Into the future

Designer Rodney Santana Villarreal conjures contemporary charm in an old French Quarter carriage house.

Simple lines in metal make a contemporary statement in the old courtyard.

Kerri McCaffety photographs

One of the city’s most innovative designers, Rodney Santana Villarreal is known for using the essential elements of New Orleans style in fresh, contemporary ways.

In this case, Villarreal and the homeowner bring an 1820s French Quarter carriage house boldly into the 21st century. “This eclectic blend of modern and old is where I see the future of New Orleans interior design heading,” Villarreal says. “The new generation is not going for the all-French
or all-period house.”

KM: What kind of shape was the building in when you started, and what was the goal for the design?

Homeowner: It was a deplorable, dark, dank shell. I avoided going in there. Now it’s so inviting that I don’t
want to leave. After Katrina, I wanted something completely different, a trend transformation I see in many New Orleans interiors. It can best be described as comfortable and uncluttered with an exciting freshness. It is not minimalist but clean in a way that allows you to appreciate the architecture and the textures that make old buildings so wonderful.
It is clean and contemporary and also warm and comfortable, exactly the feel I wanted.

KM: How much of the original architecture remains?

Homeowner: The original footprint is unchanged, aside from one interior wall we removed upstairs in the bedroom. Although the building is only 800 square feet, removing
the wall makes the bedroom large and open. The rooms also connect with the courtyard and balcony, giving even more visual space.

KM: What is your favorite thing about the carriage house?

Homeowner: I love the whole feel, the way it draws you in. It is airy, light and fresh and still has the character of New Orleans. The living room feels like a continuation of the courtyard. I also love the texture combinations. There is a lot of richness in the textures –– concrete, brick, glass tiles, metals, stone and wood. And I love to sit in the living room and look at the staircase. It was made on-site and is like a work of art itself.

KM: The garden has the same blend of contemporary and traditional elements as the house. How did you achieve this?

Homeowner: For continuity, the garden needed to have contemporary style. I like the metal box tables and metal chairs in contrast to the old walls. The plants still have an overgrown and relaxed style, typical of New Orleans tradition.

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