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This New Orleans Home Has A Secret Passageway That You Have To See To Believe

Deeply saturated moody walls, vintage portraits galore, and a secret passageway are just a few of the elements in this former church turned Airbnb that make it endlessly exciting to gaze at. This is a “home” tour like you’ve never seen before but before we get deep into it, a quick note from Emily:

We shot so many amazing houses for the book, and today we are launching a new series where we do features on the designers and homes, one at a time – with all their photos in one place. We are starting with likely the most jaw-dropping of all of the spaces, which doesn’t imply that it’s better than the others – just one that surprised us over and over. Sara Ruffin Costello is a total style maverick. This “house” is a former church in New Orleans and isn’t a home, but an Airbnb which allowed Sara to probably push boundaries further. It’s just incredible. I’ve known Sara since I was an assistant stylist 18 years ago in New York. She was one of the founding editors of Domino when it launched, the creative director, and I looked up to her so much in my 20s. She had this beautiful West Village brownstone, with sweet kids and was so lovely and down to earth. I was in my early 20s and I remember thinking that seemed like a pretty great life to aspire to. She since moved to Louisiana and when I saw this space on her Instagram, I immediately begged to shoot it for the book. It far surpassed our expectations. Sara Tramp, Velinda, and Erik really killed it on the photography and styling. So go follow Sara now. She continues to inspire with all of her projects and I was so lucky to have been near her while learning my way through this style industry. Thanks, Sara. xx

The first room of the tour reflects a vibrancy that rivals the very city it is housed in. A New Orleans transplant herself, Sara Ruffin Costello once wrote that “part of the allure, of course, is that even post-Katrina, New Orleans is like a movie set.” Indeed, those who have ever visited can attest that the city has a charm and appeal that is almost dreamlike. Considering her deep admiration for the city, it should come as no surprise that the same goes for this Airbnb she designed. It feels like a dream because it has all the things one hopes to find in interior design: unlimited charm, a mix of old and new, daring choices, vibrant colors, exciting patterns, and unbelievable art, all packaged together to create a warm, inviting feel.

In this first bedroom, dark blue walls create the backdrop for a dramatic four-poster bed and a golden, decadent tapestry. Immediately you are enveloped by the moody blue color which is emphasized even more so with the matching blue bedding. The bedding adds a ton of texture which contrasts the smoothness of the walls, and the low brass sconces add warmth along with the tapestry. As you’ll continue to see throughout the home tour, it’s these small details that make a good design GREAT.

Connected to the bedroom is this bathroom that is decorated with floor-to-ceiling dark subway tile. It’s hard to tell from this angle if this is a full bathroom so I wonder, is it possible this is a single shower closet? If so, that explains the daring spirit of Sara Ruffin Costello’s designs to a T.

If you ever thought moody and saturated were contradicting adjectives, think again. The inky blue wall color is both rich and dark, adding so much depth to the room automatically.

It is worth noting that a four-poster bed draws the eye up, so the vaulted exposed wood ceiling is a treat for the eyes. As your eye is drawn up you’ll also see the jute roman shades, which complement the wood ceiling, and both work together to add an airy warmth to the space.

To contrast the dramatic wall color, SRC plays with patterns to brighten the space. The old-world Mediterranean style tile flooring is paired beautifully with a similar color Persian rug, creating a ton of pattern and texture. The rug adds a layer of coziness but has rich colors that complement the Victorian style of the room. Speaking of color, I really adore the subtle choice to paint the grid of the window panels a warm tone which adds to the red accents throughout the room.

Oh, and did anyone notice the painted-over electrical outlet? It’s such a good trick to “hide” it in plain sight.

As you’ll see, all the pieces of art throughout this entire Airbnb are striking and bring a vintage collected vibe into every room. In this mini gallery wall, she plays with scale but keeps the color palette and style consistent so the gallery feels cohesive. I also can’t help but love that mini soldier bust.

Moving on to the next room, the adjoining hidden door is a really unexpected and playful choice. Continuing the pink wall color and golden yellow baseboard across the door makes the door disappear seamlessly into the room. When closed completely, the tiny brass door knob and brass lock are noticeable and add a sweet and whimsical touch. To starkly contrast the pastel pink wall color, another awesome vintage portrait breaks up the wall color with a black ornate frame.

