A Mixed Media Artist’s Colorful, “Thrown Together” New Orleans Home

published Apr 25, 2018

A Mixed Media Artist’s Colorful, “Thrown Together” New Orleans Home

published Apr 25, 2018
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Name: Ellen Macomber, Kevin Fannon, and their son Donald
Location: Central City — New Orleans, Louisiana
Size: 2,400 square feet
Years lived in: 3 years, owned

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Ellen Macomber had given up on the idea of becoming a homeowner in New Orleans. The mixed-media artist, born in New Orleans and raised in a small Cajun town in South Louisiana, was discouraged by a housing market that had skyrocketed after Hurricane Katrina. “I figured we’d just rent forever,” she said. Then one day in late 2014, while strolling through her neighborhood with her then-infant son, a for-sale-by-owner sign in front of a grand Victorian stopped her in her tracks. When she called to find out the asking price, she was shocked to learn it was well below what she expected. You can hear the excitement in her voice, over three years later, when she tells the story, “I assumed it would be half a million dollars!” she says. Once she got inside, she knew it was meant to be. “I was standing upstairs in the back bedroom looking out the window, and the backyard looked like a forest,” she says. “A feeling just came over me and I thought, ‘This is it!'”

Thankfully the home didn’t need much work. The previous owner had already updated the electrical and plumbing and replaced the badly damaged original floors with beautiful wood reclaimed from a roller skating rink. She and her husband Kevin hired a contractor to update the 1980s kitchen and overhaul the master bath, which now has a large shower, soaking tub, and walk-in closet. They also combined the kitchen and den into one space by knocking down a large laundry room sandwiched in between. Large windows make the now-open area feel like a giant sunroom. The family of three moved into the house a mere three months after Ellen found it that fateful day.

“The money I got from being an artist went straight to another artist. I’ve never been able to do that, so it’s nice that I finally could.”

Today, the house is bursting with color even though all of the walls are painted a crisp white. The home is filled with textiles from Panama, Guatemala, and Turkey, and artwork Ellen has collected over two decades. Her biggest and most recent acquisition is her favorite: A large graffiti-style portrait by New Orleans artist Brent Houzenga takes center stage in the dining room. She bought the painting with money she made from her recent solo exhibit Cartography, Culture, Couture at Martine Chaisson Gallery. “The money I got from being an artist went straight to another artist. I’ve never been able to do that, so it’s nice that I finally could,” she says.

“Everything is just thrown together. I just say yes to everything and decide later if it works.”

The house is furnished with a mix of family heirlooms, thrift store and estate sale finds, and hand-me-downs. “Everything is just thrown together. I just say yes to everything and decide later if it works,” she says with a shrug. She makes it sound easy, but it certainly helps that she has a degree in interior design and the eye to bring it all together. Combining disparate elements seems second-nature to this free-spirited artist, who’s current work includes one-of-a-kind caftans that combine sequins, costume jewelry, and appliques with imagery that varies widely in subject matter—from Napoleon with a tall ship on his head, Napoleon Dynamite, to palmettos and pink flamingos, Miami Vice.

On a recent spring morning, Kevin, a sales rep for New York Life, is preparing to head to the office and Ellen is getting ready to spend the day at her gallery. It’s crunch time for her next big artistic undertaking: a live art demonstration celebrating New Orleans’ Tricentennial at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. She is gathering and preparing materials to create a multi-media triptych mural of New Orleans throughout the centuries and finishing up new artwork she will be showcasing. The house is filled with sunlight and the sound of Donald’s laughter as the nearly-four-year is bouncing on furniture with a beach ball in hand one minute and hiding under the covers in his parents’ bed the next. The family home that Ellen and Kevin once thought was unattainable now feels perfect, as though it was always meant to be.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Modern Vintage

Inspiration: The house itself

Favorite Element: Architecturally, the staircase; Design-wise, the large painting by Brent Houzenga hanging in the dining room

Biggest Challenge: Curating the art

What Friends Say: WOW! I can’t believe this is your house.

Biggest Embarrassment: Trusting our contractor

Proudest DIY: Our baby!

Biggest Indulgence: The green couch

Best Advice: Get it done now; pay for it later.

Dream Sources: Morocco and Turkey for rugs, Guatemala for textiles, and Detroit for costume jewelry.


