Rebel With A Cause

Decorator Valorie Hart energized a faded cottage by breaking all the rules

Sara Essex Bradley

“New Orleans is about silk drapes, oyster plates, hurricane lamps, trumeaux, sea grass, chandeliers and some kind of French furniture,” says interior designer, stylist and blogger Valorie Hart, listing some of her favorite elements of local décor. Hart’s own home, however, is anything but a cookie cutter rendering of those components.

A native New Yorker whose résumé includes fronting a rock band in the 1980s and running her own event design business for 20 years, Hart rarely does things in an expected way.

Instead, the Irish Channel cottage that she and her husband, tango instructor Alberto Paz, share is a lot like Hart herself: colorful, edgy and full of cheeky riffs on the traditional. “I am the mix-master for sure,” she says. “I like things that are witty, that are warm, that make you feel welcome, that make you feel like you’re having a good time in my home. I learned all the rules in order to break them.”

When Hart and Paz first viewed the house in 2004, it was one of six houses on the block owned and used by the former Methodist Home for Children and was sorely in need of repairs. Originally built as a double, it had gone through a succession of updates, the most recent a volunteer effort that Hart describes as “a soft renovation.” Nevertheless, the property’s double lot, garage and off-street parking and the live oaks lining Washington Avenue appealed to the couple, who took on the project with plans to do most of the cosmetic work themselves. “I looked around and said, ‘This was a working-class house when it was built’ and didn’t feel like approaching it like a grand, historic renovation,” Hart says. “It needed some paint and some love, but I worked with what was here, including saving some of the architectural elements that survived the last century.”

A few years later, termite damage and a roof that was caving in upped the ante. The couple invested in a second round of structural and decorative upgrades, and this time, Hart’s experience as a tech-savvy home décor blogger was integral to the creative process. “When you get into the subject [you’re blogging about], it becomes an education,” she says. “I got a crash course in interior design via the blogs. I was exposed to so much, and I used my house as a lab to test ideas for clients.”

Ideas explored on Hart’s blog, thevisualvamp.blogspot.com – combining high- and low-end items; working with color; and using a mix of vintage, modern and antique furnishings and art, for example – are evident throughout her home. In her hands, a thrift store settee covered in a worn Victorian chenille gains new relevance reupholstered with white faux leather and nailhead trim, silk drapes forgo their usual sense of formality fabricated in a lively shade of chartreuse shot through with purple threads, and a sedate chandelier is turned on its ear with a coat of orange paint.

With thousands of people following her blog, it’s clear that Hart is not the only design-o-phile with an appreciation of such things. In fact, she is writing a home décor book to be published by Glitterati in 2013. “When I started my blog, I decided to edit it like my own little magazine,” she says. “Writing regularly and taking photos for the blog is fun, and it’s something to do that is creative. I didn’t go into blogging looking for an end result like a book deal. I was searching for like-minded décor mavens to hang out with. But I think everything happens for a reason, and with blogging as in life, it happens organically.”

The evolution of Hart’s home has occurred organically, as well. Recent changes have been made to every room in the house, from the living room, where a small, inexpensive work by local artist Mario Ortiz provided the impetus for a new color scheme, to the kitchen, which got an in-depth makeover as a result of changing the paint color in the adjoining dining room.

Because Hart likes to refresh spaces often, she’s an avowed recycler, ever in search of ways to re-interpret pieces she already has. “My whole philosophy is to use what one has,” she says, “mainly for budget and because I hate to trash something just because it’s not trendy. Revamping and restyling is my forte.”

True to form, she’s included homages to her adopted city throughout the house – silk drapes, photographs of oysters, oyster plates, glass hurricane lamps, trumeaux and sea-grass rugs were instinctively part of the synergistic mix. But what really stands out is the way that Hart’s iconoclastic sensibility comes through in the presentation. “As an artistic soul and designer, I am always looking and learning and reinventing the proverbial wheel,” she says. “My blog is called The Visual Vamp because I devour everything with my eyes. I learn by looking – at blogs, books, magazines, shops and markets and at the stimulating and inspiring things around me all around the world. We are so lucky in New Orleans because it is one of the most visually arresting places, jampacked with beauty.”

For more information on Hart’s services, visit www.valoriehart.com.

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