What makes New Orleans decor so seductive, nostalgic, exotic, elegant and memorable?

It can be tough to put your finger on what makes these one-of-a-kind interiors so mesmerizing, but we’re going to try! Here they are… eight things authentic New Orleans, or Creole, style interiors have in common. (You can read more about each of these (along with dozens of photos!) inside this month’s issue of roomplanners magazine. Click on the magazine cover to open the issue!) 

8 ways to create New Orleans style at home

1. Colorful Walls. Perhaps it’s being around all those Cajun spices… all that tropical sunshine that fades anything but bold colors… or that melting pot of cultures from Paris to Port au Prince, from Seville to Sierra Leone. Whatever the cause, the use of color in New Orleans is nothing short of fearless, both in the exuberant choice of colors and how they’re used together. In a Creole home, walls are covered in strong, elegant hues. Baseboards, planked ceilings, trim and doors are also painted  to preserve wood from weather and insects. 

2. Unmatched furniture.  It’s unlikely to find matching upholstery or  bedrooms suites in a Creole interior. An eclectic, inherited, collected-over-time quality is much preferred. French or English, city or country furniture from the 18th and 19th century are favorite choices and freely mixed. 

The parlor is the prized room in a Creole home, and it’s rarely without a shapely camel back sofa, a few18th century chairs, a well-dressed mantel, elegant drapes or tall shutters. But formality is always subdued, toned down with slightly faded colors, worn surfaces and a patina of age.

3. One-of-a-kind objects. Unique and disparate objects perfectly coexist in a New Orleans home. There’s little effort to coordinate them or to hide their age. A chipped or faded surface is welcomed; it gives objects an inherited quality or has a personal story. 

With each object possessing traces of the past, an agreeable harmony results. A penchant for displaying favorite objects is rooted in both a French appreciation for owning beautiful things that dates back to the 18th century, and a Victorian penchant  for collecting that dates back to the 19th.

4. Picture walls. Exuberantly covering an interior wall with a variety of framed artwork is distinctly New Orleans thing to do. Surrounded by so much artwork, Creoles regularly peered into the past. Such a museum-like tradition also recalls Victorians’ habit of creating ‘picture rooms’ that simulated art galleries, or hanging a variety of framed art together in an intimate collage.

Oil paintings with rich Renaissance colors and gilded frames have been favored in New Orleans homes, but any mix of size, shape or style of paintings adds to the New Orleans ‘picture wall’  effect, especially when they’re clustered together, or even  leaned against walls or mantels.

5. Tall windows & shutters. Tall, narrow and elegant French doors grace nearly all the buildings in New Orleans, recalling Paris apartments with their tall doors leading out onto tiny iron-clad balconies filled with flower pots.

Tall working shutters bracket both windows and doors; a clever and practical idea in a tropical, hurricane zone… and an undeniable hallmark of New Orleans style. Louvered shutters are believed to be uniquely Spanish; board-and-batten shutters more French.

6. Ferns and fans. Picture lush ferns enclosing lazy, tropical porches, filling rooms or hanging from wire baskets … tropical ceiling fans in every room… louvered shutters letting in a breeze… slipcovers       protecting furniture from perspiration and insects… hardwood floors with removable area rugs for summer seasons… and you’ve got the idea!

A New Orleans’ home feels summery and sultry, inviting us to slow down and cool off. With deep porches, windows clad with lush drapery, shutters or both, interiors look slightly dim… shaded from the sunlight and protected from the elements.

7. Iron furniture and furnishings. Were all those fancy iron balconies in New Orleans aa French idea? A Spanish import? A Victorian excuse to elaborate? No matter. Curiosity about the origin of all the wrought and cast iron in New Orleans is usually quickly replaced by an appreciation for how well iron it works as decoration rather than just structure!

In New Orleans, intricate, exquisitely detailed ironwork scrolls its way onto balconies, gates, fences, doors, planters, staircases, beds, lanterns, candelabras and more.

8. Brick, plaster & paint. Creole homes suggest centuries of attempts s to resist harsh weather and intense heat. Simulating something between old-world European ruins and color-rich Caribbean islands, the walls of many New Orleans homes uniquely mix brick, painted wood and     plastered walls.

Painting wood preserved it from weather and insects (and offered Creoles more places to add color!). Plaster was used to cover brick walls in city center homes after disastrous fires in 1788 and 1794. Today, painted wood trim and aged plaster walls suggest the romantic ambiance of bygone days.

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