Celebrating RootsInteriors

Celebrating Roots: A New Orleans Guest House Infused with Cultural Influence

by Shavonda Gardner

When it comes to booking travel accommodations nowadays, the options are endless. From boutique hotels, to budget-friendly hostels, exclusive resorts, and even Airbnb, it’s become easier to find places to stay that speak to your specific preference and travel needs. Budget is king when it comes to narrowing down where to stay when planning trips and vacations, closely followed by the desire for something clean, comfortable, and convenient. But what about those who want something a bit more unique?

If you are planning a trip to New Orleans, LA and are looking for somewhere to stay with a unique cultural aesthetic, you’ll want to add Häbitât Blãnc to your list. I first discovered the amazing guest house of BOA — a high-end furniture designer and owner of Oi Studio — on Instagram and immediately wanted to know more about it. I’m delighted to have BOA share more about Häbitât Blãnc and how she infused her multicultural upbringing into its design.

BOA, above, describes herself as a reluctant interior designer only for very special clients.

Her 2,250-square-foot house is located in the Esplanade Ridge section of Seventh Ward in New Orleans. It was built in 1917 and is a Victorian Shotgun Double with a Camelback. She explains that, “all of this means it is a side-by-side duplex with a second floor set back from the front of the house. Also, the term shotgun refers to the room layout — apparently you can shoot a gun from the front door and the bullet will go straight out the back door without hitting anything — if you’re a good shot. LOL. There are no hallways anywhere; one room flows right into the next.”

She lives in one half of the double, and the guest house side is about 950 square feet.

BOA tells us, “I am from a mix of cultures: I’m originally from St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and I also hold dual French citizenship; plus I have a ‘Belonger’s’ card to any island still under the British Crown (my mom is from the British Virgin Islands). I chose to name my house in French to honor my departed father who was from the French Antilles. ‘Häbitât Blãnc’ just basically means white dwelling.  Eventually the primary color scheme for both the inside and the outside will be mostly white with natural wood accents. After living with riotous color for so many years, I find the lack of color visually calming. ”

Her other main style influence is from Southeast Asia, where BOA has traveled extensively. She started importing pieces from Bali, Indonesia in 2003, and the house also features pieces from Nepal, Thailand, and India as well as original furniture that she designed herself. She describes the vibe of this space as French-Caribbean with Asian and African influences.

“I chose this neighborhood for its proximity to the French Quarter and City Park: it is equidistant from both. Seventh Ward has always been a historically Black neighborhood — even though that has rapidly changed due to gentrification. My community in New Orleans reminds me so much of the people of the Caribbean and I feel so welcome here. Everybody greets me while I’m out walking my dog, whether they’ve ever met me before or not!”

As gorgeous as things are in Häbitât Blãnc now, the road to get here was not pretty when BOA bought the home in 2005. “The first time I saw this house, I didn’t love it,” BOA begins. “Something about the energy was off. It had languished on the market for a while because it didn’t show well; it was incredibly dark and depressing, with dingy espresso floors and too-bright yellow walls. It smelled like cat pee and half the electrical outlets didn’t work. A couple rooms needed a total gut. On top of that, it was right next door to two vacant, blighted properties. However, I came back a couple weeks later with my realtor and looked at it with new eyes. I realized it had some basics that I required: central air, a decent sized backyard, and the previous owner had already reversed the traditional shotgun layout which has the kitchen located at the back of the house and the bedroom near the front. My previous apartment had that layout and I found it really strange to have people walk through my bedroom to get to the kitchen or bathroom. Anyway, it fit my budget, it had good bones, and was one of very few doubles on the market. I was especially looking to purchase a double because I knew I wanted to create a short-term rental in one half of it.”

In her design process, she keeps in mind things like scale, traffic flow, and how to integrate her vast collection of furnishings. BOA describes her design style as contemporary and eclectic with a global flavor. “As a furniture designer, I prefer to support other designers and buy originals rather than copies when I can afford it. I’ve collected both art and furnishings made by several of my friends in the industry.” She is also heavily drawn to organic materials like stone, and both solid and petrified wood.

“Growing up in a tropical climate and above a beach, I’m already used to that whole concept of indoor/outdoor living. I wouldn’t say I have incorporated a Caribbean design sensibility in the literal, stereotypical manner. It’s more like a vibe, a feeling of accessible informality. However, there are a few items I’ve lugged from house to house over the years. For example, my conch shells that I brought from the V.I. are always on whatever porch or outdoor space I have. I think my background and my extensive travel has a huge influence in my design choices and I like to decorate with special items from each country I visit. I need to know the real story behind a thing instead of buying it from somewhere like World Market.”

BOA incorporates spirituality into her design as well. Throughout her house you’ll find images of the Buddha. “From the front porch to the backyard, he’s represented in every single room in the house as either a sculpture or painting. I’ve studied Tibetan Buddhism for awhile. Not only am I fascinated with the philosophy, I find his image adds a little bit of Zen, a little bit of tranquility to each space — at least that’s what my guests say.”

Other ways BOA has been influenced by her culture is by food and community. “I would have to say my absolute favorite thing about West Indian culture is the FOOD. In my family that’s how we show our love. Every event centers around the communal sharing of a meal. I feel uniquely lucky to have grown up where I did, when I did, and how I did. It’s a huge part of who I am today.”

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