A mention of Bourbon Street may conjure up images of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and the uninhibited patrons they entertain. But elegant historic homes are also part of Bourbon Street's unique allure. This world-famous thoroughfare has a wealth of residential gems, gated courtyards and lush balconies hidden behind plaster walls.
Attorney Kyle Schonekas and his wife Patricia, a court reporter, own one such home. "My grandmother was born on Bourbon Street just a few blocks away and it was always my dream since I was a young kid to move down here," says Kyle, a native New Orleanian. Patricia, who moved to New Orleans from Los Angeles 30 years ago and was happily ensconced in Old Metairie, needed a bit more convincing. "Kyle had to really pull me to get me here," she says. "I had a list of requirements. I wanted off-street parking and security. But once I decided to move, I absolutely loved it."
The house the Schonekases chose, a two-story, masonry edifice with a lacy, wraparound balcony and private courtyard, is a classic example of 19th-century Creole architecture. Built in 1840 as a single-story house, then expanded in the 1880s, it had become a duplex by the time the couple purchased it two years ago. With the help of architect Rick Fifield, the couple gutted the interior, reconfigured the floor plan as a single family dwelling, and gave it light-filled spaces and a beautiful new kitchen and master bath. A third-floor attic became a roomy, custom closet — a particularly rare find in French Quarter abodes. "The last renovation was in the '70s," Kyle says. "There was shag carpet and paisley wallpaper, but as our architect said, 'the bones were good.' We wanted to open it up and update it."
The project took 11 months, and the result is a happy house imbued with the sights and sounds of New Orleans' past — horse-drawn carriages clip-clop through the streets, and the balcony overlooks the rooftops of historic houses and landmarks. A colorful art collection attests to the artistic renaissance of the city: Works by George Rodrigue, James Michalopoulos, David Harouni, Frank Relle, William Hemmerling and Tony Nozero hang throughout the house. The act of collecting art and chandeliers is a shared passion for the couple, who are self-described "art junkies." At home, they make the rounds to local galleries, art markets, festivals, restaurants, coffee shops, street vendors and antique stores. When traveling, they venture to galleries off the beaten path in search of talented young artists.
Furnishing the houses they renovate is also a joint endeavor. "Ninety-eight percent of the time, we do it together," says Patricia, who finds interior design ideas and inspiration on Pinterest, a popular social website that allows users to create collections of images. "We both have to agree," Kyle says. "We have mutual power of veto." Having completed three renovations prior to taking on the Bourbon Street address, the Schonekases had a good idea of the kind of things that complement their lifestyle. Creating a home that could comfortably accommodate family gatherings and visits (Kyle has five grown children) was as important as showcasing art. The house's 3,000 square feet include three bedrooms, two baths, a powder room, a kitchen, living room, dining room, office and foyer, with an additional 400 square feet of frequently used outdoor space on the balcony. Establishing a house that married their tastes was part of the process.
"Patricia has a great sense of color," Kyle says. "She's reined me in and kept me from being more eclectic. There's a cohesiveness that wouldn't be here but for her."
The "more art-driven" of the two, Kyle is drawn to figural paintings rendered in a heavily applied gesso and is attuned to the finer points of the architecture. It was his idea to lend a sense of age to the living/dining room by adding arches and wainscoting, decorative details often used in grand homes of the 19th century.
"Kyle has a lot of knowledge of the history of houses," Patricia says. "And with the art, I think he sees things that I don't until it's up. He's got a great eye. I like to let him be himself and he lets me do the same."
Though Patricia is drawn to strong colors, the couple found that a soft, neutral background palette, such as the living room's subtle khaki walls, is best suited to displaying their vivid art. The cheerful sea foam green of the kitchen's custom cabinets and glass tile backsplash is an exception. Yet that monochromatic combination still acts as a neutral foil for the Michalopoulos painting hanging above the breakfast table. "The painting aspect is the hard part," Patricia says. "It's about pulling colors together to make it all blend."
With such a lovely melange of furnishings and art at home, some couples might be tempted to stay in. But the Schonekases take full advantage of the French Quarter's pedestrian-friendly lifestyle and close-knit community.
"You meet more people here," Patricia says. "There are organizations to join and wonderful parties. A lot of French Quarter residents open their homes for different events. It's amazing what's behind those doors. There's so much history here."