It’s nearly impossible to choose a favorite room from this tour, but this living room is hard to compete with. The mixing of styles (rustic meets glam meets Victorian charm comes to mind) makes it such an exciting room to behold. Immediately, SRC knows how to grab your attention and bring the eye up with that regal candle chandelier. Then as your eye bounces around trying to capture all of the decor elements once, it becomes clear that she is a master at combining textures. The plush cushions, velvet throw pillows, rustic wood ceiling, and mismatched vintage frames create so much depth. To round it out, the small-scale patterned cafe curtains add a perfect dose of southern charm.

The softness of the pastels coupled with dark moody and comically serious oil portraits creates a really fun and unexpected juxtaposition. The brass tables also add a warm metallic tone that blends into the room nicely.

Since this is an Airbnb and is meant for overnight guests and not permanent residents, the layout and function are a little different, making the design even more playful. On the opposite side of the living room/sitting area, is this vanity cabinet with a built-in sink. No matter what the function may be, it definitely is a surprising choice making the room feel even more refreshing.

I must mention that one of my favorite decor tricks that SRC executes a lot is low art placement. The abstract piece above the cabinet could have been hung higher to be centered on the wall, but the low placement intentionally adds visual interest.

A wood sliding door with a gorgeous medium finish and dramatic grain separates the living room and powder bathroom. She switched up the tile in the bathroom but I love how the bathroom tile is a larger and simpler version of the living room tile and has the same color. It creates cohesiveness without being too predictable.

Listen, I’ve never met a built-in bookcase that I didn’t like, but this one will likely live in the built-in bookcase hall of fame. The narrow, light wood door separating the two sides feels very playful and gives this sitting room an enclosed hidden library feel. It’s just SO good.

While there’s so much to admire about this room, I couldn’t help but notice how the jute rug and wicker accents add a layer of warmth that helps create that lived-in, inviting feel. With so many dark tones, this room could come across a bit cold but the light decor pieces keep that from happening. And again, the brass accents add a warm metallic contrast to the space.

File this shot under Photos That Have Been Seared Into My Brain. I can’t get over that wingback chair with the modern pattern against the deep green shelves. Oh, and I love how the window shutters add charm and an endearing architectural feature instantly.

On the opposite side of the room, the tile flooring continues seamlessly into the next bedroom which is just as moody and dramatic as you’d expect…

Another low art placement makes an appearance (I seriously can’t get enough of this trick) but holy smokes this brass chest of drawers is so dramatic and fun. The metallic gold shade pops against the inky blue walls so nicely.

When the whole EHD team shared our obsession with this room, Emily immediately noted the deep mahogany bed in particular. It’s certainly a statement piece and one that was a bit of a risk but ended up really paying off. But bed aside, the armoire is impossible to ignore. If you remember this room from Emily’s book, you know that the regal size and dark wood finish of the piece are not the only noteworthy things about it…

That’s right folks, that is an antique armoire turned secret door that leads into the bathroom suite. Pardon this next phrase but, I CAN’T EVEN. It will be hard to talk about anything but this for the next several months, but it’s also worth noting that this room in general is a prime example of dark wood done right. I think it helps that the bedframe and armoire have similar wood tones and they really pop against this particular shade of dark blue paint.

As if an antique armoire turned secret door isn’t cool enough, the inside of the door reveals a strip of bright botanical wallpaper. I do wonder if that was original to the armoire or added later but in any case, SRC never misses a surprising pattern moment.

In the bathroom, green large-scale tile covers the floor and most of the walls creating a bright and happy atmosphere. It’s a surprising switch from the bedroom, making the tile color choice feel even more exciting.

HOT TIP: An easy way to add character and pattern to any bathroom is by opting for a vintage Persian rug instead of a bath mat. I love that she went with a bright pink rug to really contrast with the light green tile.

This tile wall has a soft gradient which makes the color change and reflects light differently, and white shutters add some sweet vintage charm to this otherwise modern bathroom.

It feels fitting to end with this bedroom, which is so different than the rooms we witnessed above, yet carries a familiar mood and dream-like state. Although it is the only neutral room in this home tour, there is no shortage of drama or elegance.

For starters, the curtains added to the four-poster bed make the bed feel like its own separate room within a room. So romantic and Victorian.

Now that we are nearing the end of this home tour, I can confidently say that SRC is a master of low art placement. I love how she hung the art almost directly above the cabinet/side table and placed the sconce directly over that. It makes this little corner feel like its own special design moment.

