How to Create Magic Spaces in Your Home
I know this is a New Orleans lifestyle blog. I know there’s nothing particular to New Orleans in any of the staging and decorating I do… but I do believe that my attempts at creating magical spaces are more soulful because I live in New Orleans.
My inspiration, on every project we do, comes from the quiet “bones” of the beautiful homes I sell; and the homes Bobby and I renovate for our portfolio are enriched by the presence of history as we each take on our duties of construction, renovation, styling, staging and marketing.
Sounds complicated, but it’s not. It’s instinctive, and it’s something I love to pass on to friends and clients, even if they swear they don’t have my “feel” for bringing a particular ambiance to a property. It starts with just one thing: a thought or idea that becomes the center of a space. Everyone has a favorite place or activity. Just bring it home – it can start anywhere!
Let me share our latest – our home home in Uptown New Orleans. We had so many criteria for finding this home it was a near-impossible dream that we ever found it. When we did find it, the only way to afford it was to treat it as a “flip” project, put tons of sweat equity into it, then refinance at the new value down the road. We’re in the middle of that scenario now.
Here’s what it is, as it looked the day we bought it:
Don’t get me wrong… this 1927 spanish revival jewel had all the right stuff to start with. We were not the architects… but someone had to save its soul.
This home in Fountainbleu/Marlyville in Uptown New Orleans had arches and chandeliers, 1920s art deco tile, custom doors and tons and tons of natural light. It had wood floors that needed refinishing, but were in great shape. The house had been shored in the past ten years, so there were quirks in the foundation that made leveling anything a challenge… and the basement space below looked like nothing but potential to us:
Quickly, the part that was all business for me… we took half the basement and finished out about 400 square feet of storage area to incorporate into an income-producing apartment. We needed some cash coming in to get this party started… so here’s a happy ending to the basement, just a quick look around a darling apartment that our vacation rental guests now describe as “cozy” and “private” and “absolutely adorable.” (You can book it here, on Airbnb, for a short stay in New Orleans).
That’s oversimplifying the situation, but my real focus for this article is the upstairs – our home. The basement is now a jewel of an area with the above apartment having its own entrance, and the rest of the basement housing Bobby’s office, my office, and a nearly finished family room and laundry for our personal use.
Up the stairs… I guess we could have moved in the day we bought it. Could you? The pictures above show the severity of the all-white “staging” that had been done to emphasize the glamour and grandeur of the 1920s style. There were mirrors everywhere… most everything was functional, but in no way did it feel like “our place.” We felt there was much to do to be able to call it home.
Here are a few things that we couldn’t live with at all:
The pink bathroom and the horrible kitchen. Again, I’m skipping past the kitchen renovation because it’s in progress now. Believe me, it deserves a whole article of its own, once it’s finished. It’s gonna be AMAZING.
Here is what matters: The space we now call home has become like our favorite vacation place at the beach in Costa Rica. Spanish influence is all around, but it now feels like the outdoors came inside. Warmth is all around, and even our most skeptical friends now say, “This is so comfortable!” It’s hard to nail it down to any one thing, but here was my thought process:
Those windows! As much as I hated the mirrors, I loved the windows. Outside, there are crepe myrtle trees, blossoming all spring and summer. Our next door neighbor has an enchanted jungle in his back yard, which the windows in the sun room overlook. To me, that gorgeous abundance needed to be framed. The white interior and chandeliers held that view at bay, keeping it outside and in its place. Now, I think, the jungle comes inside. The windows can be thrown open for a magical feeling of being at the beach. You should hear those palm trees rustle in the slightest storm! Talk about tropical.
There was nothing magic about what I did. People who see the house now rave about how it is “transformed.” In truth, it was nothing but paint. Bobby does the real renovations… I just change the textures and colors… but what a difference it makes! The deep texture in the white plaster made the rooms feel “staged” and the workmanship of the plaster was grossly accentuated – not in a good way. With deeper colors, the outdoor garden lighting we used indoors just creates the coolest shadows and depths within the walls. There’s a soft glow in every room at night, which helps offset the confusing effect of the mirrors. (We are stuck with the mirrors for now).
The other thing that happened as we added some earth tones to the walls was that the chandelier lighting because less harsh… in fact, inviting. All that sparkle on the ceiling now casts its shapes and prisms around the room. The yellow tones in the lights (I never use blue tones in my lighting – it makes me look old!) also “settle” the bouncing light from the crystals, grounding the feeling in the room to create a sense of unhurried luxury. Then the mirrors double the effect of the windows, which I think cannot be overdone.
The sun room is my favorite place. All the windows are fully functional and can be opened onto the balcony or overlooking my neighbors jungle-yard. Since the neighbors have chickens, it’s not unusual to hear the sounds of the country and the rustling of palm trees and falling rain all at the same time. I’d need three of those ambient noise machines to create that wonderful effect, and it’s all real – right here in the middle of the city.
And the last thing I need to mention is the abundance of plants. I have filled our space with as many live, tropical plants as I can. It does take some water and love to keep them vibrant, but the live things, along with our aquatic pet turtle and fish, make it possible to believe we have stepped into a hacienda on some exotic island… and it’s time for a relaxing break from the world outside.
See? Nothing magic. Our same furniture from our last house, same art work, very little money used to enhance the structure that was already there. Just close your eyes and see your perfect escape… then copy the parts of it you can afford, and fake the rest with smoke and mirrors!