Louisiana

04.11.2013 | by: Meghan
Inns & Hotels

Check In: The Soniat House

New Orleans, Louisiana

Initially, I didn’t really want to stay in a fancy hotel, especially one in the French Quarter. I wanted to find a bright teal shotgun in the Bywater,  or a crumbling creole cottage to rent like the one we stayed in last time. This super cool Victorian guesthouse, belonging to  local artist Miranda Lake, was already booked. But if the Soniat was good enough for Brad and Angelina to camp out in for months at a time with family in tow, I reasoned, it would probably suffice.  Egregious underestimation.

Tucked away on a quiet stretch of Chartres, in the residential fringes of the old French Quarter, the Soniat House feels reminiscent of how the French Quarter might have felt before the invasion of the tacky souvenir shop. The magnificent architecture, lacy wrought-iron balconies, and the formal elegance of a refined New Orleans neighborhood in the 1830s, when craft and impression were paramount, and hidden courtyards flowered behind gated Creole-influenced city homes built for entertaining. Originally built by the Soniat family, who had 13 children, the two homes (plus another, owned by a family member) are big and stately and gorgeous. Every last corner is outfitted with beautiful, sometimes worn, always tasteful antiques spanning influences and periods. And the courtyards are exquisite, people. We ate breakfast out there every morning, despite the unseasonably chilly spring temps–a crazy-delicious spread of homemade biscuits, butter, preserves, chicory coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice. It was my favorite part of the day. And if I can blather on for one more second about something as prosaic as service: the people who work here make the place. Bill at the front desk and Calvin (in the photo below, he’s been there more than 30 years) became our buddies, and I found myself wandering into the lobby several times a day to chat and hear stories about local history and lore. For instance, Mrs. Soniat was said to be so beautiful, she only ever went in the courtyard with a bonnet to protect her porcelain-like skin. And then there’s the legend of the angry ghost in the house around the corner and the murderous former owner who caused it. I’ll let you hear that one for yourself.

02.14.2012 | by: Meghan
Homes to Stay

Stay: 714 Nicholls

New Orleans, Louisianna

This time last year, we were planning our big road trip to New Orleans, where we stayed in an incredible set of historic antebellum homes with beautiful antiques, a slate pool, sprawling outdoor courtyard and secret passageways. We were in the city for a mere week, which gave me the itch to come back, to stay longer, to linger. New Orleans is the kind of place you want to settle into and make friends and develop some kind of routine–preferably one that involves daily walks down streets so thick with majestic oaks they feel like tunnels and visits to Satsuma Cafe (one of the yummiest, most laid-back cafes I’ve ever been to in the United States).

A lovely homebase for all of that, 714 Nicholls is one of the more unsung spots of the Coppola collection, perhaps because it’s a standalone house, not a hotel, and you have to stay for at least 60 days. But to me, that’s its charm. This French Quarter creole cottage forces you to create a temporary residence. It gives you time to spend long hours with a book on the leafy veranda and three kitchens to make grand dinners, instead of ticking away at obligatory tourist hit lists.

Inside, the decor leans toward an eccentric French style with peeling plaster, velvet sofas and plenty of antiques, and the aesthetic spills outside onto the lush patio that  could easily pass for a hidden Parisian garden. Billed as a perfect spot for long-term creative retreats or film execs, the space can be split up, offering two distinct suites (with full kitchens), plus four additional bedrooms.

05.02.2011 | by: Meghan
Homes to Stay

Stay: Race & Religious

New Orleans, Louisiana

[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.

The Details
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.

04.29.2011 | by: Meghan

A Fantastic Web: Our Last Day in NOLA

New Orleans, Louisiana

Someone told us the other day that “New Orleans is like a spider web; Everything is connected.” He was talking about the streets, but the same could be said of the people here. Anthony from the fantastic Fair Folks and a Goat put us in touch with Michael Cohen, an architectural theorist and local woodworker, who moved here from New York on a grant and has been working on a range of interesting one-off projects for the past year. He’s the guy behind the slat-wood bar at Fair Folks and a Roast (all the wood was salvaged from homes that were destroyed during Katrina), and he’s also involved in the Hollygrove Greenline Project, which takes a look at the infrastructure of a Katrina-flooded neighborhood. Yesterday afternoon we toured his beautiful wood shop, which is tucked into an old white barn-like garage in the Irish Channel, and after showing us a big hunk of Magnolia wood he’s turning into a table, he asked if we had been to the Eiffel Society (he designed a piece of furniture for that space, too).

