[If you saw Race & Religious on design*sponge Friday, there are a bunch of extra photos of the amazing house and courtyard here.]
We stayed in some pretty remarkable places on our way to New Orleans, but this is the granddaddy of the entire two-week trip. Named after the intersecting streets of a lonely industrial corner in the Lower Garden District, Race & Religious is a set of historic antebellum homes that look and feel like a brick-and-mortar history lesson about New Orleans.
The owner, Granville Semmes, “a warden of history” with a flair for the artful and eccentric, slowly researched and rehabbed the original Creole cottage over the course of 30 years. Almost the entire time, he had his eye on the 1836 Greek revival row house next door and its slave quarters (connected by a walkway from the main house with a bridge and a trap door), and he finally acquired the adjoining property seven years ago and spent four years excavating, renovating and decorating.
Although “decorating” is hardly a sufficient word for his daring interior experiments played across each room: murals painted on walls (my favorite is a typical New Orleans house hand-painted above a bedroom door); books stacked from floor to ceiling; art everywhere; mismatched Oriental rugs layered on top of one another; and cracked, peeling plaster exposing the original masonry work underneath. Honoring the name, there’s also tons of religious iconography, including outsized crosses, flying angels and a statue of the blessed Virgin from a bulldozed church Granville found on a Waveland porch. The stunning antique furniture is as old and storied as the house itself. It’s a relic of an older Louisiana, “of which few glimmers remain,” says Granville, who spent years researching the house and the area, discovering diaries and letters from the period that tell of a neighborhood of butchers and railroad families, drunken sailors and Creole orphans.
We’re exploring every square inch of New Orleans, but I’m constantly drawn back into the magical interiors—we sit around the kitchen table sharing food and stories from full days, and at some point during each day, I try to sit in a new room (there are at least 12, plus endless nooks and crannies, each filled with all kinds of weird, fantastic artifacts, including papers, textiles and cool old accessories). My kids run up and down the creaky staircases, play hide and seek in the courtyard and swim in the slender, cement pool. With all the secret passageways and hidden doors, the house feels like some kind of strange and whimsical wonderland. My four-year-old keeps asking if we can live here forever. I’m wondering the same thing.
There are four bedrooms between the two houses–plus tons of extra space with pullouts and air mattress potential–with enough room to sleep six to eight people comfortably. Two kitchens, two bars, and lots of little sitting rooms and hidden nooks and crannies. The courtyard almost doubles the space, and in the spring and fall, there’s no place you’d rather be. $800 per night. Rent it at raceandreligious.com.