The experiment began back in 2017, when the couple stumbled upon — and quickly purchased — a double shotgun multi-family home that dates back to the 1890s. The narrow footprint and Victorian flourishes were quintessentially New Orleans. The neighborhood — known as Faubourg Marigny — was ideal, a short walk from the French Quarter, yet a bit removed. The palm-lined streets were more serene and secluded, while still neighborly. "There's a vibrancy and quirkiness to the Marigny that really spoke to us," says Thomas. "It's the kind of neighborhood where authors and artists live, you might stumble upon an impromptu second line, and your neighbor might offer you a basket of satsumas when their tree begins to overproduce."
They toyed with the idea of converting the "camelback" (the rear, second-story addition) into a vacation rental. Thomas wondered if they could pull it off. Could they design a space that people would love? Could they get the word out? Could they attract guests who were like-minded?
The answer to each question? A year-and-a-half in, a resounding yes.
The Louie — named to evoke Louis Armstrong, and Louisiana itself — opened its vintage, blush pink door for business in 2018. The two-story, two-bedroom apartment occupies one part of the triplex. (Thomas and Lucas live below.) Positioned just so at the back of the property, its entrance is removed from the street, up a set of stairs to a petite jasmine-covered deck overlooking a typically lush New Orleans garden.
The initial renovation began with the basics. Thomas and Lucas spent five months repairing and upgrading the most fundamental aspects of the property — plumbing, electrical, the roof — as well as a few cosmetic upgrades, but they stopped short of major structural work. Coats of Benjamin Moore "Simply White" helped to rein in the quirky "Big Easy"palette (raspberry in the bathroom; lime in the kitchen; electric turquoise in the living room). Key elements were lovingly restored — the vintage stove that anchored the kitchen, the period fireplaces, and the large, original 4x4 windows, which flood the apartment with natural light.
"Wherever we could we did work ourselves," Thomas says.
Then, she set out curating a space that honored the home's history and original beauty, but with a certain sense of ease and modern sophistication.
Working from a moodboard that mixed midcentury and antiques, rattan and brass, sumptuous textiles, and earthy colors, Thomas honed in on a look: modern, with heirloom flair.
And that's exactly what greets each guest of The Louie as they pass through the front door. Along one wall, in the open living and dining area, a collection of simple straw hats makes for a strong visual statement above the dining table. Directly opposite, the living area is anchored with a sumptuous, forest green velvet couch from One Kings Lane. It sits beneath an eclectic collection of paintings and prints, hung gallery-style. And in a nod to the rich history of the neighborhood, the chairs in the living room were rescued and restored from a jazz bar just down the street.
In the full kitchen, the antique stove sits center stage, but the space is otherwise fairly restrained. The couple refurbished the cabinets, painting them a stately blue and adding swank new hardware to elevate the simple tile, wood countertops, and open shelving.
More of the budget went to the full bath. There, they replumbed to make room for a space-saving pedestal sink, and replaced a wood vanity with a creamy marble remnant. The elegant clawfoot tub, of course, remained. The door is salvaged.
"Designing The Louie has given me more confidence to make bolder design decisions and trust my instinct." — Anna Thomas
The two bedrooms — one on the main floor, the other up a set of narrow stairs in the attic — are both light and serene, with painted white floors and textiles and accessories that bring in that much-loved modern-vintage aesthetic. Thomas sourced linen from India and worked with a local seamstress to make many of the pillows. In the upstairs bedroom, the rattan chaise — a second-hand find from Iowa, which arrived by train — was reupholstered in fabric from Thomas's grandmother's sofa. "It's both an heirloom and a conversation piece," she says. "I always toy with the idea of putting it in my own house." (Their home, just downstairs, has a similar aesthetic — vintage-modern, against a backdrop of white and slate — but with more of a California vibe).
And then there's the den — a spot one might retire to for a nightcap (but also a third sleeping area, should it be necessary). The thoughtfully curated steel bookshelves seem to recede into the walls, which are painted a deep, moody blue-grey called Soot. The feeling is completely different from the rest of the apartment — "a surprise in an otherwise all-white space," says Thomas. It's intimate, and a bit dramatic. "Designing The Louie has given me more confidence to make bolder design decisions and trust my instinct."
Indeed, the look and feel of The Louie — Thomas's first foray into renovation and interior design — is very much driven by instinct. The final product is the result of trips to estate sales and shopping on Etsy and eBay. Vintage rugs from Jean Palmer Home anchor many of the rooms, while lighting from Cedar and Moss and Schoolhouse Electric help elevate each space. Key pieces hail from the likes of Target and Urban Outfitters on the one hand, and local shops, like the beloved New Orleans home goods shop, Sunday Shop, on Magazine Street, on the other.
The unique mix of Thomas's deeply personal choices is what makes such an impact.
For Gabriel Stulman, who arrived at The Louie last February with his wife and two small children in tow, the smallest touches left a lasting impression.
Stulman — who owns several restaurants in the West Village — remembers a small tray on the bookshelf, holding only a necklace, a mini kilim rug in the bathroom (instead of a bathmat), the tchotchkes on the credenza, and a sheepskin rug draped over a vintage chair. "It's the subtle little things that you don't see in a hotel," he says.
But what really struck him was the authentic warmth, both of the space itself and of its proprietors. Thomas greeted the family at the curb when they arrived, and had a traditional New Orleans King Cake waiting for them inside. "Hospitality is the epicenter of my life," says Stulman. "And I would say that what The Louie and Anna have in spades is exactly that: hospitality."
Such is the goal of this kind of modern travel, staying in someone's thoughtfully curated home instead of a cookie-cutter hotel. (High-rise hotels and casinos don't exist in the Marigny, says Thomas — and that is the point.) It's not just about designing a pretty space — although that is part of it. Being a hometelier is about crafting an entire experience — creating moments and moods, whether it's a quiet coffee for one on the wooden deck, or a strong cocktail in the den after everyone else has gone to bed. The experience extends, even, to the world outside the apartment's doors — giving people a sense of the neighborhood and the city's mercurial, extravagant personality.
"Our business is more than just a rental," says Thomas. "It's about creating lovely, comfortable, personal, and authentic experiences for our guests, in a city that's often misunderstood."
To book a stay, visit The Louie.