To many of you Julie Neill is the Bayou Contessa. She writes a lovely blog by this name. She is also the owner of a chic Magazine Street shop named: Julie Neill. I have been stopping by there on a regular basis since I moved to New Orleans.
Lately, because of blogging, I got to meet her during an event called Art Walk HERE.
Because we are both very friendly, and because when bloggers meet it's like meeting a long lost relative, and adding to that the Southern hospitality that exudes from every New Orleanian, you can imagine that we became fast friends.
Soon after we met, we had coffee, and soon after that I called Julie and asked if I could visit her work space, the magical place where she creates her fabulous lighting designs.
It's near my house, in a lovely residential neighborhood Uptown, just outside of The Garden District. Julie's workshop is situated in a lovely old house.
You would never even know it's there. She used to live in this house as a single mom, and she laughs at how small the living quarters were. I teased her about the brass lanterns at the entrance to the atelier of one of the foremost and most talented lighting designers I have ever met, and she admitted that she is indeed the shoemaker's daughter.
Julie is born and bred in New Orleans, and she has a deep and abiding love for her hometown. She told me that if the water ever comes to completely take over the city in her lifetime (as it nearly did with Katrina), she will hang on to last little piece of it, and go under with the city.
She has the soft New Orleans accent, languid and lady like, and you can listen to her talk for hours and hours. Her story is as fascinating as any woman's. She comes from a good family, is well educated, got married, became a mother, suffered through a divorce, suffered more through an ill fated and long love affair, etc., etc. She's our soul sister for sure! She was an interior designer for many years. At a cross roads in her life, she had to do something else, and she said when she was at her lowest point, God told her to make furniture.
She found a Polish carpenter, and a place to make furniture. It was a disaster because he wasn't really very good at his craft. She knew she had to choose one thing to be really good at, so she moved from making furniture to making elegant lighting fixtures.
She's been doing this for over eight years now, and has a huge following among those who want truly original pieces that blend the traditional look of antiques, along with a modern transitional vision Julie brings to her designs.
She uses a wide variety of materials, old and new and puts them together in the most delightful way. Every piece is hand made, hand crafted. You truly get piece of art made by an artist.
Her work shop is like being in a candy store. I could use a couple of dozen of these rosettes for some projects around the house! Her studio is filled with all kinds of goodies, and tools of the trade. She was so sweet to just let me roam around and take pictures in this very hectic and busy work place.
She has a very talented staff of artists working on myriad projects. This is Katherine who is camera shy. I got this photo before she asked me not to take any pictures. She is part of the painting department, and she's also a Swing dancer.
Leslie could be a model, and she's Julie's I.T. person, and smart and savvy office manager. She will send you catalogs and information about the products offered.
Glen (shown here with the glam Ms. Neil) is the welder who puts all the pieces together. He is totally handsome and charming and expressed an interest in the tango, though he hasn't shown up for tango lessons yet.
He has the coolest piece of art work he made and welded on the front of his car. It features all the things he loves about New Orleans. He's another native who dearly loves this place. When I commented that no matter how long one lives here, one can never be from here, he told me it's all good, and natives are so grateful for transplants who choose to live here, and are so very welcome to be here.
This is Kim who does gold leafing. She's working on a trumeau, another thing Julie Neill offers to her clients. Julie also does some metal demi lunes that are just spectacular.
I love these stencils, and would like to borrow one to do something on a couple of my lamp shades in the living room.
Julie is very proud that she has E.P.A certification, that all the materials she uses are green and earth friendly. This machine has something to do with that process.
This is the raw form that Glen welded and fabricated, before her talented krewe does the finishing work.
This is such a clever adaptation of the very popular shade over chandelier look, and I think so much more special. I would love to get one of these shades to put over an old chandy I have.
Vestiges of the home that this used be still are around. Julie lives just a few blocks away, in a place that she describes as very girly. The magazine Southern Accents is planning on doing a spread of her home very soon. She's promised me I can take photos too for the blog!
Shelves and shelves of crystals for her chandeliers...
This beauty is pretty fabulous. A client brought Julie some antique church candle sticks from France, and asked Julie to design a chandelier around them (there are two).
It's amazing how some paints...
...and some raw leaf forms all come together.
This ginormous lantern form comes up to my waist! It's a very popular number just flying off the rack!!! Julie cannot keep up with orders for her customers, feeling very bad that her store looks so empty.
I just love her to bits! She is very humble about her accomplishments, and very generous of her time. When we had coffee sitting at the tables outside of Starbucks (I had Cholo with me), tons of people stopped to say hello. "Hello" in New Orleans is at least a ten minute conversation! Her cell phone rings constantly too. She juggles it all with calm and charm and tact and humor.
Her staff loves her, and is very protective. Her son just started art school in California, but is so homesick that after just one semester he's transferring to Loyola here in New Orleans so he can be close to his way cool mom. People born here may venture away for a little while, but they always come home if they can.
I hope you enjoyed this special peek into the magic factory of Julie Neill. I find it fascinating to see the process behind the end result. Please visit Julie's blog and web site, and if you come to New Orleans visit her store. Drop her a line, and she's sure to make time for a cup of coffee with a fellow blogger. And if you are in the market for yourself or a client for a really fabulous lighting fixture (or any other accent piece Julie designs), please do contacrt her.