House of the Week: Artist Shelley Hesse's vibrant Old Metairie center hall

Featured on February 2016 - 

The vagabond life had a hold on artist Shelley Hesse for decades. After college, she moved to Paris with $500 in her savings account and a job as a tutor. When not working, she roamed the museums and studied the Asian art collections at the Louvre.

Eventually, she moved back to New Orleans, her hometown, but still resisted the pull of permanent roots, traveling often to paint, meet friends and visit clients in Martha's Vineyard, Greenwich, Conn., New York, Dallas, and other spots.

"I never wanted to own a house," she said. "It seemed so grounding. I was a gypsy."

Never say never.

As so often happens, a relationship changed everything. When Hesse got engaged to her husband, attorney Stephen Murray Jr., suddenly putting down roots seemed alluring not off-putting.

"Getting pregnant, that's what really did it," she said, "I instantly wanted them (son, Graham, and daughter, Louisa) to have all the good things I had when I grew up: a yard, freedom to run out in nature, grab a snack in the kitchen and head outside to play."

So the couple launched into a construction project: building a new house with the soul of a 19th-century center hall on a leafy street in Old Metairie while Hesse was "hugely" pregnant with twins.

Managing the project, she jokes, was a lesson in stress management. "I watched comedies non-stop."

The property had room for a garden and a separate painting studio for Hesse behind the house, where she could work on her lush animal and nature studiesrendered in gouache, watercolor, pencil and pastel.

"We could put a gate around the whole yard so the kids can run around freely," she said.

The family moved in right after Louisa and Graham's first birthday.

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