a tranquil space and has a beautiful view.”
The sitting room was the project of New Orleans’ designers Chad Graci, of Graci Designs; Susan Taylor Wadick, of Susan Taylor Interiors; and Marilyn Stolz Young.
A refurbished teester canopy bed is the showpiece of the room, which features touches reflecting the first couple's strong Catholic faith. New Orleans area designers Michelle Verdigets, of MVM Interiors; Adrian Naquin, of Adrian J. Naquin Interior Designs; and Stacey Serro bathed the room in the first lady’s preferred palate of soft blues, greens and ivory.
The third floor has two guest bedrooms — “La Petite” and “Pelican" — each of which features built-in shelving crafted by inmates in Louisiana State Penitentiary's carpentry program.
“I wasn’t really sure how they would come out, but they were beyond anything we imagined,” said Baton Rouge designer Amanda Cason, who worked on the “La Petite Room” with Lisa Parisola, of the Brighton Group in Berwick.
Larkins also tackled the “Pelican Room,” where a framed print of a brown pelican, donated by Randy Haynie, hangs.
Guitreau and designers Judith André Verges, of JB Designs in Abita Springs, and Elizabeth Walther, of Design Studio in Covington, were the creative minds behind the casual family room known as the “Jazz Room.”
That name comes from a lamp made from Pete Fountain’s white clarinet, which was discovered in the room, once used for storage. It’s here that the Edwards family gathers to watch sporting events, play Scrabble and other board games.