I don’t usually get overly excited about the slick interiors of fancy nightclubs or restaurants, but Michael assured us this hybrid underground supper club and special performance space was worth checking out (and since he’s a humble woodworker with a penchant for public service, we kinda trusted him). And even though I wanted to spend my last afternoon in New Orleans lounging by the courtyard pool at the beautiful house we’re staying in, I felt compelled to check it out. Turns out, Michael wasn’t exaggerating. The place is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The glass and iron dome, which looks like some kind of kooky spacecraft from the outside, is actually the former restaurant top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris! Apparently, the geometric iron dome was causing the tower damage and had to be removed in the early ’80s. They wouldn’t let the owner keep the name, so he refused to reopen the restaurant in Paris. An investor from New York convinced him to have it shipped to the United States on a boat like a set of iron Legos, and it sat there for a few years until finding a new home in New Orleans in 1986 for the World Fair.

And if the history isn’t fascinating enough, consider the latest incarnation: the newest interior design is a collaborative art installation curated by the local art collective Life is Art Foundation, who used the space as an artist residency while they worked on it. (Headed by Kirsha Kaechele, the Life is Art Foundation has gotten a lot of slack lately for their abandoned public art project in the St. Roch neighborhood, but that’s another story.) This space, which opened six months ago, is a total spectacle, from the Wooly Pocket-covered entrance to the site-specific furniture and lighting installations to the pretty significant artwork. Edward Burtynsky, who has made a name for himself photographing man-made disasters, was recently in town shooting the oil spill and donated a gigantic photograph of the inky black ocean swirls with one condition: It can’t be sold. They built a wall for it the next day. Designer Thomas Beeale, who was dating a girl from New Orleans, came to town to work on a gigantic, curvaceous floor pillow made from sculpted wood scraps. And Louise Kiley created an intricate dreamcatcher-esque chandelier made of bicycle frames and colored thread. Like so much happening in New Orleans right now, the work relates to transformation–taking the unexpected and making it beautiful and useful again.

New Orleans Giveaway!
For anyone inspired by our design pursuits in New Orleans, enter the Lincoln-Designtripper giveaway. Our awesome road trip sponsor Lincoln is sending the lucky winner to New Orleans for a weekend–airfare provided, with a Lincoln MKX to tool around in while you’re here, and a two-night stay at Fair Folks and a Goat (unless you want to stay somewhere else of equivalent value, but I have no idea why you’d want to do that. I mean, HELLO, you get to sleep in an art installation). Check out some of the places we visited, but even more importantly, get out there and create your own web.

[Disclaimer: Ford Motor Company is the paying sponsor of designtripper's road trip to New Orleans, which also included a Lincoln MKX for the duration of the trip.]

04.28.2011 | by: Kelly
Goodtripper

See Public Art

New Orleans, Louisiana

One of my favorite parts of the trip so far: Writing on Candy Chang’s Before I Die wall (my answer: learn to be present). I’m a sucker for design-for-good projects and have been following Candy‘s work for awhile, so it was really inspiring to see this installation in person. Along with James Reeves, she co-founded the Civic Center, which is dedicated to using design, art and urban planning to make cities more user-friendly and comfortable while engaging the people who live there. On the corner of Marigny and Burgundy streets, they transformed a crumbling, graffiti-covered, dilapidated house into a public, interactive art installation and social experiment. Chalkboard painted wooden boards cover the front of the house and pedestrians and neighbors can use the provided chalk to write what they want to do, see, experience before they die. Someone wipes the slate clean every morning. The house was recently sold, so the chalkboard will come down soon, but Civic Center has plans to recreate the installation in other cities around the world.

Candy also recently partnered with Hypothetical Development to create an imagined, no-boundaries future for an empty store front on Franklin Avenue. Responding to the limited availability of fresh, local food in her neighborhood, Candy designed  the Mobile Cornicopia, a fantasy food truck overflowing with an abundance of fruits and vegetables. A sign of the dream-like grocery fountain hung for a few months on the front of the abandoned building for public view and is now on display at Du Mois Gallery, along with other signs by local artists depicting fanciful futures for neglected buildings in New Orleans.

[Photos: Mobile Cornicopia photo via candychang.com]

For more photos of New Orleans, check back regularly at the Lincoln-Designtripper site!

