It was a Sunday morning in the spring when Jamie Alexander-Willis and her betrothed, Tom Willis, were viewing a real estate program on television and discovered the house of their dreams. “We were watching Channel 6. The house was featured on the program,” says Jamie of the rambling, Edwardian-style home she purchased on Esplanade Avenue near City Park in New Orleans.
Built in 1899 by a German family, the stately residence was bequeathed by the heirs to a local catholic charity, the League of St. Jude, in the 1970s. “It had five original fireplaces, a big front porch with Tuscan columns, an upstairs balcony, a back porch, a greenhouse behind the kitchen, and the original carriage house,” Jamie says. The large, beautifully manicured yard surrounding the property is appointed with five Italian cypress trees edged with rosemary shrubs, and a graceful 100-year-old Japanese yew tree encircled by an antique brick terrace and an herb garden.
“We went over that same day to see the house,” Jamie remarks. “I parked the car and the elderly lady who was the caretaker happened to be there, and she couldn’t get the key into the door. Tony jumped out of the car and helped her with the key, so she let us take a quick five-minute tour. We put in an offer right away. We got married in April, we put our cottage on the market, sold it in June, and bought the house on Esplanade,” she says.
Jamie’s former residence was an old Creole cottage in the French Quarter. “I was engaged at the time and it was going to be too small for us,” she explains. “After living in that tiny French Quarter cottage we found the new home gracious and spacious and we liked the columns on the front porch, as well as the private parking with an electronic gate in the back.”
A former antique dealer who currently sells antique garden ornaments, Jamie spent many years living in Europe and learning about antiques. She studied International Relations at the American University in Paris, where she met her first husband. She also lived in Scotland and in Italy, and worked as an au pair for Jacques Cousteau’s nephew and his wife. “I taught their teenage girls cooking classes while living in Florence,” she reveals. “I fell in love with old architecture, antiques, and auctions while living in Europe. During the three years I was in Scotland I was at auctions every week, and I loved seeing the old castles and gardens.”
Filled with Jamie’s collection of French, English, Spanish, Scottish, and Portuguese antiques, the historic residence is located on a large corner lot on tree-lined Esplanade Avenue. “Unlike the French Quarter, there are no traffic problems, and we really enjoy living next to CC’s coffee shop,” she notes. “We had most of the furniture when we moved in, and some of the furniture also came from my home in Alabama. I bought quite a few things at Renaissance Interiors as well, including an 18th-century Spanish walnut paneled cabinet and many accessories. For the kitchen, I bought a Spanish-style paneled cabinet that we turned into a center island. We topped it off with limestone and painted it a creamy white,” she says.
The couple renovated the kitchen, which was originally divided into two rooms. “There was a small breakfast room and a kitchen with a big wall in between. We removed the wall and the closet and opened it up to become one large room, and we put in seven-inch Caribbean pine floors,” Jamie explains. “We found a wonderful old sugar mold around 18 to 20 feet long. We inverted it, flipped it around, and used it as a ceiling beam.”
Jamie’s copper collection of pots adorns the spacious kitchen. “I have collected copper everywhere I have gone,” she says. “Some pots are from Florence, some are from Scotland, and I also purchased some at a New Orleans Auction.” A double hammered copper sink from Athens, Greece, was installed. “It came from Paragon Antiques in Birmingham, Alabama. I just love copper!” Jamie exclaims. A 19th-century marble scale sits atop a blue painted cabinet below an antique mirror, adding an air of antiquity to the spacious kitchen.
“We bought the stainless steel hood above the Viking stove from Craig’s List,” she reveals. A large commercial stainless steel refrigerator was placed in the pantry, “so that it would be out of sight,” Jamie explains. “It is the kind that you put on ships; it is six feet wide.”
A lovely view of the backyard is afforded by a pair of glass doors leading to the back porch. “We sit out there so much. We have breakfast there, and we also enjoy drinks on the back porch. We love to entertain, and we sit outside with friends and family,” Jamie reflects. A 19th-century French cast stone sculpture of goddess Diana reigns in the backyard. “My husband and I did our own landscaping, and I have done all the interior design work myself.”
The family room was originally used as a dining room, and is appointed with the original paneled walls and a 17th-century French walnut cabinet purchased at an antique shop in Nice, France. “I wanted the room to have a rustic feel and it is a rustic piece of furniture,” she explains. “We painted it a dark green because we wanted the room to be fairly dark since we were planning to watch a lot of movies in that room,” she adds. “We already had the green velvet sofa, which was perfect for that room. I placed some 19th-century Louisiana birthing chairs from Renaissance near the sofa, and put a small table in front of the window that is an 18th-century rare Scottish spider leg table. They made them in the 1790s and many of them did not survive because the legs were so skinny.” The intriguing table with eight thin legs was purchased at an antique show in Scotland. A coke fireplace surrounded by original dark red tile warms the space.
A round Scottish convex mirror resides in the stairwell that ascends to the second story of the home, where a pair of tall stained glass windows reflects vivid colors as the light filters in. “The church had to put Plexi-glas on the outside of the windows because the children from across the street were throwing rocks,” Jamie asserts. The dramatic stained glass windows ascend all the way to the vaulted ceiling on the top floor near the attic.
In the master bedroom, Jamie selected a 19th-century French walnut canopy bed. “The lace curtains hanging from the bed crown are 19th-century French linen with crocheted panel inserts,” Jamie notes. “I wanted a romantic setting, but not too feminine.” A 19th-century French walnut armchair with a leather seat graces the room. “I felt like we needed a strong chair to balance the femininity of the bed.” A green wooden gilt chandelier gleaned from a Paris flea market illuminates the airy master bedroom.
The guest bedroom is enhanced by floor-to-ceiling windows that lead out onto a front balcony facing Esplanade. The stately room is appointed with a French armoire and a large Louis IV period mirror. “It dates from the 17th century,” Jamie says “I bought it in Paris from a dealer. It was made by the same man who built Versailles. It is a very important mirror,” she notes.
A world traveler who grew up in Florida and Alabama, Jamie favors her adopted home town. “There is nothing like New Orleans,” she says. “We love living here. Our neighborhood is great and we have wonderful neighbors. It is a warm and comfortable house. We love the old worn pine floors, the high ceilings, and the great lighting with 36 large windows. It is really charming. Everyone who visits us says they don’t want to leave, they always want to stay.”