Bywater Wonderland

A Vietnamese water puppet, a miniature Easter Island statue, a 1940s guide book titled The Bachelor in New Orleans,, and a pair of 1910 Shriners convention champagne glasses with gold alligators crawling up the stems—thus only begins the inventory of Dannal Perry’s amazing collection.

“I really wanted a ghost, but I don’t have one,” says Perry of her 160-year-old house in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans. If the residence lacks the intrigue of a disembodied spirit, it has plenty of other entertaining aspects. Each room is painted a different, bold color, from dark rose to lime, the overall interior shows the charming patina history; and the myriad of fascinating memorabilia climbing the walls and crowding every surface includes thousands of unusual books, photos, sculptures, signs, and curiosities.

“Eclectic, fun, personal,” Perry describes the decor. “Everything in the house is me.” Collecting is Perry’s passion. The joy she takes in decorating the house as well as her penchant for the unexpected are summed up by a sign in her office stating, “Laissez les bon temps ole!”

Three years ago, Perry decided to make a career of her love of beautiful and interesting objects. She opened Plum on Magazine Street, a shop for unique gifts, jewelry, and interior decor. “Lots of handcrafted things, lots of local artists, whatever strikes my fancy,” describes Perry.

Perry’s fascination for New Orleans and New Orleans paraphernalia started when she attended Tulane University in the late 1980s. After graduating, she developed a deep appreciation for art and local history working at the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Hermann-Grimma and Gallier Houses. Perry’s personal art collection includes a Great Dane portrait from an art fair, a pair of Clementine Hunter paintings, post-Katrina photographs by Frank Relle, and many works in glass by Mitchell Gaudet.

Collecting is a family tradition. Perry’s grandmother gave her a favorite pair of 1950s teal faux-leather chairs. Her mother found the chandelier that sparkles above the dining room. Perry’s cousin bought the Clementine Hunter paintings from the artist herself at her home.

“I love thinking about the history of the house and all of the people who lived here before me,” says Perry. The Creole cottage, probably built as a rental property, dates to the mid-19th century and a time when the plantations and wilderness downriver from the French Quarter were being developed into residential districts for the growing population of the city. Primarily Creoles, Free Men of Color, and German immigrants moved into neighborhoods downriver, while more from the American sector built homes upriver, eventually forming what is now called Uptown.

The room Perry calls her “Room of Popular Culture” was originally the detached kitchen and still has the large cooking hearth. In contrast to the aged facade of the fireplace, floor-to-ceiling shelves contain whimsical 20th-century collections. Star Warsfigurines and vintage board games compete for attention with a View-Master and a teacup chandelier.

In the master bedroom, the colorful clutter gives way to a simpler decor and a soothing palette of ocean hues. Glitter art sparkles against the bright green walls of the guest bath. Feather boas, hats, and masks tumble from atop the living room armoire. Everywhere there is something to see, something entertaining for the eye and the imagination. Perry has created her personal, living museum, a treat for lucky visitors and a daily joy for her.

“I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” she says. “Ten years ago when I first saw this house, I knew it was supposed to be my home.” Maybe Perry does have a resident ghost who is as content and constantly amused by Perry’s collection as she is, and simply has no reason to make a fuss.

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