Rebirth in New Orleans
In the atmospheric French Quarter, a renovation unearths and burnishes the charm and character of the past
Most remodels take something old and outmoded and transform it into something shiny and new. Chris Fisher wanted to do just the opposite. When the New York–based TV producer-director (Person of Interest; Warehouse 13) purchased a duplex apartment in New Orleans’s historic French Quarter, the dwelling had all the trappings of a property designed to sell—granite countertops, new cabinetry, stainless steel appliances—but the cookie-cutter finishes could not have felt more out of place in the circa-1820 home. Fisher wanted something authentic, dreamy, and not too “done.” So he enlisted two Louisiana natives, Katie Logan LeBlanc and Jensen Killen of Logan Killen Interiors, to strip away the so-called improvements in favor of an aesthetic grounded in a lush nostalgia for Creole style.
“We were determined to provide him with the place he had created in his mind’s eye—full of color, old woods, simple furniture, and a bit of aged lavishness,” LeBlanc says. But renovating in one of the oldest neighborhoods in the country meant that the designers, aided by Mayer Building Construction, never knew quite what to expect as they peeled back nearly two hundred years’ worth of home improvements. And Fisher’s NOLA retreat, on the top two floors of what had been a private mansion until the 1950s, was stacked with architectural surprises.
LeBlanc and Killen revealed the building’s original architecture wherever possible and added historic elements where they had been lost or never existed. The sturdiest of the brick walls were left exposed. Holes in the kitchen’s original wood floor were filled with epoxy rather than replaced. And when a transom window was uncovered above the entry door, the pair sourced similar windows and installed them throughout the house. Exposing the bones of the space gave the designers the shell they and Fisher were looking for, but there was an incongruousness to the layout they couldn’t quite reconcile—until one final sheet of drywall revealed the answer.
“We discovered that a portion of the space had previously been a porch,” Killen explains, “so the wall separating the kitchen from the living room was actually the exterior wall.” (It still bears a window as proof.) The most definitive in a series of happy accidents, the discovery set the tone for the design of the entire space. “We knew the rest of the kitchen and the entry were at some point open to the outside,” adds LeBlanc, “so we let them feel like a porch with beaded board ceilings and concrete tile.”
Having tamed the curious layout, the designers set about outfitting the antique home with all the trappings of modern life. “There was no lighting in this place originally. There was no electricity,” LeBlanc says. “So if there was a fixture, it was for candles.” The exposed brick walls and open ceilings left little wallboard to hide new electrical and plumbing systems, so LeBlanc and Killen got creative once again. In the kitchen and bedrooms they installed ceiling fans with built-in lights. The kitchen pendants are hung from a shelf, rather than hardwired. And in the guest bath, the wall was built out just slightly to house the necessary pipes. Elsewhere, the designers worked the industrial edge into their client’s eclectic—and somewhat surprising—sensibility.
“It’s rare to get a client who wants a pink foyer and floral wallpaper,” says Killen of Fisher’s specific wish list. Luckily, his predilection for eye-catching walls worked perfectly in the context of his adopted city. “New Orleans, and the French Quarter in particular, hold color really well. There’s just something about the light,” LeBlanc explains. Thus the entry was painted in a rich conch-shell pink. The kitchen walls received a paler shade, Benjamin Moore’s Jumel Peachtone, with Blue Woodlawn on the ceiling. The designers took a risk painting the windowless living area a deep green (Fisher was initially skeptical too), but hedged their bets by backing new built-in bookcases with mirrored panels to reflect the kitchen’s plentiful light and add a touch of glitz to the moody space. Fisher also requested a blue bedroom and a yellow bedroom. He got both, with GP&J Baker’s Roses & Hummingbirds and Emperor’s Garden wall coverings doing the honors.
To ensure that the decor was imbued with the spirit of the Big Easy, LeBlanc and Killen shopped almost exclusively in New Orleans. Towels and throws came from Loomed NOLA in the Garden District, the vintage rag rugs throughout were picked up at NOLA Rugs, and the loft bedroom’s tent was purchased from Saint Claude, an online shop run by Killen’s cousin. The two also scoured local antiques stores for ornate, one-of-a-kind furnishings, including the gold mirror in the master bedroom.
“We realized we had to bring in some modern elements to not make it feel too themed,” adds LeBlanc. Those contemporary touches come courtesy of Restoration Hardware, Ballard, and even Etsy. “This is one of the first projects Katie and I had together, and was by far the most historically driven,” says Killen. “We made decisions that wouldn’t necessarily work elsewhere.” In New Orleans, however, those decisions feel not only allowable but appropriate. The result: a home that unites the vision of a design-minded client and the spirit of a city with eccentricity to spare.