Text by Jeanne Delathouder
The raindrops tapping against huge banana leaves, the wind rustling through massive live oaks, the garden fountain bubbling amid the chatter of feeding birds, the nearby church bells pealing, the recognizable steel wheels from the historic New Orleans, Louisiana, streetcar slowly rolling by just two blocks away . . . These are the soothing local sounds enjoyed from Emily Wright’s front porch. An ambitious interior designer and proprietor of her own design firm, Emily purchased her early 20th-century cottage bungalow—along with its beloved porch—several years ago despite many levels of deferred maintenance and neglect.
“An apartment had been created by closing off the guest room area and adding a kitchen on the front porch,” she says, laughing—and cringing—at the very thought of this decidedly unrefined renovation. “The new vision for this entire home restoration has been mine and has developed over many years as a fun and continuing labor of love,” she says.
Built around 1908 in Moss Point, Mississippi, the home was relocated years later in three pieces by barge to its New Orleans setting. The original bones of the home—solid wood construction, expansive windows, high ceilings, original wood floors, a large enclosed front porch, and a corner lot with massive oak trees—were Emily’s initial inspiration.
“I loved that, creatively, this house was a clean slate,” the designer recalls. “It needed TLC from top to bottom, allowing me to execute my vision both inside and out,” she says.
Doing so with the assistance of several critical collaborators, Emily was able to create a timeless, eclectic, and modern space while appreciating the intention of the original architecture. Belva Johnson, who was Emily’s comrade in kitchen and bath designs over many years, helped to install a wet bar and copper farm sink to the newly refurbished front porch. Jeff Amann of Amann & Associates created an even better version of the front yard oasis than Emily had dreamed of by incorporating tropical plants, blooming perennials, azaleas, camellias, ginger, a Japanese maple that blooms in exactly the same color as the house, and the creative placement of old Chicago bricks and salvaged iron fencing and gates from a demolished New Orleans home. The late Michele Lambert, Emily’s dear friend and a local artist, hand-stenciled and painted the new dining room floor, previously the back porch. Louis Aubert, a local colorist, provided expertise when selecting the exterior paint colors.
“I knew the deep Cottage Red hue was my choice for the body of the house,” says Emily. “Louis expertly helped select the many accent colors that would pull it all together, providing the intensity and interest I wanted in a warm, subtle way,” she notes.
Emily’s collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century family heirlooms works perfectly with the architectural style and age of her home. In her new dining area, a pie safe updated with green glass pulls now holds a china collection, and an old church pew and custom cypress dining table provide plenty of space for entertaining family and friends. An authentic, refurbished 1950s Chambers range anchors the kitchen, and an old wooden bed from Emily’s great-grandmother washed with Antique White paint makes a charming focal point for the guest room. A restored antique gold Empire mirror and reupholstered daybed, both discovered in the French Quarter, nod to the French heritage of New Orleans while adding a bit of formality to the living room, along with a modern lantern chandelier and antique Turkish rug. A montage of drawings by New Orleans artist Philip Sage are displayed in the library, as well as a cherished poster of King Oliver, a famous local Creole bandleader and musician.
“An eclectic mix of old and new is my favorite approach,” says Emily. “I think it’s important to reveal a homeowner’s personal history—whether it’s from travels abroad, inherited furnishings, a child’s artwork, or a sentimental photo. Adding personalized touches makes the space feel authentic and unique,” she notes.
Abiding by her own profession theme line—designing for the way you live—Emily was able to create a personalized space that truly reflects her tastes and her lifestyle. “This is important,” she says, “because once any design project is complete, a homeowner needs to love the outcome and feel like they’re home—not just like they’re visiting someone else’s idea of their home,” she adds.
Undoubtedly, Emily’s newly restored cottage bungalow feels like home, and the front porch is her favorite gathering space, with the kitchen running a close second. Come rain or shine, during any season, her guests always gravitate here. The covered, screened living and dining areas offer plenty of space for impromptu entertaining, and the lush front yard is the ideal spot for enjoying people-watching and all the familiar local sounds of New Orleans.
“The allure of my porch was beautifully expressed in a gift from my friends,” says Emily. “It is a personalized sign by artist Simon [Hardeveld] of New Orleans that reads, ‘What’s said on the porch stays on the porch.’”