02/12/2020

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15 Years After Katrina, A Look at the New Orleans Design Scene

Earhart swivel bar stools by New Orleans maker Doorman Designs, in a kitchen by New Orleans-based designer Sherry Shirah.

Jacqueline Marque

“We gained so much prominence from such a terrible event,” Joshi-Gupta says, “but now, our design remains in the spotlight. Like India, where I was born, people here embrace very bold design choices, particularly vibrant color—green, in every shade.”

“We are always incorporating with our tropical nature here,” agrees Sara Ruffin Costello, interior designer, author, and creative consultant. “We appreciate the interiors as much as the exteriors; how a paint color looks against the live oak trees on St. Charles or bright banana leaves through a window in the Marigny.” 

St. Charles Avenue is the site of her latest interior design project—the Chloe Hotel, by the LeBlanc + Smith Group—opening inside an 1850 Victorian house next month. Costello’s guest room designs feature spindle beds, House of Hackney fabrics, and armoires that nod to Narnia. “Several are retrofitted,” she says, pulling one open to reveal the hidden bathroom. The main-floor bar room and lounge spaces feature wallpaper by Fine & Dandy & Co., Chinese Art Deco rugs and Viennese lighting by Woka. Chef Todd Pulsinelli’s cuisine and a tropical pool will draw tourists and locals alike. “The original architect, Thomas Sully, was a bon vivant,” Costello says. “We wanted to make a space that embodies his bohemian spirit, like a private club you might find in New York or London.”

New Orleans has particularly embraced more modern design in the last half-decade. Sabri and Caroline Farouki launched their firm Farouki Farouki in 2015. Their move from New York was appealing both financially and aesthetically. They designed Maypop–a Central Business District restaurant by Chef Michael Gulotta, whose cuisine is a fusion of Southern and Southeast Asian. Mekong and Mississippi river maps were printed onto birch plywood boards, and depending on where you stand, the slanted feature wall presents either waterway.

“We wanted modern, but not cold,” Caroline Farouki says, who initially worried modern might not fly. Their subsequent design of Justine, a French Quarter brasserie, confirmed that the city welcomed a progressive splash. Justine features a sidewalk-café style up front, anchored by a vintage cartoon mural of a paper tiger. Glittery maps of Paris and New Orleans by local artist Ellen Macomber fill the back walls,  alongside velvet banquettes, pink neon, and custom brass vertical light installations by local firm E. Kraemer. “I think Justine hits on exactly what visitors want—that old European feel—and what locals crave: something avant-garde and modern,” says Farouki.

Something else locals are demanding is sustainability—there’s no laissez-faire attitude on climate change post-Katrina. “We have to be focused on sustainability,” says Jordan Rose, owner of GoodWood Nola, which repurposes its sawdust at a local chicken farm. Other notable efforts include mentoring post–high school students: “We want to create diversity in a white-male-dominated industry,” Rose says. His mentees learn his passion for salvaged wood, updated with midcentury leanings. GoodWood’s art-meets-function residential and commercial interiors can be seen at District Donuts restaurants and the Krewe sunglasses stores.

“Since the storm,” Rose says, “this city is proving that world-class custom furniture can be sourced sustainably, from down the street.”

Down the street at their expanded facility in Algiers, Doorman is 50% solar-powered, aiming to be at 90% by 2021. “We live one bad storm from being wiped off the map,” says Geriner. “But it gives New Orleans a scrappy spirit. Our influence is African, Haitian, Spanish, French, and it took a brave melting pot to create this wacky place. We hold true to that lineage–especially in design.” 

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