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France Enchants

Antiques dealer Gay Wirth’s home reflects the best of the Old Country

Furnished with fine antiques and a rough-edged glass coffee table found in the Paris Serpette Flea Market, the comfortable living room features an early 18th-century Italian trumeau drop-leaf secretary in its original grotesque polychrome; a bust by George Dunbar rests on a pedestal next to the secretary; French rock crystal lamps flank the 18th-century Italian Directoire sofa.

Photographed by Cheryl Gerber

Ever wonder what the home of one of the finest, long-time antique dealers in New Orleans looks like? Welcome to the historic 1872 Garden District residence of Gay Wirth, owner of Wirthmore Antiques on Magazine Street. Though the house is an impressive two-story treasure, somewhat hidden from the street behind an iron fence abutted by thick shrubbery, once you walk inside the front door you’ll see that Wirth has the very best-of-the-best in the perfect setting offering the surprise of a light-filled garden room across the entire back of the house and a kitchen reminiscent of one you would find in a French country home.

It is easy for Wirth to recollect the first time she saw her home. “I was transported to France,” she says. “I knew it was the perfect house for me since I love all things French, and, like many historic New Orleans homes, the architecture is definitely French-inspired.”

Gay Wirth, owner of Wirthmore Antiques on Magazine Street.
The space was renovated to accommodate the pair of small 18th-century Provençal walnut fan windows purchased in France; fine antiques furnishings include an 18th-century Provençal painted buffet, 18th-century French walnut Louis XV corner cabinets, 18th-century painted Venetian dining room chairs, 18th-century walnut Provençal radassier (sofa) and an 18th-century French wood-and-iron chandelier.
Built in 1872, the two-story home in the Garden District features a broad balcony and lacy iron railings.

While Wirth has made improvements and changes to the home since she bought it more than 20 years ago, she knew it had the perfect French influence for her.
One of the major changes was adding 10 feet to the garden room, having tall French doors especially crafted for the space. “The garden room is one of my favorite spaces since it’s always cheerful and filled with light through the five pairs of curved French doors,” she says. Then she tells the story about how she brought back the distinct fan-shaped small windows at the end of the room from one of her buying trips to France: “I had to have them, although I didn’t know where they would be used. When we decided to remodel the garden room, I knew they were just right for the space.”

Wirth’s house is full of stories to tell about her acquisitions. “I have to find the spirit in something before it’s added to my home,” she says. While her eagle eye for antiques has served her well in the 30-plus years she has had a shop on Magazine Street, and many of the antiques in her home are museum-quality, there’s nothing off-putting about how she has fashioned the interior design of each room. The house has a comfortable, lived-in feeling that includes eclectic touches such as the modern glass table in the living room and the playful nude sculpture of a woman under another glass table in the garden room. Then there’s the nearby Pedro Friedeberg glass-topped table with a sculpture base of hands and feet. (Friedeberg is a Mexican surrealist whose work hangs in some of the finest museum collections around the world.)

“Everything in my home has a story to tell,” says Wirth, as she recalls how she found the rough-edged glass coffee table in the Paris Serpette Flea Market and just had to have it. “Its beauty made me stop in my tracks, and I instantly knew it would be perfect for my home.” However, she resisted the impulse and came back to New Orleans – where she couldn’t get it off her mind. “I called Paris and said, ‘Ship it to me; I must have it.’” Imagine Wirth’s surprise when she found out the table had originally come from Chicago.

One thing not missing from the house is comfort. “I enjoy the fact that my home is comfortable. You don’t need to sacrifice comfort when you have antiques,” she says.
“Actually, a beautiful room with fine antiques should always be comfortable.”

The 18th-century painted Italian bed is topped with a Venetian canopy.
The 18th-century French walnut wine table and walnut Louis XV caned side chairs add elegance to the dining room; a French crystal-and-bronze chandelier provides lighting, while the rug is 19th-century Oushak; a lithograph by James Steg, left, and an Elmore Morgan painting add interest to the room.
The kitchen was designed to look like one in a French country house; Daniel Ledocte, a local contractor, custom made the cabinet fronts and doors; the Lance gas range was made in Lacanche, in the Burgundy region of France; Wirth found the 18th-century limestone double sink in France; Daniel Ledocte, a local contractor whose motto is “Nothing is impossible,” installed it by creating a cement countertop he tinted to match the sink.
A 19th-century French limestone mantel adds interest to the garden room, which covers the entire back of the house; an 18th-century Mediterranean Louis XV buffet was converted to accommodate the TV; for a touch of whimsy, a glass-topped table with a base of hands and feet by Pedro Friedeberg joins the fine antiques in the room.

 

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