by Pallavi MehraAug 12, 2023
A Victorian port city theme prevails inside The Chloe, a new hotel, bar and restaurant by decorator Sara Ruffin Costello. Located in a spirited, uptown Louisanna neighbourhood, the space is charmingly pretty, clubby and bohemian, and links the city’s vibrant history with modern touches. The Chloe houses 14 well-appointed rooms inside a former Victorian-era family mansion designed by self-trained American architect Thomas Sully. “I thought about the spaces as if I were visiting the city for the first time. Tourists wander around ogling the amazing houses and iconic architecture in New Orleans. The Chloe feels like you have scored a visit to a well-staffed local’s house,” observes Costello, a native of New Orleans herself.
Egyptian blue walls, an alligator carpet and celebrated vinyl records of music legends feature inside this hotel, the first from restaurateur Robert LeBlanc of LeBLANC + SMITH, who owns a collection of bars and restaurants around New Orleans, United States. “During Sully's time, ‘orientalism’ - basically anything Asian - was considered the height of exotic. We gravitated toward that, layering in Chinese art deco rugs and Asian ceramic planters. As the colour story got to be moodier, we played up darker New Orleans themes like the occult, connection to the spiritual world, the animal kingdom, the swamps that surround us, low lighting and slow turning fans,” says Costello.
Adding to that are tiny iron lizard door knockers and alligators that scramble down the grand staircase’s wine coloured carpet. Ceramic hand painted snakes sit on mantles and bird taxidermy sit in and atop bird cages. A great big bust of a cardinal rests over the bar wearing a giant straw boater hat and framed gauche pictures of indigenous parrots line the upstairs hallway.
Wrought iron gates usher guests inside an expansive brick patio and a front porch that features original tiles from the 1860s. A frenzy of former design details still remain, including intricate tile flooring, dark woodwork, complex plaster moldings and remarkably tall ceilings. Costello shares that she aimed to stay true to the vernacular of the house and the era. “The mood is Victorian, highlighting the era’s architecture. We built a story around existing details and brought in a port city tone, a kind of “what news do you bring from the outside world” vibe. Alongside French, Spanish and Austrian furniture and lighting, there are whiffs of Creole tradition like sinker cypress tabletops and crackled paint on turned legs,” she says.
The 14 guest rooms upstairs are privy to “a unique sense of whimsy and wonder,” each made distinct and lavish with the inclusion of modern soaking tubs, four poster beds in some, low spindle beds in others, each with mismatched furniture collected over time, and artwork and photographs from blue chip artists and vintage finds. “In fact we hoarded old chairs from the previous owners and painted them a mix of cobalt blue and mustard yellow, then re-upholstered the seats with fresh linen onto which we embroidered an image of a black cat that used to hang out at the hotel, as a love note to the vernacular of the house and the era, along with vintage pieces of William Morris fabric surrounded by little stars and moons,” she chips in. These rooms feel lighter and more elegant compared to the rest of the interior design, with crisp white Italian monogrammed sheets from Bellino and hand-stitched cocktail napkins for bedside water carafes.
Costello also adds that since music has always been integral to New Orleans, each room is equipped with a record player, and a special album collection based on a New Orleans legend like Louis Armstrong or Lil Wayne and the musicians they have influenced.
Speaking about working with Robert LeBlanc, who heads LeBlanc + Smith, Costello shares that he is a restless visionary, deeply familiar with food and conviviality. “He understands the elements that get people grooving – a lit ambience and catalysts in the form of music, food and booze! Robert used to run a record label earlier so he gets what music does for people. Perhaps growing up in New Orleans himself, with all the hurricanes and power outages helped him appreciate how sexy turning off the electricity and lighting candles can be inside a space. He took a chance on me given I have never done anything in the hospitality space before; he gave me a wide berth to execute our vision. It has been exciting, inspiring and great fun working together,” she shares.
Costello reveals that the original concept for the hotel design was a bit more masculine. “It was called the Corsair and we had a sort of brigadier outlaw, pirate feeling. It never felt quite right. The house wanted to be feminised, be softer and more hospitable. Anyway, that theme is a stalwart of New Orleans dive bars and executed quite well in dozens of spots around the city. We needed to step up our game, do something a bit different and make sure that the heritage of the space was maintained,” she comments.
The restaurant design downstairs display neo-Victorian light fixtures amidst a verdant tangle of hanging ivy and ferns, ochre leather banquettes and marble-topped tables in the main dining room, and an alfresco seating designed underneath crepe myrtle trees on a stone patio. The reception area houses fireside communing and work tables set inside a jewel box lounge with an egret mural, while a disguised doorway shrouds a dining room for more private gatherings.
The Chloe’s bar design hosts a mahogany parlour custom built by a local woodworker. Flickering candle lamps and alabaster wall sconces create a moody and warm glow while guests enjoy a selection of cocktails and spirits. A shimmering pool sits adjacent to an herb garden outside the bar, lined with Meyer lemon trees, Haitian-inspired limestone and travertine checkerboard stone hardscape.
"The Chloe is meant to feel as if it had been in the same sort of bohemian family for generations, but culturally relevant and updated. While the Victorian backbone is evident, a contemporary collection of all kinds of art and photography mixes up with the old world passed-down stuff. Since this got over, I have been working on a few amazing residential clients, and I hope to do another hotel. It has been an absolute blast. I am working on a special book project too. Stay tuned!”, Costello signs off.