Attorney Anthony “Tony” Clesi’s residence in uptown New Orleans reveals a lifetime of collecting art. The handsome Victorian cottage on a quiet, tree-lined street strikes a balance between luxurious and relaxed with its rich, warm colors, sumptuous fabrics, and antique furnishings that serve as the perfect backdrop for a fascinating and diverse art collection. From 16th-century French paintings to Japanese prints, Chinese woodcarvings, and Russian icons, Clesi’s home reflects his decades of travels abroad.
He has also collected dozens of works by Louisiana artists including Ida Kohlmeyer, George Dunbar, Jean Seidenberg, Clementine Hunter, Carol Leake, Henry Casselli, Robert Rucker, and Allison Stewart.
When Clesi purchased the home in 1998, he was particularly enamored with the rear garden. He decided to transform the garden, with the help of Green Parrot Nursery and Landscaping, by creating a waterfall and adding tiles above it by New Orleans artist Matteo Neivert to create a dreamy effect.
During the day, light streams into the side hall from the garden, adding a luminous glow to a collection of Oriental art that includes a statue of Chinese goddess Kwan Yin atop a tall navy blue pedestal, and golden carvings that sparkle in the sun. The slate-colored walls render a defined elegance to the small mini-gallery inspired by the Orient. Clesi made numerous trips to Hong Kong over a period of nearly 40 years, collecting many treasures such as contemporary and antique woodcarvings along the way.
“When Tony called me about helping him with updating the house, he said he wanted to add a more modern, contemporary touch,” says Chet Pourciau. An interior designer and television personality, Pourciau specializes in mixing items that straddle both worlds of contemporary and traditional. “I worked with what he had to give a more clean, modern look with colors and textiles. He had these old wingback chairs, so I took into consideration Bergamo.”
Pourciau covered the chairs in a luxurious, cut-velvet Bergamo fabric from Italy that was designed with shades of blue to go along with the rich blues and golds of the living room. “I also added some chocolate browns to the space, which gave it more of an updated, modern look,” he says. Clesi has Russian icons on display in the living room in addition to dozens of small porcelain Halcyon Days boxes and eggs he has collected on trips abroad.
Active in the Republican Party for many years, Clesi’s study is filled with photographs and memorabilia, including invitations to presidential inaugurations; his den is filled with the works of Japanese printmaker Ando Hiroshige and a painting by Matteo Neivert, among other artists.
Pourciau’s creative design solution continued with the renovation of a downstairs bath and bedroom. “I placed green onyx marble throughout the entire bathroom and added a Cheryl Wagner basin to an old, traditional piece of furniture to combine modern and traditional elements,” he says. “In the master bedroom, I added some modern touches including a light, airy linen damask duvet and some modern lamps, but with traditional shades.”
A dramatic abstract painting titled Landscape, by Albanian artist Genti Korini, adds an international flourish to the collection in the bedroom. Clesi featured Korini’s works in an exhibition at his former Palma Gallery; the gallery on Howard Avenue closed. Some locals may recall Clesi’s generous fundraiser exhibition, A Blessed Event, which featured the works of top international and New Orleans artists to benefit the restoration of St. Vincent de Paul Church (a tragic fire had destroyed the interior of the historic church on Dauphine Street).
Clesi’s master bedroom is a gallery unto itself, filled with numerous Louisiana paintings and photographs. “He owned the art gallery on Howard Avenue prior to retiring,” Pourciau points out. “Since he had all these amazing paintings, I was able to pull a lot of contemporary art pieces together to modernize the bedroom.”
Throughout the home, Pourciau took something classic and brought forth its subtle, underlying drama with rich new colors and modern flourishes. He employed a collector’s perspective to evoke an epiphany from traditional to transitional while counterpoising the Western and Asian art. Perhaps the greatest strength in this interior redesign was Pourciau’s ability to cleverly integrate the old with a sense of the new in an understated, yet elegant manner to reflect the artistic sensibilities and lifestyle of the owner.