Designer K.V. Harper was born in Miami, on the southern coast of the U.S., raised in Seattle, on the west coast, and attended Howard University, on the east coast. An avid traveler who’s lived in both Amsterdam and Argentina, she eventually settled in Brooklyn while working as an advertising strategist. It was there that she cut her design teeth, buying and completely renovating a multi-unit turn-of-the-century brownstone in what was then a frontier section of the now uber-fashionable burrow.
In 2014, the south called again when K.V. visited New Orleans and felt an instant connection with the city. “I was driving through the city and one of my first thoughts was ‘I could totally live here,’” she said. Several years of looking for a property to renovate followed and in 2016, she settled on a rundown double in the 7th ward.
Having survived the difficult and lengthy process of securing construction permits and renovating a historical building in New York, K.V. found that her New Orleans renovation project involved less red tape, shorter wait times and lower costs.
“New Orleans felt a lot more manageable,” she said of her second foray into home renovation. “I was happy I did the more difficult project first. It made everything that came after easier.”
K.V. began the renovation where she says every renovation should begin – by seeing what could be salvaged.
“We see what we can save and what we can match and go from there,” she said.
She estimates that the original double shotgun portion of the house was probably built around the 1930s and that the camel back with lower ceilings was added sometime between the 1950s and 1970s. Happily, linoleum floors and boarded up windows across the vinyl-clad façade gave way to original wooden floors and windows underneath. There were also brick fireplaces sorely in need of repair. Her original contractor told her they could not be saved, but contacts in Brooklyn insisted otherwise.
K.V. found a new contractor, Erix Peres, who refurbished the fireplaces and the two have since become partners in a full-time design business, KEX Designs, based in Brooklyn and New Orleans.
With a tight budget, K.V.’s redesign left the footprint (including placement of plumbing and electrical) the same, but gutted the interior to the studs. The partners then opted for simple materials that were cost-friendly and historically appropriate, while also fresh and intentional looking from a design standpoint. Simple, kitchen counters of reclaimed wood for example, connect not only to the modest origins of the double but also read as modern and directional in that they are a departure from the ubiquitous marble counters that have reigned supreme in recent years.
K.V.’s juxtaposition of natural unpainted wood, peeling plaster, industrial fixtures, vintage furnishings, strong color, custom pieces and historic references with personal meaning is a young, urbane take on how to mix periods and styles. “I’m always open to mixing design styles and having a lot of overlapping of color and ideas and textures,” the designer said, and who admits to “pinning” voraciously. “When you mix styles, it’s welcoming and fresh and it brings a little bit of playfulness to it.”
As with each of her renovations, K.V. found inspiration in both the structure and its location. The design history of sub-tropical New Orleans motivated her selection of a pink sofa. The powerful African American history of the city also influenced her design choices. A pair of yellow seats from a once-segregated movie theater and images of early Haitian leaders are among the items tied to the city’s African American heritage.
“I decided early on I wanted the house to be very New Orleans,” K.V. said. “The interior design needed to speak to that.”
Other constant sources of inspiration come from K.V.’s love of travel and her commitment to sustainability. She frequently shops brick and mortar stores for ideas when traveling, but prefers the speed and breadth of online sites when working on a job.
Design enthusiasts have responded to K.V.’s hip downtown style and her business is growing. Clients, mostly in their late 20s to early 40s according to K.V., find her via an old blog that she no longer uses, as well as Instagram and word-of-mouth reviews.
She recently completed a renovation in Treme, is currently working on one in Los Angeles and dreams of transforming an old Church into a residence.
“The thing I love the most is seeing a place come back to life,” she said. “I love living there and adding my own personal style as well, turning it into an actual place that people can enjoy.”
The floors on the owner side of the double could not be saved, so Harper replaced them with new smart growth pine; walls are left in a pre-plaster state and the brick above the fireplace exposed; mantel from Ricca’s, mirror from Canal Furniture, bench from World Market, pillows are a combination of finds from Turkey and H&M Home; light fixture from West Elm.
Homeowner and designer K.V. Harper.
Harper used the blue focal wall to highlight images of her family and of black history; the mustard yellow theater chairs are originally from a segregated movie theater.
Harper continued the feeling of aged patina found in the front of the house into the lower-ceilinged rear of the house by bricking the kitchen floor; wood counters are a fresh departure from marble so often used in contemporary kitchens and are combined with navy blue cabinets; Harper designed the table custom-made by Peres; chairs from Birch Lane; light fixture from Industrial Light Electric.
The master bath’s sink and faucet by Delta were found on Ebay, the counter is custom; hexagonal tiles in contrasting black and white surround the shower; pre-treated boards left over from the bar were used for the ceiling.
Vibrant color in the master bedroom; a photo of Jean-Michel Basquiat hangs behind the bed.
The guest bath, which also serves as a powder room downstairs, features a space-saving, sliding barn door; sink, from Rejuvenation, mirror from World Market. Cuban cement tiles used for the floor (not shown) add pattern.
The base of the bar is striped with pre-treated boards from Lowe’s, which are also used for the ceiling of the master bath; the stools, from a restaurant supply store, were silver toned and Harper painted them a gold tone; light fixture, West Elm.