Like all beloved houses, Aimée Farnet Siegel and Michael Siegel’s estate reveals the priorities of its owners. This couple’s Uptown home is centered around art, family, and fun.
It’s also a carefully curated one, at least since 2019, when they ditched the traditional beige tones for a wholly modern makeover.
Three decades of collecting art had filled the spacious home with so many treasures that it had become cluttered, Farnet Siegel said, so she collaborated with interior designer Katie Koch to banish the art-store look. The makeover brought the beauty of Arts and Crafts from 1905 into the 21st century.
Together, Farnet Siegel and Koch ditched the curtains, greeted the sunlight, and settled on Simply White, a crisp white paint color from Benjamin Moore. Bright white stretches from the front entrance to the back kitchen and up the stairs to the bedrooms and attic.
The walls, baseboards and ceilings are painted in the same color that reflects the sun, creating a visual flow and giving the house an art gallery personality with open arms.
Furniture and lighting fixtures lean toward mid-century modern, a current design trend, but the couple said they didn’t focus on any particular design.
“We don’t have any particular style,” Siegel said. “We buy what we like.”
“We like the mix,” added Farnet Siegel.
The love of art remains the dominant factor. The provocative work of the late local photographer and painter George Dureau lives near a Lego model of the Taj Mahal built by his son Samuel and a friend of his. A sculpture of the female form by local abstract artist George Dunbar sits atop a cabinet of bar paraphernalia. A pair of outstretched palms by Mexican surrealist Pedro Friedeberg are raised on a brown foot to create a tripod of generosity.
The works, mostly by local artists, occupy every flat surface: on the tables, in the stacked books, on the shelves, on the floor, and on the walls to the tops of the high ceilings.
Large abstract paintings, multimedia collages, photography, three-dimensional folk art, sculpture, clay sculptures of his adult children: art flows in all directions like a psychedelic stream of consciousness.
Family photos grouped in all-white frames run down the walls of the grand staircase from the second floor to the penthouse. Wall sconces and chandeliers are works of art.
A life-size furry sheep stands at the front door. Passers-by expect him to bleat at any moment. “Everyone thinks it’s real,” Farnet Siegel said. “It’s a guard sheep.”
The couple’s collection from the serious to the surreal is a given. Farnet Siegel is an abstract and paper artist whose work has appeared in galleries in Atlanta and New Orleans, including the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery on Julia Street.
Siegel, president of Corporate Realty, was president of both the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Center for Contemporary Art. His uncle owned an art gallery in Selma, Alabama, and his brother Jerry Siegel is a museum-collected documentary photographer.
The couple married in 1991, had two children, and soon began looking for a bigger house. In the mid-1990s, they looked at their current house but rejected it as too small.
Instead, they bought a larger house on Jefferson Avenue. And then someone else picked up the 2,000-square-foot cabin with the wraparound porch, unique double staircase, and dreamy side yard.
The new owners added a 2,500 square foot addition between the original structure and the carriage house. The expanded property now includes five bedrooms, five full baths, one half bath, and a modern kitchen attached to a living room.
By 2000, even the house on Jefferson Avenue began to feel crowded, so the couple returned to the charmer they had turned down. They wrote a letter to the owners.
After a few months, the owners offered it at a price Siegel was hesitant to pay.
“I asked, ‘Can we have it for less?’”
“No,” was the firm reply.
Unwilling to miss out on the opportunity a second time, Siegel, an accomplished negotiator, tried again. “Would you add two stools?”
That tactic worked. “I had to get something,” Siegel said jokingly.
Finally, the house was theirs, “baby yellow” interior paint and all.
A tan color replaced the yellow. Adding a pool, expanding the living room, and creating a wall of windows overlooking the green field were other early improvements.
The front of the house remains as it was in 1905. Columns, a wide porch and a thousand-year-old magnolia tree protect its inhabitants from the heat of the day.
Inside a pair of glass-paneled doors, the foyer and another hallway open into a living room, dining room, and cozy taupe room that the couple believe was once part of the kitchen. They call it the “Scotch Room” because it houses Siegel’s Scotch whiskey collection.
A large Dureau painting hangs above the bar.
Many art and history books occupy a built-in bookcase, but Farnet Siegle said the room is not a library. “We’re not here to read,” she said. We come to drink.
The combined kitchen and study area is where the couple spends most of their time. Casement windows in the kitchen and floor-to-ceiling windows in the study flood the space with light and connect the interior to the courtyard where her children once played badminton and ran.
A few years after the purchase, the beige wall color seemed too dark, so Farnet Siegel repainted in a lighter color. The attempt to brighten up the space failed, so three years ago she decided to seek expert advice and modernize everything.
“She has an artist’s eye,” said designer Koch, owner of the Katie Koch Home on Magazine Street. “But she had all this visual clutter. I helped her disperse it.”
Koch also suggested moving a huge abstract painting by local artist Martin Straka from the second floor to the dining room. Now the floor-to-ceiling painting provides ballast for one of Farnet Siegel’s great abstract pieces. It hangs over the original fireplace mantel in the room across from the dining room table.
Painted in shades of black, they anchor the room and provide a dramatic contrast to the white walls.
Hanging above the dining table is a chandelier with cone-shaped lights reminiscent of 1950s gooseneck desk lamps. The custom-made Italian chandelier replaced one with traditional shades, Koch said.
When the artist and designer discussed options for a different lamp, Koch said Farnet Siegel requested one he “can dance under.” The artist imagined a space that could function as a dance floor.
You may be ready to dance, but the chandelier’s most striking feature is its width. It spreads across the 200-square-foot ceiling like a long-legged spider in bullet-shaped boots.
Another eye-catching piece is a backless Ligne Roset sofa placed in front of the study windows. Farnet Siegel didn’t want to block the view of the green lawn with a bulky piece of furniture.
Her husband thought a backless couch in front of the TV was too far away, but she did it anyway.
“I’m not a guy without an opinion,” he said, “but I don’t always have a vote.”
The 2019 renovation also included replacing the den’s tile floor with light-colored wood, painting the orange pendants above the stove white, and replacing the dated brown granite countertops with black soapstone.
“The next thing we need,” said Farnet Siegel, “is more walls.”