Adam Newman has a keen aesthetic sense, developed as an architecture student at Tulane the 1980s, then as a graphic designer. He might be expected to radically alter any house he owns.
But he has not touched his Bywater home, and he doesn’t intend to.
“This is all Mac,” Newman said, referring to the late Malcolm Heard, a revered architect, author and professor at the Tulane School of Architecture. “He renovated it in the 1980s after he and (wife) Alicia moved to the center hall house that faces Louisa.”
Heard practiced in the era of Postmodernism, an approach to architecture that questions “less-is-more” Modernism by using color, classical elements and a sense of humor to create a new design sensibility.
Heard worked with UCLA architect Charles Moore, plus New Orleanians Ron Filson and the late Allen Eskew, to create what is widely held up as the archetypal Postmodern project: The Piazza d’Italia. Under the aegis of Perez Architects, the team designed the colorful, almost gaudy, fountain, intended as a tribute to the contribution of Italian immigrants to the city.
The Piazza was completed in 1978, and three years later, Heard joined the faculty at the Tulane School of Architecture. In 1997, he wrote “The French Quarter Manual: An Architectural Guide to New Orleans’ Vieux Carre,” a seminal work defining and classifying building types in the French Quarter. Malcolm Heard died of cancer in 2001, at 57.
When he and Alicia Heard acquired the Royal Street double in 1982, it was partially to protect their investment in their Louisa Street house next door, but also to combine the two lots under a single owner, as they were in the early nineteenth century.
Growing a garden
“Early on, our home on Louisa shared the same piece of land and had the same owner,” Alicia Heard said. “But at some point, the land was subdivided and the lots had different owners for many years. We bought the Royal Street house to reconnect the two properties.”
The house on Royal was very long, said Alicia Heard, but the rear was in very poor condition. A sizable portion of the original house had to be demolished before it could be renovated.
“That opened up a whole world of possibilities for the garden. Now the two spaces read as one,” Alicia said.
Visitors enter the Royal Street house on the left side, where there’s a large living room/dining room separated from the kitchen by a door casing holding clear jalousie, or louvered, windows. It’s possible to look from the front door straight through the house to the rear garden, thanks to a second set of jalousie windows that flank the back door of the house.
“The jalousies are a sort of Postmodern insider ‘joke,’” Newman said, “these 1960s-style elements that a lot of people think of as tacky used in a sophisticated and classical context.”
The transoms over the doors and the bathroom windows are also jalousies. They bring in light without impeding air circulation.
On the right side of the house, across the center wall of the building, are two almost identical spaces separated by large pocket doors. The front room serves as Newman‘s office, but was the bedroom of his son, Grayton, before the younger Newman left for college. The master bedroom occupies the rear right corner of the house, beyond the pocket doors.
Young dad meets IKEA
When Newman first moved into the Royal Street house, he was a newly divorced renter. It helped that the place was already renovated.
“I had to instantly furnish the house because I didn’t take anything out of our family home to preserve the environment for my son,” said Newman. “I relied a lot on IKEA, which is sort of embarrassing to admit. But it’s also good to know that it’s possible to instantly furnish a home with good looking stuff that isn’t too expensive.”
Newman personalized the decor by creating a gallery wall above the sofa and adding a Saarinen tulip table, a glass fronted metal cabinet on legs, vintage chrome and leather chairs, and a floor lamp made from an antique wooden surveyor’s tripod.
He created quirky vignettes throughout the house with objects he brought back from Texas when visiting his boyhood home, such a tiny toy truck from his childhood, a rocket ship and a green Gumby doll, now encased in a shadowbox in a bathroom.
The gallery wall serves as a stunning reminder of how art does not have to cost a lot to engage one’s imagination. There are several works by Newman’s mother, as well as a watercolor portrait of him by Ben Prisk, commissioned by a close friend for his 50th birthday. High on the wall, a work of folded paper, crafted by kids at Grayton’s nursery school, keeps company with photos of beloved friends and family members.’
‘Everything has meaning’
Grayton Newman’s charcoal portrait of Bismarck, one of the household’s three cats, stands out.
“I love this wall because everything on it has meaning to me,” said Newman.
The view of the rear garden from inside Newman’s house is stunning, but standing in it is transportive.
Banana palms mingle freely with Cashmere Bouquet (known formally as Clerodendrum bungei and commonly as Mexican hydrangea ), a pair of immense cypress tees, magnolia, Louisiana irises and a giant crinum that serves as a focal point.
String lights illuminate the clearing at the bottom of the home’s rear steps, where a table and chairs await. It feels like being in a somewhat tame jungle in the middle of the city.
A small parking area to the left of Newman’s house fits his Mini-Cooper perfectly. To its left stands garage that Newman has been slowly converting into a studio for his design business, Adam Newman Studio.
Playing with paint
Newman specializes in designing visual identities for his clients; he’s responsible for the branding of Aidan Gill, Tulane University’s stone pylons and signage on St. Charles Avenue and Reginelli’s Pizzeria’s distinctive colors and design, among others.
Now that it’s time to repaint the home’s interior, Newman is, predictably, taking cues from Mac Heard.
“I don’t plan to change any color, just to refresh the paint. Alicia has all of the color chips so it shouldn’t be hard,” Newman said.
“I love the fact that the front of the house is painted white but the sides are painted green and blue – that was Mac’s playful comment on how New Orleanians paint their houses. The most impressive thing about the renovation is that … it retains the levity of Postmodernism without bowing to its cliches.”
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