Just as I began contemplating a shift away from hanging tapestries, this room proves me dead wrong. The tapestry brings in so much color, whimsy, and movement to the room all while bringing in even more warmth because of the woven texture. It’s too good.

I’ll leave you with this dreamy bedroom shot as it feels most apropos to the reoccurring themes of this home: dramatic, collected, dream-like, and inviting to name a few. Now, I’d love to hear your favorite part(s) of this space so please drop a line down below. Thanks for reading and happy Wednesday. xx

*Design by Sara Ruffin Costello
**Styled by Velinda Hellen & Erik Kenneth Staalberg
***Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp for “The New Design Rules”


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41 thoughts on “This New Orleans Home Has A Secret Passageway That You Have To See To Believe

  1. Oh this was SO fun!!! I don’t often enjoy looking at airbnb spaces since they so often simply feel like show rooms, not applicable for everyday living – and while this tour had some moments like that for me, -while beautiful that couch would not be comfortable for me for everyday-living-, this tour simply captured me with all the beautiful details and simply exquisite colour and pattern-matching. Just….the first bedroom with the mediterranean two-tone blue-and-red floor tile that is perfectly matched by the blue in the room and the red accents in the window frames (and the beautiful pattern mashing that is going on with the overlaid rug??? beautiful!!). Then the adjoining living room with rust-and-yellow tiles, different pattern but similar rust-tones to the previous room and similar mediterranean feel, that is then continued in a bigger and simplified pattern but with the same colour in the bathroom tiles?? And then that beautiful library that I believe has the same floor tile as the first bedroom but in blue and green? In a room of different green hues with blue accents (and red)? That then seemlessly continues that tile into a room with a blue colour to match those tiles? That then continues into a bathroom with green tiles that both match yet contrast in their modernity (with a pink rug!!)???? SWOOOOON????? And even that last, a little quieter, bedroom feels very connected to the previous room not least because of the rust coloured mediterranean tile. I’ve never been particular into tile before, especially mediterranean style ones, but this house absolutely made me fall in LOOOOOOOOVE!!!! (I’m also not particularly into green, but that library might be my favourite room I have ever seen – what is happening?!??!) Thank you for showing it and thank you as always for your beautifully shot and written hometours – they are always a treat to read and look at! (Like seriously whenever I look at a house tour elswhere I’m like ‘what? that’s it? EHD does it SO much better!!!’)

    1. Totally agree re that built-in seating – it just looks so uncomfortable, especially compared to the OTT beds.

  2. Great house. Great article. Glad to see you might be joining the hang your art lower club. Years ago I was lucky enough to hire someone to help me decorate my house. She said hang art work based on what you do in the room. Living rooms and bedrooms you are usually sitting so hang it lower so you can enjoy it without looking up. In a hallway you are walking and standing so hang it at eye level. I have done this ever since and love how cozy my house feels

  3. I just finishing reading the new book and the one thing I was missing was a little tour of the homes that were photographed for the book and not spaces we’ve seen before on the blog. So needless to say I’m really looking forward to this series! This was such a beautiful home and is making me excited for my New Orleans trip this spring.

  4. Do you remember the excitement of finding the secret passage in your grandmother’s house? I do. It was like discovering a whole new world that was hidden from everyday life. I spent hours exploring every corner, imagining all sorts of adventures that could have taken place within those hidden walls. Imagine my delight when I saw your article and found out that this house in New Orleans has its own secret passage! I can’t help but wonder what secrets this house holds. Who knows what stories the walls might tell? If only they could talk, I’m sure they would have fascinating stories to tell. For now, I can only imagine what might have happened within these hidden walls.

    1. I think this is the best written “spam” comment I’ve ever seen. Very appropriate for your linked website.

  5. I couldn’t sleep in that creepy dark blue bedroom. I don’t want drama in my vacation space. But the spaces sure are fun to look at.

    1. I don’t mind any of the room colors but find the transition from the moody to the pastel to be weird and then suddenly there is a bright white room. It might feel different in person, though.
      The ceilings look very cool.

  6. Wow – what a place! The tile floors – SIGH. And I loved her use of shutters so much, I’m now reconsidering the ones that the former owners left in the house we bought. Maybe they just need a refresh!

  7. You had me at the secret door in the armoire. I would have loved it more if it actually lead to Narnia…

  8. Lovely Airbnb, but I beg to differ re New Orleans. I lived there for several years in my late twenties and remember it being the most dirty city I’ve ever been, not to mention crime ridden with ugly swamps all around (maybe because I had come from a beautiful coastal tropical city with white sand beaches ) no. No. Bad experience all
    around… maybe I’d visit today for some of the antiques stores but probably not.

  9. Whoo!
    That’s some serious moody-darkness going on!
    I especially like the interesting way art is hung.
    I love, love, love tge use of the armoire as a doorway!🤩
    Overall, it’s not somewhere I could live or would even enjoy staying, honestly.
    However, it’s extremely interesting to gaze at.
    BTW that is a LOT of stufff to have in an Airbnb!

  10. Seattle readers, I have an extra copy of Emily’s new book in perfect condition. I’m going to put it as a free listing on OfferUp today in hopes that one of you would like it 🙂 Just mention EHD if you message about it!

    1. Thank you, Kj. I’ve often felt I want the cheap route by not using the metal edging, so this makes me happy I chose the affordable option. Plus, once everything grows in, you don’t even see it.

    2. I agree. My parents used to have it as an edging between a sidewalk and patio. Of course it was sticking out. Being there with my kids was stressful.

  11. So moody and evocative, perfect for an airbnb. i’m laughing at the top of the armoire that was just cut off to fit, it is something my husband would do and that i would clutch at my pearls over.

  12. When reading the book this was the house I wanted to see more of! We are thinking of doing all tile in when we add on to our house, and it is wonderful to see it work so well, and excitingly in practice!

  13. i stayed here for mardi gras in 2020; wonderful location. smaller than it appears but very comfy and lovely hosts.

  14. Airbnbs created by wealthy white owners in search of a second home or investment in Nola are making neighborhoods inaccessible for current residents, pushing out those who need an affordable home, and raising home prices. Gentrifying at its finest. Not a great thing to advertise, even if it looks pretty.

    1. Beautiful building and design, but I couldn’t help wondering about this dynamic as I was reading. Also, as an historian who specializes in African American history, I wondered about the history of the building as a former church. Many of the churches in New Orleans hold special historical significance as Black churches, and I wondered if this may have been one of them.

    2. for a different viewpoint—–my son is severely autistic and staying at airbnb’s is the only way we can enjoy vacations, as hotels are too hard/complicated with him.

    3. There are a lot of restrictions on Airbnbs in New Orleans and there are plenty of homeowners, white and non-white that rent a portion of their home for the extra income.

    4. I think that converting a 1860’s church in need of renovation *that sat empty for a year* into an AirBnb is different than converting an existing single family home. There are a lot of great old churches that need new life since church attendance keeps dropping. Beyonce bought a church in New Orleans too. This article indicates that the local community also rents it for community events, such as art exhibits. They didn’t push out anyone.

  15. Ahhh, this is fabulous. Thanks so much for sharing this home / airbnb tour! Great use of colour, love the secret door, and so many great pieces. And the tile!

  16. Wow, wow, wow!! What an amazing sense of place and fresh all at the same time. Such a perfect balance. It doesn’t feel like a style. It doesn’t feel like a theme or Disneyland. It doesn’t feel special for the sake of being special. It doesn’t feel “put on” like someone else’s coat. All I feel is PLACE and story. It’s almost personal and intimate as it trusts the viewer to share its journey. It doesn’t matter if one does or doesn’t like traditional or modern items, they just sing together so the labels melt away. So difficult and masterful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing! (Please send SRC a mic to drop if she hasn’t already.) 😊

  17. The pink living room with built-in seating, the green study, the hidden door in the armoire, and all the tiles. So stunning so full of personality!

  18. Thank you for this post! This is a fantastic property that makes me want to live in those rooms. Regarding the art placement, my grandmother always said art needs to be hung as part of the furniture and that the lowest piece should be eye level when you are seated. That’s always how I have hung art and had to defend my stance frequently. I think it’s a great rule. Also, the armoire doorway to bath – John Derian converted an old armoire as a vestibule and front door for his home in the northeast. Fantastic! I’m thinking about how I can configure that to add vintage character to my new, 20 year old home! Thanks again!

  19. Some beautiful moments here but as an Airbnb all of those pillows and fabrics in the dark bedroom would really make me nervous. How are those cleaned and how often? All I’m thinking about is bedbugs.

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