NEW ORLEANS — The home of Tom and Gayle Benson in Audubon Place in New Orleans is everything you’d expect. Except stuffy.
A former interior designer, Gayle Benson tries to keep the couple’s home as traditional as she can while infusing it with a welcoming feeling.
“I approach each place differently, but before, I had to adhere to my client’s wishes,” says Gayle Benson. “This was my project. I did it my way.”
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The project, she admits, was huge.
And, at least for Tom Benson, it wasn’t love at first sight.
When the owner of the Saints and Pelicans first saw the house, he was less than impressed.
“He walked in and said, ‘I don’t like it,’ ” she says. “But visit by visit, he came around.”
On the other hand, Gayle Benson says she could visualize what the home could be.
When the couple moved in six years ago, the house was empty and painted all one color — white.
“It was a blank canvas,” she says. “I’d collected over the years. He had things, and we’ve bought things together.”
On this particular day, Tom Benson isn’t home.
“He’s having a moment with the Saints,” Gayle Benson says with a smile. “It’s hard for him when they don’t win. I have to remind him that the ball doesn’t always bounce on your side.”
The Benson home has a long lineage, from carpetbaggers and railroad tycoons to bankers and businessmen. The site was originally part of a plantation acquired by Pierre Foucher in 1793 and is registered as a historic property.
Constructed in 1902 for an international coffee dealer, the home’s classical façade came and went before finally returning. It currently sports a Saints crest.
They’re not the only saints in the house. A papal blessing hangs just inside the front doors.
“I was thrilled to get that,” Gayle Benson says. “Our faith is strong. Everything will be OK.”
The home is pure New Orleans: reminders of the past with hints of Paris and Versailles. Collections are common, Catholicism is a motif and individual expression pervades the rooms.
For a fresh start, the walls and 14-foot ceilings were painted a warm biscuit hue.
The physical presence of the house and the classical architecture are also brought down to earth by a palette of golds and mushrooms, personal mementos, a rare statuette of an expectant Virgin Mary and tapestries brought to Gayle Benson from Rome by Archbishop Gregory Aymond.