Degas House by Buddy Bougere
Author of the Guidebook "New Orleans In A Nutshell"
I was completely swept away by Degas House, from my first step into it to now, in retrospect. The French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas, whom I have always loved, lived in New Orleans for four and a half months in 1872-73. His mother and grandmother were from New Orleans and he was staying with family members. The house is huge and of old construction and you can stay there for the night now if you want. They have four rooms and two suites. They also do events, parties, meetings, and weddings. [Correction: Degas House has 7 rooms and 2 suites.]
I spent time in the courtyard before going in, a fine, large courtyard of stone with many tables and chairs. Then I open the front door and enter a time when wood was important: dark wood, hard wood. And to my left are a row of quality reprints of Degas paintings up on the wall in gorgeous old wood frames painted gold. I was surprised to see that these are Degas paintings I'd loved all my life.
You walk through and there is Degas everywhere, dozens of art works, both paintings and statues made of Degas figures. If you already like Degas, you already like this house, where every item is very tastefully and carefully chosen to bring out the period. All the furniture is antique, including in the room where you stay. But not big clunky antiques or showy antiques, but delightful pieces that bring out an old time when craftsmanship was king and things were built to look good, with a delicate, intricate appearance that, even so, endured for many decades.
This is not a house where you go to sleep because someone famous also slept there. It goes way beyond that. The atmosphere the place creates is unique and overpoweringly pleasurable. It's like going to another country or a past century, but you didn't even have to leave New Orleans.
The night before I stayed in a suburban hotel and it was more expensive than Degas House. For me the choice is between a forgettable room or an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. I am elated just thinking about what I saw.
The long hall totally erases where you just were and brings you into yesterday, but a yesterday that still exists and you can see for yourself. At its end there is a dining room table covered by a white table cloth with a big Degas figure-drawing over it. There is a full-service kitchen....The living room has comfortable old couches covered in cloth with patterns sewn into them, and a mantel piece with a large mirror above it.
To go up to my room I went up a wood stairway with a banister and then a narrower stairway of the kind old houses have. At the top of that was a second, small kitchen with a sink and icebox. Walking down the narrow hall to my room, I am very happy to see very wide floorboards right next to narrower floorboards. Brass beds built in the 1800's can actually require different lengths of slats at one end of the bed than the other. In the same way, these floorboards were cut by hand when there was no standardization of width. To see this lifted my spirits and made me smile. Opening my room's door I was amazed to see an artist's easel with paper on it with an old chair and colored pencils beside it. Of course, you could take your work, but many people had left theirs and I enjoyed their creations. On the wall, were more excellently reproduced Degas prints. I hesitated to ask if there was air conditioning, but there was an A/C-heating unit that I could adjust. The bed was a two-poster with a very luxurious, most comfortable mattress. The bathroom sink was marble and there were three big mirrors side by side with the same gold wood frames I had seen downstairs. The floors were multi-sided white tiles with an imaginative repetition of four spaced forest green tiles every now and then.
Degas House is an old house with an old story to tell. The atmosphere is unlike any other place, at once soothing and stimulating. It reaches you and knocks you over as soon as you walk in: "Come stay with me, forget all the fast pace, fast cars, fast living, move slower from the inside out, breathe relaxed, calm and happy surrounded by dozens of examples of the world's greatest art with a touch of history and mystery thrown in."
Degas painted in this house. You are invited to this 19th century potion, both at once a tranquilizer and an elixir, known as Degas House.
@Copyright Walter "Buddy" Bougere 2014
(reprinted with approval from Mr. Bougere)