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Arts & Culture

Fresh Creole Ain’t Just Tomatoes: New Orleans New Elegance

New Orleans design buffs love codifying the myriad styles here: Greek Revival, Italianate, Plantation Gothic, Art Deco, the classic Man Cave Drew-Breesiana Purchase, and tons of others. This architecture nomenclature prompts many good-natured arguments among design aficionados – is it French or Spanish? Is that a balcony or a veranda (or in some parts of town – a ‘miranda’)? Is that antique chifferobe made in-state or abroad? Is that Post Modern or just ugly?

Kerri McCaffety now proposes a new addition to the style file – Fresh Creole. What she calls “a sparse, clean, relaxed elegance.” In her newest jewel of a book, New Orleans New Elegance, McCaffety attributes this evolution to the extant classic old Crescent City designs found all over town re-fitted through the hopeful eyes of a more optimistic post-Katrina attitude. A brighter future makes a brighter living room.

As we would expect, Kerri backs up her thesis with fantasy-inspiring portraits of stunning interiors full of extravagance and class making me feel like I have to comb my hair just to look at them.

“After the storm, rotting silk and peeling paint were no longer charming,” she points out. “Every designer I spoke with agreed that people want a cleaner, more vibrant look.”

McCaffety is the perfect artist to proclaim this new wave in design – no one has photographed more nice house interiors. Further, her work, whether it’s a richer-than-thou chandelier or a drunker-than-thou Mardi Gras reveler, conveys an inner nobility and self-possession. She has classically documented our distinct local look in her many books – among them Majesty of the French Quarter, Masking and Madness, and the de rigueur Big Easy bookshelf denizen: Obituary Cocktail.

In New Orleans New Elegance, she shows us houses from different parts of town that retain their 19th century character but with a sleeker line. When Maw Maw left you that Uptown mansion with the dark walls, heavy Persian rugs, and that glowering portrait of Paw Paw, where do you plug in your iPad? Do you dare play your Wazozo disc? And who’s been eating watermelon on that white silk settee?

Here McCaffety shows us a way to bring everything that was awesome about Maw Maw, and her time, into the 21st century – light-filled, life-affirming, and guilt-free.

Purchase New Orleans New Elegance online, at Maple Leaf Book Shop or check at one of the other great local bookstores in New Orleans.

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