Even as a child, Paul Burgess wanted to make the most out of his living space.
“In my room as a kid, I wanted a seating area. Even if it was just inflatable furniture,” he says. This continued in college: “At my dorm, too, I was that person who brought in framed artwork to hang.”
Even while spending a year researching in Finland’s Arctic region, when the dark, cold winter came and there wasn’t much to do, Burgess embarked on a project of decorating the inside of his hatchback: he made reindeer fur seat covers for the entire inside of the car and upholstered the sun visors in Marimekko fabric.
So it makes sense that Burgess’ just-under-600-square-foot rental in the LGD would get the same treatment. The result is a classically elegant space with a collected feel influenced by his travels.
After living in dorms and with roommates, Burgess was ready to have his own space again. The South Florida native who works as an admissions counselor at Tulane University, working with prospective students in the Middle East, India, and other countries, had his eye on a one-bedroom his friend was living in.
"I would come over and say, ‘this place has so much potential … and you pay what for it?’"
Eventually the friend moved out and Burgess moved in; it was September in New Orleans and there was only one window unit in the place, so he bought another one. With that initial investment—plus the primo location, affordable rent, and a new job—he was committed to this apartment, and wanted to do everything to make it his own.
One way of leaving his mark was adding tiles he found at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar to the kitchen walls. Burgess finds a lot of items for his home on frequent travels abroad for work, but he also has incredible luck in finding things in New Orleans. Burgess has found decor and furniture outside people’s houses, at thrift stores, and most serendipitously, from a chance encounter with the creative director of a major retailer.
One day Burgess noticed a display in a J. Crew window; it caught his eye because it featured hangings that resembled himmelis, geometric mobiles used as Finnish holiday decorations. He knew a friend who worked at J. Crew and asked if he could procure any of the decorations the store was planning to throw out. The friend only grabbed him two, and Burgess was hoping to get more.
Soon after, Burgess was at a friend’s birthday celebration at the restaurant Galatoire’s when he spotted none other than Jenna Lyons, president and creative director of J. Crew. Long story short, the two had a Champagne-fueled conversation that ended with her promising to send over any leftover himmelis in storage.
"New Orleans lends itself to these kind of encounters, more so than other places," Burgess says.
Serendipitous finds constitute Burgess’ other furniture and decor, as well as hand-me-downs from family and inexpensively procured items from stores ("I’m a native of Florida, so I don’t pay retail," he says). Because it’s a small space, versatility is key: trunks serve as storage and surfaces in the bedroom, and a storage ottoman from Lillian Vernon (of catalogue fame) functions as a small coffee table in the living room.
"Don’t assume that an item’s purpose has to be what it’s labeled as," Burgess advises to small-space dwellers. "You have to see an item and think of how it might work for you." Another piece of small-space advice? "Only bring home something if you know exactly where it’s going to go."
Although the place is small, it’s perfect for entertaining because of a huge backyard he shares with his neighbors. He saw the place’s entertaining potential during his first Mardi Gras at the apartment, which is a few blocks from the St. Charles Avenue parade route.
"That’s when I realize the full benefit of this place. The fact that you can have a Mardi Gras party for 20 people and keep it mostly outside," he says.
And being who he is, Burgess took it upon himself to give the backyard a makeover, too. He did some serious landscaping; strung lights; added a table he built with his friend, carpenter Topher England of England River Shelves; and a bench. He built a rustic canopy out of a bike spoke and some branches, inspired by one he saw at Plant Gallery. He also bought an above-ground pool to pull out in the summertime.
Even if the space isn’t his forever, Burgess makes it his own: "I always want to make a space the best it can be."