by Lisa Fremont, photos by Thomas B Growden
Every year about this time, in the early part of the evening the soulful tunes of local New Orleans bands drift up above the oak trees in Lafayette Square and waft through the open balcony doors of Geneva and David Kerstein’s stylish condo on St. Charles Avenue, where they have created the perfect urban retreat in the heart of downtown New Orleans. “David and I just love being downtown. Everything we could ever want is within walking distance of our home,” says Geneva.
The Kersteins completely renovated their expansive condo two years ago. When they purchased it, the space had a very formal feel; the walls were painted dark colors, the floors were stained in dark ebony tone and the windows were covered in heavy corniced draperies. “The windows are the real beauty of the condo. Every room has huge floor-to-ceiling windows that drink in the cityscape of New Orleans,” says Geneva. “I wanted our space to be bright and airy.” So down came the heavy drapes, the floors were lightened to a pale ash and the entire space was washed in a creamy white paint.
Geneva knew she wanted a clean, streamlined aesthetic to showcase the couple’s extensive art collection. She enlisted the help of longtime friend and designer Trudy Hurley. The duo quickly got to work, deciding on clean lines, snowy whites and wisps of soft green and blues.
“Geneva is always a dream to work with,” says Hurley. “‘She’s very decisive and assured. She poured herself into this project, and it reflects her refinement as well as her sense of fun.”
The Kersteins also have a home in the mountains of Vail, Colorado. “The house in Vail embodies the architecture of a mountain retreat, but we brought a lot of our love of New Orleans and French provincial style to that house.” Having a second residence gave Geneva and David the opportunity to create a completely different environment. While the house in Vail is a charming destination for family gatherings, the condo in New Orleans boasts a cleaner aesthetic with more serene elements to spotlight the couple’s love of art.
As president of the Hellis Foundation, David has been responsible for hundreds of significant public art installations around the New Orleans area. His efforts have afforded the city vastly popular exhibits such as the Enrique Alferez Sculpture Garden in City Park and the Poydras Corridor Sculpture Exhibition. For the Kersteins, it is a pleasure to live downtown amongst some of them.
The biggest transformation in the condo was in the kitchen, which was originally shrouded in a large-scale floral wallpaper, deep-cherry wood cabinetry and dark granite countertops. The Kersteins’ first order of business was to brighten the entire space by painting the cabinetry, updating the hardware and using gorgeous statuary marble for the countertops and backsplashes from Stafford Tile & Stone. Hurley removed the upper cabinets on one wall and showcased the entire wall in tile. The feature lends a contemporary vibe to the space and dimensionally opens the area to make it appear larger.
The Kersteins widened the opening between the living and dining spaces, creating a seamless flow. The living room features a pair of handsome white linen sofas flanking the marble fireplace. Over the mantle hangs a painting by Betsy Eby. Above a striking bronze sculpture by David Borgerding rests a work by James Kennedy. A wonderfully impressive and much larger Borgerding bronze stands alone on the wall that divides the living room and dining room. Playfully suspended over the doorway between the two rooms is an ethereal and almost mystical blue fabric boat by artist Raine Bedsole. Delicate holes allow light to shimmer though the fabric and create a luminous constellation in the room.
Commanding attention in the bright and inviting dining room is a vivid diptych by Allison Stewart. The stunning antique Murano glass chandelier is reflected above the custom black lacquer dining table. Surrounded by the Kersteins’ collection of original Italian red chalk drawings, a beautifully carved antique console table from Balzac Antiques anchors one end of the room. A stunning glass sculpture by Gene Koss is reflected in a fabulous 18th century Louis XVI painted trumeau, which has a finely carved cartouche of laurel branches.
The Kersteins’ guest bedroom is awash in natural light, featuring billows of dreamy vanilla silk taffeta at the windows. Cream and blue linens adorn the queen bed. Above the upholstered headboard hangs a painting by Jamie Meeks.
The most fabulous view in the condo is from the corner den. Two expansive windows making up the corner walls gaze over the city’s horizon. The only room in the condo not painted white, the tones are warm and cozy hues of taupe and green. “The rest of the condo provides a tranquil backdrop for the art we’ve collected, but we wanted this one corner den to be a cozy, inviting retreat where we can withdraw at the end of the day and relax.” The room features a comfortable chair for David that is covered in a Holly Hunt paisley velvet. The sofa boasts a moss-green, cloud-soft chenille, and the drapes are Rose Tarlow. Adding a contemporary spark to the space is a Lucite cocktail table from Alan Knight.
Urban living suits Geneva and David Kerstein to a T. “Downtown is so busy and alive with restaurants and museums. And then in a minute’s elevator ride, we’re eight stories above all the hustle and bustle, gazing at the sun setting over the French Quarter.”