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Furnishing old, New Orleans homes from scratch 

An Uptown home & a downtown guesthouse are renewed top to bottom.

Decorating a house usually means working with what you already have. But the respective owners of these two abodes — an Uptown home and a French Quarter guesthouse — furnished the spaces almost entirely from scratch. The result in both cases is a fresh interior that pays homage to the past but is planted squarely in the design ethos of today.

  Gina Goings' Uptown house had already been renovated when she purchased it in 2008, so the professional lobbyist and owner of The Goings Group began decorating.

  "At first, I tried to do everything on my own and it wasn't working so well," says Goings, whose busy work schedule includes a lot of time in Baton Rouge. "I needed to furnish an entire house."

  When friends recommended interior designer Penny Francis of Eclectic Home, a daunting project became fun. Francis' organized approach and self-professed furniture obsession combined with Goings' clear vision was a winning formula. Goings wanted a calm, sophisticated retreat that would be comfortable, relaxing and guest-friendly. She also wanted to incorporate purple, her favorite color and a reflection for her love of all things LSU, her alma mater. To keep the decorating process from becoming overwhelming and the rooms from feeling disjointed, Francis put together a cohesive presentation that included countertops, cabinet glazing, colors, fabrics, wallpapers and fixtures.

   "Penny helped me push the envelope and steered me toward things I wouldn't select on my own," says Goings, citing an antique reproduction bar in the dining room that is now one of her favorite pieces.

  For Francis, the process was equally satisfying. "Gina was an open book and that made it easy for me," says Francis, who owns a store stocked with furniture, accessories and art. "[Having a store] helps break down the problem of scale and texture and furniture and how to pull it all together," Francis says. "It helps to see what an 80-inch sofa looks like. It gives [the client] perspective."

  In addition to pieces from the store, Francis incorporated custom items that had sentimental value: a pine hutch in the dining area and a demilune table with an iron base. Francis delineated areas with furniture and lighting, an element of design she and Goings appreciate. She sought to soften the angles of the open, linear spaces by incorporating softer shapes; she brought in a mix of metallic accents to complement the subtle tones of soft gray, neutral orchid and pale turquoise; and she paid careful attention to creating an evolved-over-time look.

  "Since I was making a clean start, I didn't want it to look like it was done in two months," Goings says. "Penny did a great job with that. When you walk in, it doesn't look like everything is completely new."

   What emerged is a home filled with new interpretations of classics, a feminine palette that's refined rather than frilly and a mix of carefully edited details. "It's everything I hoped it would be," Francis says. "But the most rewarding thing is that people say, 'It's so Gina.' "

  When Beth Harris, owner of The Garden Gates, and Emily Castro, the visual display coordinator, took on the task of decorating a French Quarter guesthouse, they too started with a blank canvas. They also had a furniture and accessories store, and presented a complete vision of the proposed design to their client. The owner, a local businessman, raised his children in the 19th-century Victorian but now uses it as a guesthouse for friends and family.

  Like Goings, he wanted the house to be comfortable and suitable for entertaining. He also liked the airy, mostly white look for which The Garden Gates is known. According to Harris and Castro, the challenge was achieving that time-honored, cottage-inspired ambience in a house without full-time residents.

  "The owner wanted it to feel inviting and peaceful and we felt like we needed to accomplish that through details and accessories," says Castro, who has an architecture degree from Tulane University. "We wanted to make the home feel lived in."

  Harris and Castro meticulously measured every space, then selected furnishings and put together vision boards that included computerized floor plans and pictures of each piece. In the casual living room adjacent to the kitchen and informal dining area, inspiration came from the gray of an embroidered pillow Harris saw at market. She and Castro carried the color from the custom pillows to a roomy wingback chair and a variety of accessories, using it to highlight the backs of the bookshelves.

   "The taupey-gray added a little bit of warmth and a masculine feel," Harris says. Inspiration for the palette in the formal living area also came from an item Harris found at a market — a pair of painted antique reproduction panels depicting jugglers that remind Harris of Mardi Gras. Displayed on either side of the mantel, they are married with matching settees and painted chests, an acrylic waterfall coffee table and billowy drapes of robin's-egg blue silk.

  With a brief five-month timeline for decorating the four-bedroom house, Harris and Castro had to rush the custom pieces. Yet the combination of antique, reproduction and contemporary pieces, custom window treatments that include delicate sheers from Paris, and beds dressed with washable Bella Notte linens looks as if it was years in the making.

  "After working on it for months, the reward was finally seeing it all come together," Harris says. "And that the client loved it."


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