A House on the Bayou
A Southern antiques dealer revives a two-hundred-year-old Creole manor
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The first change Patrick Dunne made to his Creole country house was to remove the dishwasher, a bold statement given how much the New Orleans epicure entertains. He grinds coffee by hand, and though his home has central air-conditioning, he prefers to throw open the sashes and fill the rooms with fresh air. He sleeps under a mosquito net, not for decoration but to keep the bat-sized bayou moths out of his bed. Antique roses, bearing names such as ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, ‘Rev d’Or’, and ‘Old Blush’, dominate his parterre garden, and spiky vetiver and citronella sprouting alongside his front gallery drive away mosquitoes the same way they might have done when the home was built two centuries ago. When asked about all the concessions to the past, Dunne—decorator, writer, and longtime proprietor of Lucullus, a French Quarter antiques store specializing in objets culinaires—replies, “I don’t really know how to live in a new house. I just don’t have those skills.”
He’s speaking figuratively, of course. Learning to operate modern technology isn’t the problem. It’s what he’d have to sacrifice on the path of ease and convenience. Dunne’s no purist or preachy Luddite. Forgoing certain creature comforts simply nourishes his roots. “History,” he says, “is both a burden and a glory for Southerners. Our affection for the past and our complex relationship to it survive in our living habits.” Dunne, whose style has been called “ancestral,” proves that his affection is alive and well at Serenity, his house on Bayou Carron.
Dunne came to the country by chance. Flooding from Hurricane Katrina forced him to close his second shop, on Magazine Street, and ditch plans to buy a French country house. Instead, he hedged his bets, opening another Lucullus far from the coast in Breaux Bridge, 130 miles west of New Orleans, in a town where the local phone directory prints nicknames—T-jun, Nook, Red—to differentiate members of the Le Blancs, Dupoys, and other Acadian families. At first, the self-proclaimed urbanite had to overcome his geographical bias. “I used to think that anything on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain was terra incognita,” he says. “Paris was much closer to me than Baton Rouge.” A peek through a window changed his mind.