We spent part of two days in New Orleans’ “design district” located along Magazine Street, a pleasant thoroughfare of low, two and three story buildings that ran for several miles between Jackson and Jefferson Streets in the Garden District.
Historically, a “magazine” is where a military unit maintains an arsenal of its weaponry and where it drills and parades its soldiers. Given the length of this particular street, it was also meant to show off that military and its might…in numbers and guns. This fact seemed to be lost on the locals I questioned about it.
More appropriately, the French word “Magasin” which translates to the American equivalent “department store,” fits the purpose and use of the street today: the only weaponry required being an American Express Card!
It was a good thing that I broke up this part of our trip. There was a lot of walking, and while the streets are flat and easy to navigate, the sun can be intense in the stretches where the trees thin out (a nice respite was the the corner of Magazine and Napoleon where there was leafy park with a ball field in the middle)! Too, Sundays are slower and lazier than the rest of the week; and while I don’t believe Blue Laws are in force, many of the shops are closed on Sunday and Monday including the yummy and superior French Patisserie, La Boulangerie at 4600 Magazine.
Feeling peckish, we’d stopped earlier at Surrey’s Cafe Uptown, 4807 Magazine, for a more proper lunch in a setting more in tune with 1923 than 2013. Charming and friendly, this “find” had “real” food at “real” prices. The portions were generous and the service came with a smile.
Clothing, accessory and hair/skin care boutiques dot the landscape in and between all the home furnishings establishments; but truth be told, there isn’t much to write home about. Sundresses, peddle-pushers, straw and canvas totes, and a whispy, unfinished looking cocktail frock or two comprise the bulk of the offerings. Vintage and Flea-market shops seemed to be the popular alternative. A local told me she orders all her clothes on line because there’s no where to shop for fashion except Saks! Two exceptions to this may be Wedding Belles and Baby Bump…though I suspect not necessarily in that order!
Other than some good “antiquing” I had no expectations of what I would find along the way. A bit surprising -and then again not- prices were in line with New York: a Flo Blue plate for $135 and an Ivory handle serving fork for $80.
At our first stop, Libby Bonner greeted us warmly at British Antiques, 5415 Magazine Street. Her shop was choc-a-block full of silver, china and 18th and 19th century furniture. Everything gleamed; and this eagle eye found no dust anywhere! Making us feel right at home, Libby spent more than an hour helping us make selections and sharing anecdotes about the store, her life and her experience. Turns out she has a son, recently re-located to New York!
At 4112 we found the first of a precious few shops catering to the contemporary and fashion forward customer. Tanga Winstead of Villa Vici has created a warm and inviting shop of mostly white, gray and stone colored furnishings and accessories that got our juices going. Interesting materials in interesting combinations had us lingering around the well chosen selection of Mitchell Gold sofas, chairs and ottomans. Most intriguing were her choice of light fixtures, which were among the most exciting things we saw on the whole trip!
A bit further down the road, we visited Ann Koerner Antiques, 4021 Magazine Street, specializing in a wonderful array of Swedish 18th and 19th century pieces. When we entered the shop several ladies were seated in a semi-circle as though in the middle of a tea party! I felt we’d entered something VERY private, but all assembled, sensing my hesitation, couldn’t have been more welcoming. Apparently, it’s not unusual to just drop in, set a spell and have a chat in New Orleans! How different from our rush-rush, in-out, fast-track lives up north!!
Next door at 4017, we visited with Karla Katz of Karla Katz & Co. who features French and Italian period furnishings and had a number of gorgeous chandeliers. Turns out Karla did a stint as a designer in New York but is now happily settled back home.
Our next stop, Shawn Smith Home at 3947, turned out to be our “spiritual” touch stone on the street…not that we knew that entering his shop/design studio. Beach-washed furnishings, shells, candles and accessories boldly highlighted by objects in black greeted us as did a sweet, young salesperson who apologized for the mess of packing boxes strewn about: a new shipment of merchandise had arrived. In our minds, a most exciting moment. Tradition with transition and a modern accent made for happy browsing as we went deeper into the shop and up some shallow steps where we were greeted by the man himself! Personable yet direct, Shawn drew us into conversation about shoes, hometowns, clients, project work and design education. 40 minutes flew by before we exited to the street to take a call from the office. Several minutes later, Shawn and his design assistant strolled by, stopping for a moment to reconnect, then going on their way, only to meet up with us again in another shop. New Orleans suddenly felt a bit more like home, with friends on every corner!
In that vein, a Hurricane Katrina to New York transplant, Elizabeth Sullivan turns out to have spent a year living only 2 or 3 buildings north of me in New York! She returned home to NoLa to found Interior Designs, Inc. , 3814 Magazine, a mecca of transitional furnishings, lighting and art mostly in “griege” tones. Standouts in her shop were these two amazing shagreen (stingray) covered chests. And no, you don’t want to know how much…even on sale!
Around this time our energy began to flag, so we stopped into Smashburger, 3300 Magazine, for a snack. Too close to dinner to sample the juicy looking burgers and tempting french fries, we settled on a chocolate malt. It really hit the spot as we headed into the home stretch.
Sadly, both times we shopped the street, Perch -at number 2844- was closed. A trendy design studio, we were really interested to get inside for a look. A phone number on the door suggested we could make an appointment. Being New Yorkers we were interested NOW…not 10 minutes from now & moved on to look in the windows of the also closed Dunn & Sonnier florist and antique shop which had a STELLAR pair of gold and crystal girandols in the window…somewhat out of our budget!
A few antique malls later, we made our last stop at Spruce Home & Garden at 2043. A stylish mixture of indoor, outdoor, slick contemporary and hunting lodge oddities (think deer hoof bathroom hooks), they also seemed to have T-shirts and some interesting jewelry.
Well nothing ventured, nothing gained…but I’d say we covered the waterfront here! Lots to see and do…including a stop at the Bank of New Orleans at 5435 to refuel!!
Next week: a tour of three Creole Plantations
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