Rosemary James lavishes her 1910 home on art and antiques | Louisiana News
By DAWN RUTH WILSON, The New Orleans Advocate
NEW ORLEANS, La. (AP) – The Uptown home of designer and local writer Rosemary James is as close as a modern human would likely get to Mount Olympus, the mythological home of the gods of antiquity.
The newly renovated Queen Anne style home near Audubon Park features images of many Greek and Roman gods found in Renaissance and Baroque artworks. Diana, the huntress and goddess of the moon, is the tutelary deity of the house, James said, but it’s Cupid’s mischievous winged siblings who steal the show. They stand by the pool and inhabit almost every room of the lavishly decorated, 4,000 square meter house.
There are so many images of cherubs — the Italian word for the winged male infants that James adores — that her late husband, Joseph DeSalvo, nicknamed their home Putti Palace.
Guests even dine with a view of putti. When a china set adorned with “raging” putti showed up at auction, James jumped into action.
“It was like butter on bread,” she recalls. “Joe and I liked crystal and china.”
She did the same for the living room’s precious artwork: an 18th-century painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds of Cupid.
“I think I stole it,” James said. “I don’t think everyone is as obsessed with putting as I am.”
The manipulative expression of Reynolds’ Cupid says it all. As the trickster relative of the love goddess Aphrodite’s sweet son, his arrows change lives, not necessarily in some sort of happy ending.
The two-storey house was built in 1910. When James and DeSalvo bought it in October 2019, it needed a major makeover to suit their needs and aesthetic. When completed, it offered enough space for James’ large collection of European antiques and artifacts.
A bust of Apollo is enthroned above the staircase in the central hall. A bronze statue of Fortuna, goddess of fortune, perches on her wheel above an eclectic shower in the main bathroom. Most of the rooms have to be traversed under specially made crossbeams depicting Diana with her crescent moon. Paintings of Venice’s romantic canals cover a library wall. Images of swans adorn furniture, sculpted lions guard doors, and gold-leaf mirrors glitter in every room.
Neoclassical daybeds, chairs, tables, and desks representing three centuries of master craftsmanship provide space for lounging or holding smaller works of art. Crystal chandeliers, some 200 years old, dazzle overhead. Bronze sconces provide additional light, and velvety fabrics frame the windows.
“I’ve been like a bird my whole life,” James said. “I didn’t have any kids, so every time I went out, I would bring a string back to my nest.”
James loves antiques and classicism, but the focus is equally on the practical. Practicality drove the purchase of this particular home as the couple began searching for a replacement for the French Quarter building they had called home for 30 years.
Founding owners of Faulkner House Books on Pirates Alley and founders of the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society and its word and music festival, James and DeSalvo decided to sell the business and move on when a serious spinal condition made life in a four-story building difficult for DeSalvo . He needed an elevator to reach her apartment above the bookstore, and there wasn’t a practical way to install one, James said.
When looking for an apartment, they looked for space to install an elevator. This one gave it. James didn’t like the Dutch Revival element of the front facade, but she liked the avenue of tea olive trees and the extra tall wrought iron fence at the front. DeSalvo selected this home from six properties suggested by James.
The house must have exuded a literary vibe for DeSalvo, much like the building in the French Quarter, because William Faulkner himself lived and wrote there. During the renovation, James learned that the family of Tom Lowenburg, co-owner of Octavia Books, another local independent bookstore, had lived there for 40 years.
“It was kind of fortunate,” she said, “that two bookstore owners lived in the same house.”
The refurbishment included rewiring, refreshes, repaints inside and out, the addition of two upstairs bathrooms and Victorian detailing such as corbels, ornate door panels and diamond glazed windows. The extensive installation of classic marble in all bathrooms and the kitchen took up much of the construction schedule due to the high demands placed on the installer.
“I didn’t want to lose my place in the marble line,” she said.
Contemporary mantels replaced large department store replicas. A decorative artist created the Diana bars, stenciled the library ceiling, and applied a shagreen pattern to the library walls. He also copied an expensive Venetian painting onto a screen to hide the library’s television. James himself designed custom furniture, bookshelves, sliding doors and a fountain wall for chubby cherubs.
She chose Benjamin Moore’s Winds Breath to paint the exterior. The French blue shutters are Lulworth Blue No. 89, Farrow & Ball. Her favorite color is Chantilly Lace from the Moore line, a “really good all-purpose white,” she said. Kitchen cabinets and some interior walls were given variations of green, a compromise color for the couple.
James also returned the first floor to its original design.
The walls separating the central hall foyer from the living area and the dining area from the kitchen had been removed at some point in the home’s 110-year life. She replaced the wall surface.
Now the foyer is once again clearly a landing, directing the occupant from the front door in one of three directions: left to the common areas of living, dining and meal preparation; Up a flight of stairs to the right to the second floor bedrooms or straight ahead to a hallway separating the dining room and kitchen from a library and full bath on the right side of the home.
“This whole trend of everything being open is a stupid trend,” James said. “Everyone can see the chaos in the kitchen, and heating and cooling is costly.”
Upstairs, the six bedrooms became three: a master bedroom and two for guests. Another room became a dressing room, which could also serve as an overflow bedroom if required. One of the bedrooms became a master bath with a cabana-style shower. She added a back exit and a utility closet.
“In every house I’ve had, there’s been a question of where to put the mop,” James said.
She lived in the home with her husband until DeSalvo’s death in December 2020, seven months after moving in.
Since his death, James has continued to improve the property. She converted a former garage into a rentable guest house and spends hours a day tending the extensive gardens surrounding the pool and driveway.
“It’s like farming there,” she said.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.