Classically New Orleans: James Carville & Mary Matalin

James Carville and Mary Matalin need no introduction. The political power couple has amassed much notoriety as strategists and consultants for some of the country’s most memorable presidential campaigns – each on opposing sides of the aisle, that is (he’s a Democrat, she’s a Republican). James was the lead strategist during former President Bill Clinton’s campaign and has advised public office candidates in 23 nations. He served as a professor at Tulane University for nearly a decade before going on to teach at Louisiana State University. Mary served under President Ronald Reagan and was campaign director for President George H.W. Bush. She was an assistant to President George W. Bush and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney. Both acclaimed authors in their own right, Mary and James co-authored the New York Times bestseller, Love & War, in 2013.

Despite their polarities, James and Mary have managed to remain happily married for 28 years, are parents to two daughters and have spent over a decade calling New Orleans home.

New Orleans has always been more than just a special place for James and Mary. The Crescent City has provided the backdrop to some of the couple’s most memorable moments, including their 1993 wedding. While James and Mary may not always see eye-to-eye on many things, their love of New Orleans is something they’ve always wholeheartedly agreed on. While the city provided the stage, it was their beloved home on Palmer Avenue that became one of the lead characters in their family’s story.

“New Orleans has been my favorite city since I was a little girl, long before James Carville existed in my world. And I always wanted to live here. When I came to this part of the city for the first time and stood at that gate and looked up at that house, I said ‘this is it’.”

A House Becomes a Home

One can’t blame Mary for being smitten with the grand Colonial Revival home at first sight. Designed by architect Frank P. Gravely, the 114-year-old home features a wide front porch, symmetrical facade and double columns, which are adorned with decorative millwork and connected by segmental arches that create an undulating design – all elegant characteristics of Gravely’s Colonial Revival homes.

“On a family visit to New Orleans, I had gone house hunting alone. This gave me a distinct advantage. But there was no other way. James hates shopping for real estate almost as much as he hates snow. He opted instead for daytime drinking and lamenting with his sisters over his wife’s out-of-control materialism. I didn’t expect to find the right house immediately—who ever does? But after viewing five or six houses that were in the realm of possibility, and thanks to the astoundingly astute realtor queen, Carmen Duncan, I discovered the grand vintage New Orleans home of my dreams.”

Perhaps even more awe-inspiring than the house’s exterior is the stunning original Italian plaster work and millwork found inside, “which begins in the wide center hall with a swirling floral pattern in the frieze and double bands, depicting acanthus leaves and flowers along the ceiling,” as described in a Preservation in Print article written by architect Robert Cangelosi, Jr. in 1986.

There, nestled within the city’s historic Garden District, Mary and James transformed the stunning house into a home.

Styled by the Crescent City

Nicknamed the “Ragin’ Cajun,” James’s connection to Louisiana may seem obvious, and his ties to New Orleans certainly run deep, having been born and raised in nearby Carville and having spent nearly a decade teaching at Tulane University. He well understands the city’s inimitable uniqueness, having once said, “When you go to New Orleans, you’re not just going to a city. You’re going to an entire culture.”

And it’s that quintessential New Orleans style and eclecticism that is so intentionally reflected in their home. Paired with Mary’s impeccable eye for beauty, the result is a stunning treasure trove of interior design – and plentiful character.

“Some years later, when every corner of the house was done (or almost done, since you never say never when it comes to decor), I would frequently find James standing in the central hall, looking around with a smile on his face, talking to himself, his chest all puffed up. He couldn’t believe how beautifully it all turned out. When people visit, he tours them around, so proudly, admiring every single thing as if for the first time. The details, the colors, the dining room mural, the antique silver tea service, and vintage creamy white Oushak rug, every source of his former torment and tumult. Now he’s gloating and giddy with his own good fortune.”

A New Chapter Begins

Like every great story, however, James and Mary’s chapter in this residence has come to an end. After a 13-year Uptown love affair, and with their daughters now grown, the couple has decided to continue writing their New Orleans story elsewhere (though never too far away), recently selling their Palmer Avenue home and now currently in the process of selecting the next New Orleans home of their dreams.

Staying true to their commitment to New Orleans and with a desire to ensure the stories written in their beloved home carry on, Mary and James have entrusted NOAG to offer many pieces from their residence in our June 5-6 Estates Auction. Each one providing rich and colorful stories and transporting us to a particular time and place.

“The coup de grâce was last spring when President Clinton was visiting for a fundraiser. I left after exchanging pleasantries, but before I did, Bill Clinton grilled me in his customary way about an antique Italian corona, which James never understood. As it turns out, the former president has a vast knowledge of obscure furniture and fabulous taste to boot. Not that I would ever vote for him, but I will be eternally delighted with the quote from the fundraiser that made the Times Pic the next day.”

“Carville,” the former president told the newspaper, “has obviously done well since I let him escape government service. There were parts of his home here in New Orleans that made the White House look like public housing . . . His wife could at least take comfort from the fact that he is now living like a Republican.”

Excerpts from:
Carville, J., & Matalin, M. (2014). LOVE & WAR: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters & One Louisiana Home. New York: Blue Rider Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA).