For some people, disaster brings a clean slate –– out with the old and all that. Others just aren’t willing to embrace the loss. They scramble to save the remnants of their world.

The 17th Street Canal break sent more than 7 feet of water into the Lakewood North home of Adrien Genet, ASID, but she painstakingly Up to Snuffsalvaged many of her precious possessions. The mind of a collector of Chinese snuff bottles could never countenance abandoning them. Hers is a mind that is devoted to detail and tiny, pretty things.

Still, a lot –– including a house full of furniture –– had to go.

“It really galled me to throw away my old stuff,” Adrien says.

And she’s determined to avoid that possibility in the future. She and her husband, Errol, have removed most of their living space from the ground floor. The space that used to be a master bedroom, bathroom and kitchen is now a garage, workshop, exercise room, laundry room and storage space. There’s also an elevator, used by Adrien’s elderly mother, which Adrien and Errol may have occasion to use when they get older. Virtually all of the doorways are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs. “We plan to live here for a very long time,” Adrien says.

Finally, just inside the front door, the foyer is a highly finished space, but it serves mainly to beckon visitors up a stairway.

Up to Snuff“We have nothing down here that would matter if we lost it,” Adrien says.
The front stairway rises into a regal dining room, warm and appetizing with its chocolate walls and crowned by a Murano glass chandelier. A Chinese altar table serves as a side buffet, lending an air of mystery and hinting at the East Asian treasures just beyond. Genet’s profession –– a registered interior designer ––  is on immediate display.

In the powder room, the picture becomes clearer. There, you find bamboo molding and paper-backed fabric wallpaper depicting a variety of Chinese snuff bottles.

The kitchen features eye-catching backsplashes that line the countertops: They are reeds encased in clear resin and standing upright against the reddish-orange walls. The quartz countertops are for the most part salvaged from downstairs –– from a pre-Katrina 2005 renovation –– as are the knobs on the cabinets and drawers, which are in the forms of various produce.

Up to SnuffPast the kitchen and dining room, you enter a living area that serves as a shrine for Adrien’s snuff bottle collection. Glass cases are arrayed as a focal point against one wall. On the opposite side, a modern wall unit of Adrien’s own design displays other artifacts. Just beyond, in a hallway leading to a rear veranda, yet another display case illuminates another collection of items.

But Adrien reserves her attention for the snuff bottles. She runs her fingers over them one by one, as almost sacred objects. She shows how they work, with a corked top attached to a tiny spoon for digging out a pinch of snuff. She explains how this art form flourished in China under Ch’ien-lung, the 18th-century Ch’ing emperor. She runs through the various techniques with her examples of the various materials artisans have used: crystal, glass, agate, ivory, jade, the beak of a hornbill. She marvels over the many intricacies of bottles that the artists painted on the inside. Each piece seems to invite you into its own diminutive, silent world.

Her collection ranges from the era of Ch’ien-lung to the present, with many averaging about 160 to 190 years old. But the older ones are not always the better ones.

Up to Snuff“Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s bad, and just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s good,” says Adrien. Indicators of quality depend on the material used; the quality of the carving; and how well-hollowed certain pieces are, such as crystal or jade ones.

Adrien is a member of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society. She and Errol often attend the society’s annual conferences around the world. They took Adrien’s collection with them when they evacuated in 2005. The hobby is more Adrien’s than Errol’s, but “he’s wonderfully supportive,” she says.

Adrien started collecting 25 years ago, and the collection ultimately drove the East Asian-themed design throughout the house. This includes the Chinese lattice iron headboard, designed by Adrien, which she also salvaged from the flood. The couple’s bedroom is most remarkable for its tansu, a Japanese kitchen cabinet that, with its many compartments, serves as an excellent chest.

Up to SnuffThe bedroom opens up into a spacious bathroom, with another salvaged quartz countertop from downstairs. Murano glass light fixtures are complemented on the countertop by a vase made of duplicate glass –– again, salvaged from downstairs.
There is a distinct design payoff in living mostly on the second floor, especially in flood-prone New Orleans. But how could you expect anything less of Adrien?