Monday, February 16, 2009

Hispanic heritage and memories livens up home

Heritage is at the heart of decor
Mementos of Latin family with extraordinary history add warmth, uniqueness.
By Chris Reinolds The Atlanta Journal-Constitution February 15, 2009

When Ofelia de La Valette’s mother and brother died months apart last year, she was lost in grief.

Her mother, Sara Gonzalez, was a longtime president of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Her older brother lived in Miami.

“The process you go through when you have to dismantle their home —- it’s an interesting, gut-wrenching experience,” de La Valette said. “At the end of the day things remain, but they are gone. It changes your perspective on things.”

Because de La Valette’s younger sister lives in a tiny New York apartment, they decided that most of the family items should stay in Atlanta.

“There were a lot of meaningful things I didn’t want to put in a box,” de La Valette said. “I wanted it to become a part of the energy of my house.”

Her dilemma was to incorporate the memorabilia into her 3,500-square-foot LaVista Park home without making it depressing. She made some changes, updating a chair with upholstery, for example. But much of what she moved into her home were knickknacks.

“It was a real challenge for me because I inherited an enormous amount of clutter,” she said.

It helped that de La Valette is an informal student of interior design.

“Interior design is my hobby. To me, heaven is Scott [Antique Market] with a pair of sneakers and a van.”

De La Valette calls her look earthy and streamlined.

“I like things made of natural materials. I love recycled stuff … taking something out of its context and giving it a new life,” she said.

Her style is also sentimental.

“Everything in the house means something unless it has a function,” she said.

The mantel in the family room is a great example. The pottery exhibited there is pre-Columbian and belonged to her grandfather, who traveled from Cuba to Colombia for his work.

Another painting belonged to her father.

“The distressed frame is actually how old that is. I would spend hours staring at it, and I loved it [growing up],” she said.

Heart of the home: The dining room is the emotional heart of de La Valette’s home. It is a gallery of old Hollywood-style black and white photos of her mother and father’s high life in Cuba. Her father was captain of the Cuban equestrian team, while his wife loved fashion.

There is a framed photo of her mother dressed as the “ruby” in the Ball of the Precious Stones in Cuba. “She was so glamorous and beautiful,” de La Valette said.

“I don’t want these pictures in photo albums. I want to look at them every day,” she said. “Sitting around the dining room table there are so many memories over a meal. And there are so many people who can’t be at the table, but they can be in the room.”

Decorating style: De La Valette, owner of adult dance studio Dance 101, used designer Joanne Fitzgerald to style her former house —- a Victorian in Inman Park. She has lived in her current five-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath Georgian-style home for about two years.

“I learned a lot about mixing styles and the power of color. Different styles can connect through color. You can also create more depth of a room through texture,” she said. Those lessons are applied with the uses of wire, wicker, wood, marble and sisal throughout her home.

Focal points are a necessity.

“But too many focal points create confusion,” she said. “You need to look at a room by how you enter into it.”

The house was originally painted in bold colors that didn’t mix with her sensibility and artwork.

“I whitewashed everything. I don’t want the furnishings to compete with the artwork.”

Coolest feature: “I can open up three sets of double doors. I love houses where there’s an easy flow from inside to outside to inside. That’s very Latin. The houses have an interior courtyard, and you have to walk outside to get from one room to another.”

Most cherished item: “The family tree —- if that’s ever gone, it’s gone,” she said referring to framed research papers that detail her family lineage. She found the rolled up papers in her brother’s belongings, but she does not know which family member did the genealogy work.

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