Sherwin-Williams – Pure White

Antique monastery bench — New Orleans Auction House
Rug — A hand-me-down from the family of Ellen’s cousin’s wife
Starburst Mirrors, Starburst Clock — Estate sales
Vintage Toy Pram — Belonged to Ellen’s grandmother when she was a little girl. The baby inside was made by Ellen’s aunt.

Zebra Chaise —Hand-me-down from Ellen’s friend Robin
Play Kitchen — Kidkraft White Vintage Kitchen
Sewing Table — Belonged to Ellen’s grandmother
Chandelier — Louise Chandelier from Arhaus (repainted by Ellen)
Vintage Doll House — Estate sale
Antique Settee — Purchased by Ellen’s parents in the French Quarter in the 70s and restored by Ellen’s grandfather
Framed Vintage Textiles — Ellen’s late father brought them back from Panama
Rug — Hand-me-down from Ellen’s cousin
Mirror — Hand-me-down from a friend
Footstools – Little Miss Muffin
Chair – Belonged to Ellen’s grandmother
Pillows – Turkey
Candelabras – Store on Magazine Street
Plush Campfire Pillows – Land of Nod
Ukulele – Guitar Center
Painted Portrait of Man – Estate Sale

Large Painting – Brent Houzenga
Table — Hand-me-down from a friend
Chandelier — Louise Chandelier from Arhaus (repainted by Ellen)
Mirror — Estate Sale
Ball and Claw Table – Ellen’s grandmother’s
Portrait of Child – James Michalopoulos
Vintage Portrait of Woman – Little Flea
Small Portrait of Man – Fabric appliqué and embroidery art by Chris Roberts-Antieau

Vintage 1940s Baker’s Table – Hand-me-down from a friend of Ellen’s mother
Portrait of Woman with Fan – Cuba
Mounted Antlers – from a buck Ellen’s grandfather killed in the Black Forest in Germany during WWII
Vintage Tea Cups and China – from Ellen’s grandmother, mother, and aunt and estate sales

Sectional Sofa – West Elm, Vintage Collection upholstered in high performance green velvet
Pillows – made from textiles Ellen’s late father brought back from Panama
Painting above Sofa – Live painting from Ellen and Kevin’s wedding by John Bukaty. Ellen drew the floor plan of their wedding venue, Latrobe’s, along with their wedding vows on the glass.
Alligator hide – Mark Staton Co.
Vintage hanging lamps – Estate sale
Rug – hand-me-down from Ellen’s aunt
Peach chairs – One belonged to Ellen’s grandmother; the other one is from an estate sale

Paintings of children – Bridge House Thrift Store

Rocking chair — Estate Sale
Oil painting — Cuba
Rug — Ellen bought while traveling in Turkey
Screen Repurposed as Headboard — World Market
Vanity — Purchased by Ellen’s parents in the French Quarter in the 70s and restored by Ellen’s grandfather

Closet Doors — French doors found at The Bank Antiques. Kevin swapped clear glass for colorful vintage leaded-glass panes
Bathtub – Vintage Tub & Bath

Rugs – Turkey
Antique Bench – The Bank Antiques
Painting on Glass – Made by Ellen

Vintage map of New Orleans – Kevin salvaged it from the trash
Comforter – Walmart
Quilt – A hand-me-down from the family of Ellen’s cousin’s wife
Hanging Tall Ships – Ellen Macomber Fine Arts & Textiles
Floor Lamp – Base is vintage; shade was made by Ellen using laminated maps.
Rocking Horse – Hand-me-down from Ellen’s high school friend
Handmade Felt Animals – handmade in Mexico, sold at Ellen Macomber Fine Arts & Textiles
Curtains – made by Ellen
Footstool – Estate Sale
Upholstered Bench – World Market
Bull Nightlight – UP/Unique Products on Magazine Street

Armoire — Purchased by Ellen’s parents in the French Quarter in the ’70s and restored by Ellen’s grandfather
Textile Art – Guatemala, Kevin made the frame
Metal Hanging Lamps – Gift from a friend
Quilt – Guatemala
Wooden Chairs – Ellen has had them for as long as she can remember, she painted them
Glider and Footstool – Kevin’s from when he was a child
Rug – World Market
Curtains – made by Ellen with a textile she designed

Thanks, Ellen, Kevin and Donald!

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