Movin’ On Up
A couple trades an Uptown home for a CBD penthouse with a view
Everything about this penthouse should have been appealing from the start: spectacular views from every room; interlocking terraces; floor-to-ceiling windows; a huge state-of-the-art kitchen and separate wet bar; a 650-bottle wine cellar; offstreet parking; top security; and a prime address. Not to mention a pair of 62-inch JVC plasma screen TVs in place.
Still, when William A. Oliver exclaimed enormous enthusiasm, his wife was unsure. “I was used to 14-foot ceilings and the gracious trappings of an Uptown house,” says Caroline, whose bright smile and twinkling eyes belie a wicked sense of humor. Smart man that he is, Bill sealed the deal with an offer she couldn’t refuse. “He said I could decorate the place any way I wanted, right down to all new furniture.”
So she traded in 14-foot ceilings for 10, called Robb Melton at Hurwitz Mintz and got to work. “It was fun and it’s not over yet,” says this native of Kosciusko, MS (“just like Oprah!”). “Pillows are still arriving. A box came this morning; that’s the mess in the hall.”
Caroline and Robb worked on a palette to meld with the impressive everchanging views. Inspired by Ralph Lauren’s Country Cork paint, the living room walls were covered in a soft, golden tone that weaves throughout the first floor. The color complements the kitchen’s existing cabinetry, marble and granite. They also created a flow chart for placement of furniture—new and old, family treasures, beloved antiques, statuary and paintings. Then they found luxurious, durable fabrics and finishes—linens and wools, leather, lined silk, highly lacquered surfaces—for the many comfortable chairs, a pair of loveseatsize sofas, plus the furniture in the dining and sitting rooms. Each of these rooms wind around and lead to the kitchen, possibly the largest room on the first floor. The results are a high-in-the-sky warm home, which turns into party central with some regularity.
The apartment doesn’t shout “Let me entertain you,” in the manner of Gypsy Rose Lee, but the living room’s microphone and piano—played by both Ronnie Kole and Allen Toussaint—attest to the lively nature of the Olivers’ CBD lifestyle. There’s no lack of room for people to mingle, sing, dance, and watch a performance or a parade … be that in Lafayette Square Park or the Oliver’s living room or kitchen.
“I love to cook. I love to entertain,” says Caroline, and a massive collection of cookbooks attests to her culinary gusto. “The ‘Spring Concerts in the Park’ series starts this month in Lafayette Square, which I love. So there’ll be cocktails and dinner for 30 to 100 people every Wednesday for the next 12 weeks! I plan the menu according to the night’s performance; yes, cook it all myself. It’s fun. Other times, things are more spontaneous—Bill and I, the kids, friends, a neighbor.”
Bill was king of the Washington Mardi Gras in 2004, so it makes sense that crowns (many given by friends) and other Carnival memorabilia are an oftrepeated motif. The regal jewels of his reign reside in a glass case between the living and dining rooms.
Upstairs is another case filled with Caroline’s collection of pins and purses, including a wooden bag replicating the White House, signed by both presidents Bush and their wives. When queried about the room’s color theme, a rich chocolate and Confederate blue, Caroline simply replied, “I took one look at the colors in the bathroom and figured it was cheaper to work with them than redo the whole bathroom.” You have to love this gal’s practically and earthiness.
A guest room has a cheery theme. “We call this our Oscar,” says Caroline, of the white Chinese-style bed designed by Oscar de la Renta, lined with pale yellow silk blackout curtains.” I didn’t want to block the views, but there was so much light, this seemed a perfect solution.” Indeed, as are the colorful floral-and-plaid coverlet and bed skirt patterns in silk and cotton, as well a small writing desk.
Moving back to the kitchen, Caroline points out several porcelain roosters: “Another collection! There is one Bill swears is always wearing jewelry! I have been known to put beads around the po’ ol’ boy’s neck,” says Caroline, pointing to a French rooster proudly sporting a fleur-de-lis pendant.
While we are in the kitchen, Bill pulls out a large package from among those in the hall. “Oh, you have to see this,” says Bill. “It’s all kinds of peanuts from this little general store in my hometown, Rose Bud, Arkansas. Peanuts … have you ever had fresh-cooked peanuts?”
We dive into the package and proceed to debate the merits of boiled, baked, buttered, brittled and chocolate-dripped peanuts. He begins cooking a batch of peanuts with butter in a huge glass measuring cup in the microwave. He tastes, adds more salt and puts them back into the microwave.
This continues with a rum tasting. An aficionado, Bill has a cabinet dedicated to rums of the world (“The others cabinets are filled with stuff for guests, but the one with rum is mine,” he tells me). The peanuts are done.
And so there I am, watching the sun set over peanuts and rum, with AT&T’s president of Louisiana operations and his wife, while the rest of town fights traffic on I-10. Not a bad assignment.