amy azzarito

designtripper in new orleans

by Amy Azzarito

Meghan McEwen and Kelly Flamos are co-founders of Designtripper, a blog that combines pretty much the two best things ever — design and travel — with an emphasis on places to stay. I totally believe that where you lay your head at night can make or break a trip (and I have the scars of a particularly horrible Montreal trip to prove it). So when Meghan offered to show us around one of her favorite haunts in New Orleans, we jumped at the chance to armchair travel with her. I’m going to let Meghan and Kelly take us away! — Amy

After a week-long Designtripper road trip from Detroit — with super fun, interesting stops in Louisville, Nashville and Greensboro, Alabama along the way — we finally landed at the granddaddy of the entire trip: a set of historic antebellum homes in New Orleans. When I travel, I always try to find places to stay that tell a story about the city. And Race & Religious — named after the intersecting streets of a lonely industrial corner in the Lower Garden District — looks and feels like a brick-and-mortar history lesson about New Orleans.

The owner, Granville Semmes, “a warden of history” with a flair for the artful and eccentric, slowly researched and rehabbed the original Creole cottage over the course of 30 years. Almost the entire time, he had his eye on the 1836 Greek revival row house next door and its slave quarters (connected by a walkway from the main house with a bridge and a trap door), and he finally acquired the adjoining property seven years ago and spent four years excavating, renovating and decorating.

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Although “decorating” is hardly a sufficient word for his daring interior experiments played across each room: murals painted on walls (my favorite is a typical New Orleans house hand-painted above a bedroom door); books stacked from floor to ceiling; art everywhere; mismatched Oriental rugs layered on top of one another; and cracked, peeling plaster exposing the original masonry work underneath. Honoring the name, there’s also tons of religious iconography, including outsized crosses, flying angels and a statue of the blessed Virgin Granville from a bulldozed church found on a Waveland porch. The stunning antique furniture is as old and storied as the house itself.

It’s a relic of an older Louisiana, “of which few glimmers remain,” says Granville, who spent years researching the house and the area, discovering diaries and letters from the period that tell of a neighborhood of butchers and railroad families, drunken sailors and Creole orphans.

We’re exploring every square inch of New Orleans, but I’m constantly drawn back into the magical interiors — we sit around the kitchen table sharing food and stories from full days, and at some point during each day, I try to sit in a new room (there are at least 12, plus endless nooks and crannies, each filled with all kinds of weird, fantastic artifacts, including papers, textiles and cool old accessories). My kids run up and down the creaky staircases, play hide and seek in the courtyard and swim in the slender, cement pool. With all the secret passageways and hidden doors, the house feels like some kind of strange and whimsical wonderland. My four-year-old keeps asking if we can live here forever. I’m wondering the same thing.

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