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Native New Orleanian and founder of Space Interior Design, Leslie Newman Rhodes, always dresses in black. While that may be true for many designers and artistic types, she says neutrals are everything to her. She likes pale, monochromatic spaces and open sight lines, and most of the homes she designs follow this format (although they all differ). So, it was a natural choice to go with a neutral color scheme when designing her own home.
Rhodes has always loved “playing around with things in a space,” and she says her hobby became even more fun when she started working with rooms and homes. “I drew my first floor plan at 6 (I still have it), and I designed and built my first home when I was 18 with a great amount of help and nurturing by my then mother-in-law, Helen Kohnke,” she says. “Though I always helped others with their homes … I decided to make it official when I moved part-time to Chicago in 2003. I continue to work everywhere.”
She obviously has a knack for design, which can be seen throughout her design portfolio and her historic New Orleans home. Rhodes, who raised her three sons in New Orleans, renovated her home (it was built more than 100 years ago) with one of her sons, Matthew Kohnke, owner of MNK Design Build. “He has renovated and designed Vals, Cure, Café Henri and numerous homes around town,” she says. “I love that we share that interest.”
The 1,560-square-foot home includes three bedrooms and two bathrooms, along with beautiful views of Audubon Park. “I wanted to live near the park and have a tiny back yard,” Rhodes says. “I adore that I have no neighbors across the street, and it also meant a lot to me that I shared an entrance gate with my neighbor, Merilyn. There are so many great things about this family neighborhood.”
Rhodes also loved that her shotgun double allowed for a side entry so the flow through the home wouldn’t be via a long hallway and the tall ceilings typical of many of New Orleans’ shotgun houses. However, no home is without its challenges, and Rhodes faced a few that required clever solutions.
First, there was a dropped opening and a small wall that jutted out, thereby chopping up the house. So, she sistered the ceiling beams together to have enough support to open up the space. Now, the living room, dining area and kitchen all relate to one another. Second, the hallway was dark and void of natural light. Rhodes raised the ceiling to the roof and added a skylight. “Everything just glows,” Rhodes says. “Skylights are a favorite because real sunlight cannot be duplicated.”
Yet another challenge was the six-foot-high doors and doorframes, which Rhodes says made everything feel small and tight. So, she raised all of the doors and door frames to eight feet. Finally, the home originally had white oak flooring with carpet. She ripped out the carpet and replaced it with red oak — by accident. “Of course it didn’t match the existing floor,” she says, “So my son and I decided to bleach the floor so pale that no one could tell, and I love the wash of white we put on top of it.”
When it came to the interior design, Rhodes wanted to maximize space and provide plenty of seating. “I like calm, versatile spaces, and I wanted a place my grandkids could play in but not leave a huge mess,” she says. “I organized their things in baskets under the dining bench, and they know exactly which basket they want and where it is.” Another way that she maximized storage was through the use of Ikea BESTÅ cabinets. “Visually they expand space because they are suspended and glossy,” she adds.
Overall, Rhodes describes her design aesthetic as broad. “I embrace an abundance of styles even if I do not use them all in my home,” she says. “I have visited them all at some point. I like lots of texture; lots of places for your eye to land. Some humor is always important as is mixing styles and eras.”
For this home, Rhodes decided that she didn’t want representational artwork to calm the monochromatic space down even more. “I have a pale-golden Franklin Adams pencil drawing that I bought when he had a show in Earth & Fire, a gallery/pottery teaching studio my dear friend Kate and I opened in 1995,” she says. “He was a dear friend, and the piece I have is from his personal artwork, which I pried out of him for his show at the gallery.”
In the bedroom, Rhodes taped two Irving Penn photographs that she and a friend found in Vogue magazine to the glass of some old gold frames. In another iteration, she cut brown paper bag squares and taped them inside frames for muted color. Meanwhile, the office features a group of black and white photographs she has collected over the years. “Fonville Winans, ‘Dixie Belles’ is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and my husband, Arthur Rhodes, gave me a classical beautiful black and white he took in the ‘60s, ‘Make Love Not War.’ I also have a photo that my son took of a man with the most beautiful expression. I also have nudes by Tim Trapolin that I got from him when we bartered artwork.”
By using a combination of smart architectural adjustments and an interior design strategy that focused on cohesiveness, Rhodes has created open and airy spaces that are not only functional but also truly beautiful.
Interior designer Leslie Newman Rhodes chose classic pieces for her living room, including a cozy chair wrapped in hemp fabric from Chicago-based Jayson Home, a round pouf covered in fabric by Rose Tarlow, a Billy Baldwin Studio sofa from locally based Katie Koch Home, throw pillows covered in custom linen fabric by Scalamandré and Great Plains, and a French chair from locally based Ann Koerner Antiques.The open floor plan offers views of the living room and kitchen. The media center is from CB2. Bottom left: The living room also features a shagreen table from Barneys topped with a blue-green glass and wire objet d’art from Pied Nu, and a statue by artist Mario Villa. The pencil sketch above the sofa is by Franklin Adams. Bottom right: The dining room features a mirror, a pine table and two Lisbeth chairs from Jayson Home, and a wall sconce from Katie Koch Home.In the kitchen, Rhodes added a rug from Zamani, white quartz countertops and backsplash, and two white shelves from locally based JB Cabinets. The cozy master bedroom features a bed from Restoration Hardware, a side table from Wisteria, a lamp from Circa Lighting, a rug from ABC Carpet & Home, and a photograph of an Irving Penn image in a frame from Jayson Home. The entrance hall features two pink rugs from Zamani, a bench from Jayson Home and a starburst mirror (decorated with hats) from locally based Karla Katz Antiques. Bottom right: The powder room has Absolute White granite countertops (despite the name, the stone always has lots of gray veining) from Triton Stone, hardware from Ferguson, a mirror from CB2 and wall sconces from Shades of Light. Rhodes used Benjamin Moore White Dove paint, which has a satin finish, to provide a reflective glow throughout her home. The kitchen has stools from West Elm, a large white vase from Jayson Home, two small mirrors from auction, smaller white vases from Room & Board and Jonathan Adler, and a small vase by an Italian designer (top left) that was a gift from her father.