World traveler, designer, purveyor of bohemian luxury, collector, nature lover, and do-it-yourselfer are just some of the hats that Dianna Knost wears – and all are evident in the Uptown cottage where she lives.
Locals got to know Knost’s style in 2012 when she opened her store, AKA Stella Gray, a collective of organic finds, jewelry, pottery, tribal textiles, animal hides, and unusual art and home décor. Knost closed the store in 2018 but has infused her home with the same aesthetic, though she says it’s the store that was an extension of the houses she’s done rather than the other way around. She’s renovated five houses to date and never tires of surrounding herself with the things she loves.
“I’ve always traveled,” said the Baton Rouge native, who at one time, visited Africa on a regular basis. “I seem to always pick up things like turtle shells and bones and skulls and bring them back.”
Knost’s look, which she alternately describes as bohemian luxury, a cabinet of curiosities, and a fancy garage sale, is part 16th century vanitas painting (skulls, feathers, butterflies and birds), part hip traveler (vintage Kuba cloths and bowls of antlers), and part homebody (she cooks organic meals for her two dogs and surrounds herself with fresh flowers). It’s also a mix of opposites – delicate and edgy, rough and polished, serious and cheeky, old and new.
She made an offer on the New Orleans house before she entered the front door. Located on land that was once part of the Livaudais Plantation, the side-hall cottage has original crown moldings, ceiling medallions, fireplaces and a carriage house. Having researched the property, Knost believes it dates from the 1860s.
She improved the exterior, painted and landscaped. She also remodeled both the kitchen and the master bath with modern conveniences and designer refinement, while still respecting the historic character of the house. Case in point: an exposed beam above the casement opening that now frames the kitchen. Contractors who remodeled the space suggested removing or painting it, but Knost liked the raw patina of the wood contrasted with the elegant marble and metal surfaces of the space. Likewise, the master bath’s minimalist wet room has a vestige of the past: a clawfoot tub that was original to the house and that Knost repurposed.
This is a house with plenty to observe. Furnishings, a mix of high and low, include a carved vestibule from a Paris church, a chest from Singapore, and an antique tribal drum from Africa. A simple painted table that once held her son’s toy train set, now serves as a dining table, layered with an animal hide. Above it hangs an Aidan Gray chandelier from AKA Stella Gray.
There are musical instruments (often played by friends after small dinner parties), a basket of blankets for the dogs, a sawfish picked up at an estate sale, an alligator skull from a client, bones secretively stockpiled by her son during trips to Wyoming and given to her as a gift, a tiny and strikingly beautiful hummingbird mysteriously preserved by nature’s own hand.
“I’ve always had a fascination with animals, plants and stones,” said Knost, who prefers the stones with holes. Because it takes a long time for water to wear through a rock, she views each of her perforated treasures as a symbol of persistence.
Her own brand of persistence includes a never-ending slew of creative ideas often brought to life with the help of artist friends. The most recent is a collaborative bespoke installation of mirrored panels adorning the pocket doors between her living and dining rooms. Known as Églomisé, a French term that refers to the process of applying design and gilding to the rear of glass to produce a mirrored finish, the panels were made by North Carolina “pop art provocateur” Louis St. Lewis. Each is subtly embellished with whimsical butterflies made from the French deed for Livaudais Plantation. Lewis’s head appears on one of the butterflies as a playful signature.
Art by Lisa DiStefano, Nate Sheaffer, Jason Horton, Demond Matsuo, Tony Mose, Nancy Rhodes Harper, George Marks and Kimberly Santini are also part of Knost’s livable luxe.
“My ideal life would be to live in a beautiful hotel,” she said, pointing out enviable perks like room service. “But I can’t, so I’ve created that at home.”