Who doesn’t want to peek inside some of New Orleans’ historic and glamorous homes?
That’s where the Preservation Resource Center comes to the home-curiosity rescue with its annual Holiday Home Tour, now the 45th, on Dec. 12 and 13.
But with the coronavirus pandemic this year, the PRC was in a bind: How to continue the tradition, but make it safe?
By forgoing the walking tour and creating a virtual tour of six homes located throughout New Orleans – Uptown, Mid-City, French Quarter and Bywater — available to view with purchase of a ticket.
“It was thrilling to get a sampling of styles and peek into the lives of homeowners,” said PRC Executive Director Danielle Del Sol in an email.
In the past, the homes were centered mainly in the Lower Garden District and Garden District, making it easy for tour-goers to navigate.
Half of the featured homes this year are in Uptown neighborhoods. The 2020 Holiday Home Tour includes the homes of Uptown residents James Carville and Mary Matalin, Penny and Todd Francis, and Bryan Batt and Tom Cianfichi.
The other homes are in the French Quarter (Deb Shriver’s Greek Revival townhome), Mid-City (Alexa Pulitzer and Seth Levine’s Eastlake Center Hall) and Bywater (Pres Kabacoff and Sallie Ann Glassman’s camelback style home, newly built to be environmentally sensitive).
“With a video tour, it is still a huge ‘ask’ for homeowners, but a different kind,” said Del Sol. “This year, we asked them to decorate their homes early for the holidays, then star in a video.” Accompanying the homeowners on the tours, filmed and produced by Calm Dog Productions, are Del Sol and Susan Langenhennig, PRC’s director of communications and marketing and Preservation in Print editor.
About the Uptown homes
Del Sol also said the virtual tours are another way to celebrate the homes and homeowners. Participants will be “learning about how they utilize spaces and recognizing their accomplishments, be it as artists, civic leaders or entrepreneurs.”
The interior of the raised Colonial Revival home of political operatives Carville and Matalin is a jewel box of antiques, soothing hues and delicate moldings accented by unique art, including the mural of Audubon Park in the dining room. It was as an anniversary gift from Carville to Matalin, who got married in New Orleans.
As the owner and principal designer of Eclectic Home, a design studio and showroom, Penny Francis transformed a Colonial Revival home, built in 1912, into a reflection of her sophisticated style. The residence was purchased and remodeled in 2013 by Francis and her husband, Octave “Todd” Francis III, founder and managing director of FFC Investment Advisors.
The home was originally constructed as a double, then converted in the 1970s to a single-family home by the previous owners. They also added a two-story addition in the 1980s, making the house L-shaped.
The main updates the Francises did inside the home were to the kitchen and bathrooms. They also built a rear porch with French doors from the living room and kitchen and added a pool.
“Cozy and collected, the interior of our home has classic and modern elements juxtaposed into a cohesive design that is truly a reflection of who we are,” said Penny Francis in an email. “It was important that the outdoors become an extension of the interior, and we accomplished that creating spaces to enjoy and relax while being surrounded by the landscape.”
Comfortable and chic home furnishings and an art collection that ranges from work by artist Blake Boyd to family photos fill the West-Indies style cottage of Bryan Batt and Tom Cianfichi. Once a corner store and sweet shop, the residence was renovated in the late 1980s by designer and architect Tom Collum.
“The design, the timeless finishes, the attention to every detail, the efficient use of space — everything about it remains perfection,” said Batt in a 2018 article in Preservation in Print.
Batt, an actor known for his work on “Mad Men” and more recently the movie “Easy Does It,” is also an author, including “Big Easy Style” about homes in New Orleans. Batt and Cianfichi, a theater director, are co-owners with Katy Danos of Hazelnut, a home furnishings and gift shop.
Ticket sales crucial
The Holiday Home Tour is a benefit for PRC, a nonprofit founded in 1974 to preserve New Orleans architecture and neighborhoods by providing resources, education and advocacy. Among its programs are the Revival Grants, which help low-income homeowners make important repairs to their homes.
Like many other nonprofits and businesses, it has been hit financially due to the coronavirus pandemic. “PRC has suffered financially this year from the loss of event revenue,” said Del Sol, “and it has been hard to look at a budget that suddenly has huge holes. I know PRC is not alone in that, but it’s still hard. We’re hoping this can help.”
Del Sol added, “It won’t solve all of the financial woes we have incurred due to the pandemic, but it will help.”
The 2020 Holiday Home Tour is a continuation of virtual programming that the PRC has been doing since the coronavirus pandemic started.
“A true silver lining for the PRC in this difficult year has been the ability to share what have to offer with the world through new virtual programming,” said Del Sol.
The PRC’s spring and summer programming, including classes and building tours, had viewers from more than 500 zip codes and 13 countries, added Del Sol.
“And already for the Holiday Home Tour, we have sold hundreds of tickets, and only 54 percent of purchasers are from Louisiana. We’ve had people from Canada and France purchase tickets for this year’s tour.”
The response has already been positive, Del Sol said. “So while we look forward to gathering again in person in coming years,” she said, “there will always be a virtual component so we can celebrate with people around the world who want that ‘New Orleans in the holiday’ feel.”
If you go …
The PRC Holiday Home Tour runs Dec. 12 and 13 only. Ticket holders will receive a link via email to view the Holiday Home Tour Video Series.
Tickets are available here at PRCNO.org. Early bird tickets purchased before midnight on Friday (Nov. 27) are $35; tickets purchased after Nov. 27 are $40.
The 2020 tour, presented by McEnery Residential, is co-chaired by Courtney Lane and Jenny Longwell.
The virtual Holiday Home Patron Party presented by Kathryn and Gordon McLeod on Dec. 11. The ticket price ($250 to $1,000) includes a three-course dinner and wine from Brennan’s (must be ordered by Nov. 30), a virtual Q-and-A with a few of the homeowners and a special swag bag, as well as a listing as a contributor in the PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine.