What do you do when you've renovated one French Quarter house and are pleased with the results? Renovate another, of course. That's what one local businessman did with the help of designer Beth Harris of Beth Harris Interiors. Three years after handling the interior design for the client's family home in the Quarter, Harris was hired to decorate a second property, this one a circa-1830 Creole townhouse two blocks from St. Louis Cathedral.
The previous owners completed an award-winning renovation of the house in 2004. In 2000, while the renovation was underway, the property received an award from the Vieux Carre Commission (VCC) for "innovative installation of a ground source thermal exchange providing air conditioning and heat without unsightly and noisy condensing units." In 2004, it also received the VCC's Restoration Honor Award.
With current yet timeless features — Carrara marble countertops, stainless steel appliances, marble flooring, French doors and a winding staircase that rises from the ground floor to the attic guest suite — the interior had fresh appeal when Harris's client purchased it several years ago.
The new owner turned the office into the master bedroom and made the former master bedroom into a sitting room. He also stripped the exposed beams in the attic guest suite, returning them to their natural hue. This also revealed wood that had been charred in a fire and was difficult to restore to its original honey color.
Harris was hired to lighten and brighten the two-and-a-half story residence as well as the freestanding service quarters at the rear of the property, which is now a guest house.
"The owner has a passion for the French Quarter and its history and for design," says Harris, who handled every detail from furnishings and bed linens to silverware and soap. "And I'd already done one home for him that he was really happy with."
The aesthetic is simple. White walls and trim form a serene backdrop. Sisal rugs, slipcovered furnishings in whites and neutral colors, heirloom-quality bed linens and tailored window coverings in natural light-filtering fabrics add a cool layer of comfort. Silk draperies, streamlined metallic tables, bold lighting and mirrored glass finish the space with a touch of glamour. But meticulous planning belies the pared-down luxury.
"There are so many challenges in the French Quarter that [other places] don't have," Harris says.
She had the neoclassical oval dining table custom-sized so it doesn't block the front door. She chose a mirrored desk as a bedside table to allow for the necessary air flow for a return vent in the room. She had sisal rugs custom cut to fit the dimensions and shape of each room. She measured all the furnishings and worked them into a schematic of the floor plan for scale and proportion. She had the master bath's oddly placed doors replaced with space-saving, barn-style doors that glide on a mounted track.
White was the color of choice, both for its cooling effect and washability.
"My impression is it's so hot in New Orleans, it just makes me feel cooler," Harris says. "It feels lighter and airier and clean. People worry about keeping white clean, but to me it's the easiest color to clean."
Most of the furnishings in the home are new, but Harris recommended a few key antiques that seemed tailor-made for the space, including a 19th-century gilded mirror for the stairwell.
The final outcome — a breathable oasis that relays the beauty of the past and present — is gratifying to both homeowner and designer.
"Spending years building a personal relationship with my client allowed me to find the best solution for each space with his complete confidence," Harris says. "The results speak for themselves. He loved it and I love it too."