When it comes to decorating The Big Easy, New Orleans has a signature palette that colors its iconic architecture inside and out. Some call it fearless, others call it faded. Regardless of the intensity, the New Orleans color palette blends a rich and diverse heritage of French, Spanish, African, Caribbean and English influences with nature, the passage of time, and the passionate New Orleanians who live there and fall under its spell.
century writer Lafcadio Hearn, who took up residence in “the glimmering Eden” said it best, “While it actually resembles no other city…it recalls vague memories of a hundred cities or towns.” Bryan Batt,
actor, designer and author of “Big Easy Style” says New Orleans is “like Venice, another carnival town, where you find glorious hues on the walls of the city.” Antiques dealer and Argentine native Karina Gentinetta
feels a kinship between Buenos Aires and her adopted hometown. Michael Bruno, founder of 1st Dibs
, says, “Ultimately for me, visiting New Orleans is like a trip back in time to early 19th
century France without having to take out my passport.”
“The most popular colors sold in New Orleans are from a collection of historical colors … of these Bleeker Beige is the most popular. It pairs well with White Dove and Ballet White.”
– Joey Helm, Helm Paint, interviewed by Valorie Hart for Gambit/Best of New Orleans
The distinctive architecture of New Orleans comes in many styles including Creole cottage, Shotgun, and Greek Revival. Designer/colorist Louis Aubert
who volunteers regularly for the Preservation Center of New Orleans
notes, “There are more than two dozen historic neighborhoods in New Orleans and like cousins in a family they share some attributes but remain individuals.” Aubert sees a slight trend toward pale gray/beige homes in Uptown, though high-contrast and Creole color combinations, offset by bright white trim, are still popular in Downtown areas. One common color stands out for Aubert; it is the “classic Old South combo of white walls and trim with a sky blue porch ceiling (Yarmouth Blue HC 150
) and shiny dark green/black shutters (Black Forest Green).”
“New Orleans is a city that loves color, from the most pale … to the most saturated … along with moody sensual colors.” – Valorie Hart, The Visual Vamp
Two palettes seem to dominate New Orleans interiors. One is funky, warm, and bold; the other is elegant, grayed and frayed. The former color scheme has roots in Spain and the Caribbean; the latter calls to mind genteel spaces reminiscent of Paris apartments. Some people mix the vibrant hues with the softer ones; others stick to one aesthetic.RICH CREOLE COLOR
is a furniture caner and self-taught colorist who does preservation work along with Aubert at the PRC. She is well-known for her bold palette of earthy brights. Her home, chartreuse on the outside, and just as saturated on the inside, hosts a multitude of deep hues. Painted ceilings feel wonderfully nostalgic to her, and offer an opportunity to really transform a space by wrapping it in color. Some of the popular historical Creole shades that Cooper loves are terracotta, turquoise and ochre. Trim is painted black since dark colors won’t show dirt!
Photos: Interior Design by Gerrie Bremermann/image from bayoucontessa.blogspot.com; table from Karina Gentinetta via 1st Dibs.
“Patina” is what 1st
Dibs’ Bruno calls the unique palette of New Orleans. For him, patina is a collection of muted shades of gold and bronze, along with taupe, cream, verdigris, mushroom and dove gray that reflect the history of the city. It is both time-worn and timeless, almost transcendent. It’s this “patina” that retailer Nelson Zayas perceives as “smoky,” what Destiny Lynch of Ecru Antiques
refers to as “washed linen,” what Batt refers to as “the grays of Spanish moss.”
Designer Karyl Pierce Paxton
lived in Mississippi before moving to New Orleans fourteen years ago. In adapting to her new environment, she sold her collection of dark English Regency and Empire furniture and bought French. She says, “The difference between the two Southern states — though both aesthetically relevant – is night and day.” For Paxton, New Orleans style is “romantic, unstructured, and understated” and the colors reflect that. This muted palette counterbalances the hot and sultry seasons and can stand strong hits of color without ruining the mood. Paxton’s picks for creating this palette are: Silken Pine-2144-50
, Misty Air OC44
-Wall Color, Super White (trim); Iceberg 2122-50
(For ceiling on porches)
Speaking of sultry … there is a noticeable presence of blush tones in New Orleans homes. From pink to peach – clean, subdued, grayed, lavender-esque and softly coral – these tones are sensual and naturally glamorous. Walls, colored in fruit and flesh, envelope a room with warm romance. Batt says, “I love the rich colors evoked by the purples and pinks found in a sunset over Lake Pontchartrain.” Flirty? Yes. But certainly not “girls-only,” especially when grayed, diluted, and paired with brown, black, and ecru.
New Orleans tastemakers agree that Katrina changed the palette of their city. Louis Aubert notes a move toward more conservative colors on building exteriors. Karina Gentinetta rebuilt her home and painted it Elmira White
. Since her home appeared in the New York Times
, Karina has seen a flurry of homes similarly painted. Destiny and Regina Lynch named their shop “Ecru” and feel the warm cream color is peaceful and calm.
, decorator, style commentator, and blogger, says “Katrina allowed homeowners to refresh and revamp their homes. Many people had to buy entire rooms of new furniture, so New Orleans was thrown into 21st
century style.” While the people of New Orleans may be redecorating, they’re not moving. As Louis Aubert says, “I have always lived in an old house in an old neighborhood and can’t imagine living in New Orleans in any other way. I love New Orleans.”
BONUS: The Take-Away
- Sky blue porch ceilings are said to deter wasps from nesting there.
- Dark trim colors hide dirt and dust.
- Flat paint calls less attention to uneven and cracked plaster walls in an old house.
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