There's a heavy equestrian thing going on in this house," designer Shaun Smith says of his newly renovated home. "I get on these kicks when I do a house. This time, it was horses."
Equestrian influences are just one facet of the design scheme, which Smith describes as "English chic." It's as if he's taken an English country house and peeled away the layers to reveal a pared-down, masculine collection of standout furnishings and objects — all infused with a modern edge. "I hate a lot of fuss," he says. "I like every piece to look like it has some sort of significance."
A Mississippi native who also has lived in Los Angeles and Atlanta, Smith moved to New Orleans and started his own renovation company in 2006. Since then, he has renovated numerous houses, always allowing some element of the original architecture to dictate his design direction. In this house, several things set the tone: the X pattern on the original front door — an ornamentation that's repeated subtly throughout the house — and a pair of stone horses that once flanked the gated entrance of a Chicago-area estate.
"There's always something that serves as my inspiration, then I kind of feed off that," he says. "I love taking a space and starting over and giving it my touch."
When Smith first viewed the house, it was sorely in need of repair. Damaged by Hurricane Katrina, it had been stripped to its bare bones and stood empty for years. But its few remaining hints of original architecture and warmth appealed to his designer's eye. He gutted the house to the studs, retained the basic footprint and reconfigured the interior. The house's 3,100 square feet of living space now includes a living room, sitting room, dining room, kitchen, breakfast room, family room, bedroom and one-and-a-half baths on the split-level first floor; a master suite, guest room and guest bath on the second floor; and a large media room on the third floor, which was previously an attic.
"As with every renovation I do, it's basically a brand new house," says Smith, reciting a list of features that includes all new wiring and plumbing as well as speakers in every room.
To keep the newly configured rooms — all with 9-foot ceilings — from feeling cluttered and cramped, the designer added doors and windows at the rear of the house to let in light and provide views and worked with a palette of whites that extends from the original heart pine floors (lightened with bleach and paint) to the ceiling. "I wanted to keep everything light and airy and create a flow by using the same colors in every room," he says. "By using white on the ceiling and the floor, it made everything seem a lot larger."
He added to the interior's impression of continuity by carrying the X motif to the kitchen's and bathrooms' custom cabinets, the powder room's ceiling fixture and some of the hardware. The most striking characteristics are the unexpected ones. Chrome hardware and a minimalist glass stair rail add a contemporary contrast to the background's simple, cottage feel. "The hardware makes it a little dressier and sexier," Smith says.
As owner of Shaun Smith Home (3947 Magazine St., 504-896-1020; www.shaunsmithhome.com), Smith has an ever-changing assortment of antique, vintage and contemporary furnishings at his fingertips. He travels to Atlanta, New York and Paris and scours flea markets and estate sales to keep the store stocked with exceptional design elements. In his own home, a traditional English component like the leather Chesterfield sofa in the living room gains new relevance when paired with a vintage Lucite table from the 1970s, brass chairs from the 1960s, custom neo-classical pedestals, vintage lamps, and of course, one of the stone horse heads that helped create his vision. The effect is that of a home that's been carefully curated over time. But it's also one that's very much of the moment.
In some ways, Smith says, the house has reflected a shift in the way he designs. This time, his previous penchant for Carrara marble kitchen countertops gave way to gleaming slabs of vein-cut quartzite. Instead of an all-white bedroom, which he usually favors, he went with ash-black walls in the master and deep blue in the guest room. As the design world begins to step away from the lacquered look that has been popular of late, Smith is drawn to natural elements like cowhide rugs, driftwood, stone, shells and antlers and has grown to appreciate a less structured way of balancing pieces in a room.
"In the master bedroom I have a Biedermeier chest on one side of the bed and a whitewashed chest on the other," he says. "I never would have done that before. I usually like things very symmetrical. But every house I do looks a little different."
Creatively renewed by a recent trip to New York, Smith is applying his energy and attention to detail to another renovation. "I've always been passionate about design," he says. "It's something I was meant to do."