Designer KV Harper's Colorful New Orleans Home Speaks to the City's History
I'm definitely going to live here at some point," KV Harper thought while visiting friends in New Orleans. Although living in Brooklyn, New York, at the time, she bought a double shotgun house that dates to the 1930s in NOLA's Seventh Ward. "The Seventh Ward was an early place where free and formerly enslaved people lived together," she says. The house needed repairs, but as the founder of KEX Design + Build, an architectural-and-interior design firm, KV isn't one to turn down a good project (follow on Instagram, @kexdesignbuild). "I wanted to focus on the neighborhood's history," she says. "Don't be afraid to do something unexpected. Embrace the house and its story, even if it goes against the grain of what's on trend right now." Here, she turns her talents to her own vibrant home.
"I knew that I wanted to have a colorful home. Farmhouse white could be anywhere in the country. I designed the exterior to look like it was in New Orleans. We're in a place that really embraces these bright, beautiful hues that you don't find a lot in other cities. I picked a pink that I wouldn't choose if I lived somewhere else."
Reference the City's Past
"The history of New Orleans inspired the style of the interiors. I wanted to feature the city in the house and make it feel like if you were here, you couldn't mistake it for any other location—one, for the layout and, two, for the things the house puts a spotlight on. It focuses on the story of the neighborhood and celebrates Black culture. From a design perspective, I leaned into things that make the homes here great, like high ceilings and plaster walls."
Preserve the Character
"I found the original fireplaces behind some of the drywall and exposed three of them. Then I added traditional elements that weren't here in the house. The front doors are reproductions, and most of the interior doors are vintage wood ones. The casings for the doors and the baseboards are all custom and hand cut. I wanted it to look like the house would have originally."
Design with Purpose
"The living room was decorated around a pink sofa from Anthropologie. This space needed to be fun and colorful, and that is the focal point. Much of the artwork I've been collecting is by Black emerging artists. A piece by Khalif Tahir Thompson, The Darkest Hour, hangs above the sofa. The pair of yellow seats came from a segregated theater. I like the idea of repurposing things that people who look like me and my friends weren't allowed to sit in and making those into a space that's inclusive for everyone."
Stay Open to Inspiration
"I've always been into interiors. When I was growing up, my mom was always decorating and was into art and design. We have totally different styles, but I think that was really impactful. Then I moved to Amsterdam for a few years, and that's a very design-forward city in terms of having a home be important and central. Those were the things that pushed me to explore more."
Look to History
"The kitchen is in the camelback addition of the house. I replaced the vinyl flooring with refurbished brick. That's a nod to enslaved people. Before moving to New Orleans, I visited Whitney Plantation, where the tour is told from the perspective of the enslaved. While I was there, I went through the kitchen and learned about the brick floors. Part of the reason they chose that material was because it would stop the open fire they used for cooking from spreading. The kitchen in my home didn't have real cabinets or countertops when I bought it. My carpenter built the reclaimed-wood countertop which breaks up the green backsplash and dark blue cabinets (painted in Sherwin-Williams' Anchors Aweigh, SW 9179)."
Carve Out Storage
"Lack of closet space is one of the downsides to living in an old home. Anywhere I can find it, I take it. We created a pantry in an area that wasn't being utilized under the stairs."
Blend Old with New
"With historic homes, not much goes according to plan. But the beautiful thing about that is in most projects we've worked on, we've been able to uncover interesting things to incorporate. You can still be respectful of older homes but add modern elements that you want to showcase."