[Disclaimer: Ford Motor Company is the paying sponsor of designtripper's road trip to New Orleans, which also included a Lincoln MKX for the duration of the trip.]
04.27.2011 | by: Meghan
Inns & Hotels

Stay: Fair Folks and a Goat

New Orleans, Louisiana

Started in an old ballroom in Manhattan, this hyper-curated art-design-fashion-culture concept expanded to New Orleans a year ago. In New Orleans, Fair Folks and a Goat occupies an old, bright-yellow Creole shotgun cottage with green clapboard shutters in Marigny. In the front room, there’s a boutique filled with furniture, clothing and art, followed by a design studio, a cafe called Fair Folks and a Roast (which serves the best iced coffee I have ever tasted), art gallery, design parlor, and a one-room b&B with rotating, in-room installations by local artists and designers.

“It’s thought-out. Everything you touch and see–we pull our hair out trying to decide what to buy and where it should go and how it should be incorporated into the space,” says New Orleans cofounder Anthony Mazzei, who runs FF&G with his New York counterpart Aurora Stokowski. “We wanted to do a magazine and thought, ‘What would a magazine look like if you walked through it?’”

And just like a magazine, they have subscribers, who get something that resembles a community membership of sorts–with perks like on-the-house coffee and tea, sneak peaks, special events, and art and design discounts. Of course, anyone can come. For those visiting from out of town, it functions less like a community gathering place and more like an opportunity to get intimate access to local art and design. It’s an actual experience, not just a place to buy something. ”We want people to make a connection to it without having to make a financial connection,” says Anthony. “Initially, we brought in some international pieces to elevate the the emerging local design, but now, we’re bringing things in that you can only get here and are all handmade.”

The b&b is a bedroom in the back of the house that changes regularly. In its most recent incarnation, Foot-a-Night, local artist Hannah Chalew designed a site-specific bedroom installation you can actually sleep in. Inspired by the transitional spaces left by Katrina being taken over by nature (“Its a really sad thing, but also really beautiful.”), the room is covered in an ethereal tangle of “fabric vines”–pieces of old bedsheets from the full-service b&b that used to inhabit the space that Hannah shredded, painted, drew on and then sewed back together again. If you look out the window, the stone wall next door is covered with real vines, lending an illusion that the room is being “encroached from the outside in.” In reality, FF&G is very much alive–and the contagious creative force seems to be spreading outward.

The Details
Installation Room Rate is $199 per night through May 31st (rates change with each room installation). Amenities (that aren’t your everyday amenities): private access, bathroom with claw foot tub, back patio use, and complimentary tea and coffee from Fair Folks & a Roast cafe, which is right outside your bedroom door.  Like almost everything inside the Fair Folks house, everything from the art on the wall to the sheets you sleep in are for sale.

For more photos of New Orleans, check back regularly at the Lincoln-Designtripper site!

[Disclaimer: Ford Motor Company is the paying sponsor of designtripper's road trip to New Orleans, which also included a Lincoln MKX for the duration of the trip.]
04.26.2011 | by: Meghan

Obligatory Antique Tour

New Orleans, Louisiana

Magazine Street is no hidden secret, but it’s just as lovely as everyone says it is! We spent our first full afternoon in New Orleans–a perfect hot, sunny day–ducking into air-conditioned antique shops, totally amazed by the sheer number of them. One of our favorite stops–La Belle Nouvelle Orleans–shakes up the signature New Orleans look with some really cool, clean-lined industrial pieces. The owner Fernando Promoslovsky (below), who moved to New Orleans 10 years ago after making what was supposed to be a quick detour on his way to Miami from Buenos Aires (“I fell in love with it here and had to stay,” he says), decided to follow in the footsteps of his granddad by opening a store. He heads back to Argentina one or two times a year on buying trips (and to visit family). Out back, through an interior courtyard behind the storefront, there’s a hulking building where Fernando sells large-scale pieces of furniture and anything else that overflows from his shop. But the landlord is selling the building, so he’s currently having a closing sale. I’m admiring a collection of tarnished, old silver plates, platters and serving bowls, and he offers to sell me the entire lot (at least 40 different pieces) for $100 flat. I scoop them up for my friends back in Detroit, who are opening a cafe next month (why not–we have plenty of room in the Lincoln!).

For tons more photos of antique shops in New Orleans, check back regularly at the Lincoln-Designtripper site!

[Disclaimer: Ford Motor Company is the paying sponsor of designtripper's road trip to New Orleans, which also included a Lincoln MKX for the duration of the trip.]