Hi, y’all! Nancy and I are recently back from a blissful five days in New Orleans with friends who make their winter home in the historic Garden District. NOLA, the Crescent City, is a walking city to rival Boston and New York, but has an international flavor and unique cultural pastiche all its own. To me, it feels more foreign than any American city. Here’s why:
Areas that survived Katrina relatively unscathed – those on higher ground, including the Garden District, Le Vieux Carre (the French Quarter), and Uptown – are filled with exciting architecture, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. Common examples of the city’s architectural treasures include:
- Shotgun houses, usually one-story, but many with a second story at the rear of the house called camelbacks
- Lacy wrought iron terraces
- Victorians in an array of colors
- Arts and Crafts houses
- Creole cottages
- Les Beaux Artes (lavish, ornate, heavily ornamented style)
- Spanish influences
- Private courtyards between the public face of residences and their dependencies
I thoroughly enjoyed taking in the history and diversity that defines and distinguishes New Orleans’ architecture, all of which is quite unlike the cultural influences and style trends of New England home design.
New Orleans is one of the culinary capitals of the U.S., with a cuisine entirely its own reflecting the city’s Cajun, Creole and French roots. Iconic dishes include oysters, Po’ Boys (quintessential Louisiana sandwiches on crusty French bread), gumbo, jambalaya, beignets (deep fried pastries dusted with confectioners’ sugar), muffulettas (another signature sandwich combining cured meat and cheeses, and dressed with the ever-important olive salad), red beans and rice, pralines, blackened redfish, boudin (spicy sausage) and a sinful breakfast of bourbon-soaked brioche bread pudding. Yum!
NOLA is the home and the heart of jazz. Louis Armstrong was born here and his musical legacy is ever present. Any time of the day or night, you can enjoy live jazz artists. We did just that during a dinner at Bachanal in the Bywater, and at a concert by a US Park Ranger Quintet at the US Jazz Historical Park at the Old New Orleans U.S. Mint. Only in NOLA!
The People and the Patois:
NOLA is a rich mix of people and races: white, black, Hispanic, Creole, Cajun, and Asian. And, surprising for this Bostonian, is how even though many neighborhoods are somewhat segregated, there is a true and comfortable intermingling in offices, restaurants, parks, bars, music venues and retail stores. NOLA is warm and welcoming for everyone open to being smitten by its charms—they really mean it when they say “Be Nice or Leave.”
But perhaps the coolest experience I had in NOLA was one morning walking in Uptown after my breakfast of Migas (an egg and chorizo scramble), biscuits and grits at Surrey’s on Magazine Street. I was walking the paradox that is one of the Crescent City’s signatures: Uptown towards Downtown. I was on the edge of Uptown and the Garden District. All was a riot of color and old, classic architecture when I happened upon this contemporary residence—so different from everything around it. Not only does this unexpected design reflect the mix of flavor, people and culture that make this city so fascinating, but it’s a design that gets so many things right:
- It adapts well to its site and soaks up the sun both inside and out. The fenestration, the arrangement and proportioning of the windows, makes this work.
- It knows precisely what it wants to be, yet is respectful and enriching of its neighbors. The neighboring homes are enhanced by its calming interruption of their rhythm.
- It has forms and shapes that are crisp and clean without being cold and banal.
- It’s solid and sturdy, yet its sheathing makes it ephemeral in some ways.
- It’s a perfect backdrop to the colorful yet modest plantings on the street.
- The position, orientation, proportion and scale of the volumes no doubt reflect the living patterns of the owners.
- This is a unique, personal home organically sprung from the architects’ careful attention to the family’s lifestyle, the site’s limitations and opportunities, and the neighboring houses.
- Its attention to detail turns complex considerations into a simple delight.
It’s a contemporary gem in an important historic enclave. What a beauty! The lesson of New Orleans, with its surprises everywhere: Don’t be a slave to convention; don’t do what’s safe and expected. Let your architect and designer lead you to a residence that is uniquely yours and enduring. You’ll be the richer for it.