One is a minimalist who loves neutral colors. The other is an artist and nonstop art collector who lives for bold shades. Together, they’ve created a home that proves opposites do, and maybe should, attract.
Perched right on the edge of Gentilly Woods where it meets Pontchartrain Park, the house for the past two years has been home to New Orleans natives Melissa and Samuel Wells. Melissa Wells is a residential Realtor, and Samuel Wells is a custom homebuilder who built the 2,200-square-foot, four-bedroom, 2½-bath house in 2017.
He built the home in the diverse and historic neighborhood with the idea to sell it, but Melissa, his girlfriend at the time, convinced him to keep it for himself.
The home’s bold artwork is displayed against a simple, neutral color palette that’s courtesy of Melissa Wells. Her favorite part of the home is the recently remodeled kitchen, which replaced builders-grade brown cabinets and countertops with light tones accented by a new waterfall quartz island and marble geometric backsplash.
Samuel Wells, a painter and DJ who had plans to attend the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts before Hurricane Katrina got in the way, expresses his joie de vivre through collecting the work of local artists, both inside and out.
“I love culture-centric art, and as a creative person, I want my home to reflect that,” he said.
Among his prized pieces inside are the only existing print of a painting of an elderly man done by Jamaican-born local artist Patrick Henry and another done by producer, rapper, visual artist — and Melissa Well’s cousin — Nesby Phips, who has created messages on billboards that appear in Treme, as well as in New York City and Miami.
While Melissa Wells has struggled to contain her husband’s growing art collection — the overflow of which is relegated to his “man cave,” in one of the bedrooms — Samuel Well’s artistic passions have spilled out into the backyard by way of four giant murals that spread across a portion of the home’s back fence.
“With each artist, I told them, ‘I’ve got this space and you are free to come and do whatever you want with it,’” he said. “I would never tell them what to do.”
The works vary from a depiction of a second-line and a shotgun home to an abstract pop art piece and a blue-and-green-hued depiction of a man and a woman whose hair was painted to appear as if it melds into the bushy tree across the street.
The home’s large, grassy side yard is accented on one side with custom pavers that Samuel crafted to include built-in color-changing lights. It is in this large, rectangular grassy area that the couple were married a year ago.
“We love to entertain,” said Samuel Wells. “Before COVID, we hosted all sorts of things out here. We’ll have musician friends come play or put out a projector and play movies. It’s such a great gathering place.”
The Wells said their home remains a work in progress.
“HGTV is the only TV we watch,” Samuel Wells said with a laugh. “We are creating our own world here, and I’m proud of how it’s turning out. When you drive by this house, especially at night with all the lighting, you’re going to say to yourself, ‘Hey, I wonder who lives there.’”
Both of the Wells said they were drawn to the neighborhood. She grew up near Carver High School in the 9th Ward, and he grew up in Gentilly near Dillard University.
“I had no idea the history behind this area,” said Samuel Wells. “Pontchartrain Park was historically a Black neighborhood that was actually home to the first area golf course designed by a Black person, and right where we are, in Gentilly Woods, was the more affluent, White side. There used to be a fence between the two areas and apparently there was a lot of racial tension.”
What the Wells see now, however, is a mixed area where people of all ethnicities and economic statuses live as neighbors.
“This area feels so family-friendly and safe,” said Melissa Wells. “So many of my friends are here, and it just feels like a community.”
“The price point out here is still pretty affordable, so I think that really attracts people,” added Samuel Wells. “I love being by the golf course, the ease of accessibility to the lakefront and interstate, and the smooth streets.”
The couple’s love for the area has spread to become a family affair. Samuel Well’s sister lives across the street, his parents are building a house down the street, and Melissa Well’s mom is just a few minutes away.
“I love Press Street,” said Samuel Wells. “It’s a lively street, and I’m a lively person.”
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