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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  • Thank you so much for taking me inside this home! I live in New Orleans and have walked by this house many times with curiosity about what it was like inside.

  • Wow, what a gorgeous house. You are right equally romantic and spooky. I’d love to have a house like this, but I know I’m a wimp and would be just as afraid to be alone in it. LOL

  • I am working on a new logo and website for Race & Religious right now. I just drool over the photos all day! It is such a beautiful space! This post makes me miss home… moved to Boston in December.

  • funny! i’m a long time reader/lurker but finally had to comment because we’re having our wedding at race & religious this year! i’m so thrilled to see it featured!

  • Oh my gosh…this place is like a muse! Think of all of the novels/films/photographs/paintings that could be made…inspired by such a dark, beautiful place! Thank you for this post!

  • Love it! Gorgeous textures everywhere. I was in NO in November and can’t wait to visit again!

  • I love NOLA! IMO, it has the best food in the US! Only thing that scares me is the headless child thingy?

  • This place looks awesome, but I’m confused. It sounds like a place that you can stay at, but when I went to the website it mentions 2 bedrooms, but no info at all on renting the place. What’s the deal?

  • finally!! i always search every design blog for new orleans. you cannot beat this city. it has so SO much to offer, and is often underrepresented in the country. everytime i talk about NOLA i get chills. keep ’em coming!

  • Meghan and Kelly, you ladies are wonderful! Thank you for the eloquent and gorgeous review! And I got to meet your babies and hubbies… all adorable.
    For those wondering how to rent the property, our website is being redone, but you can inquire through the “contact us” page. For more info on rentals, check out Home Away http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p341481 ,
    and VRBO http://www.vrbo.com/331826 . And of course, like everyone else, we are on Facebook.

  • This place, as well as Gran & Billie, are held in high esteem. In the “old days,” (well before Katrina), I visited Gran and Paul on the renovation weekly, photographed the development of the property, and got the history lessons that Gran & Paul got – all of which provide fond memories. I intend to see them, the town house, and the Creole cottage again soon. Tell all of them “hello” for me, please. the renovation turned out especially beautiful, but I’m not surprised.


  • As contractor on the project for four and a half years, Special thanks to artist BLAKE BOYD. STEPHEN RICHARDSON. and the late great JEFFERY COOK. Masters of masonry HERMAN FITCH and CEASAR SOUSA. Without this team it would be just another house on the block

  • hi there. we actually got married at race and religious on march 12th. we were the first non family event and it was the most magical moment ever! the setting was incredible and made for the most intimate, beautiful, and touching experience. every single one of our guests said that it was the most beautiful and unique wedding they have been too! it is a must stay and i must say i was sad for march 12th to be over so that we no longer have ties to vesta, gran, billie, and mathilde! great place and great family!

  • Those photos are just great! The way that the old and the new design elements are integrated makes the spaces just wonderful! Thanks for this great piece and photos. Ernest