Someone told us the other day that “New Orleans is like a spider web; Everything is connected.” He was talking about the streets, but the same could be said of the people here. Anthony from the fantastic Fair Folks and a Goat put us in touch with Michael Cohen, an architectural theorist and local woodworker, who moved here from New York on a grant and has been working on a range of interesting one-off projects for the past year. He’s the guy behind the slat-wood bar at Fair Folks and a Roast (all the wood was salvaged from homes that were destroyed during Katrina), and he’s also involved in the Hollygrove Greenline Project, which takes a look at the infrastructure of a Katrina-flooded neighborhood. Yesterday afternoon we toured his beautiful wood shop, which is tucked into an old white barn-like garage in the Irish Channel, and after showing us a big hunk of Magnolia wood he’s turning into a table, he asked if we had been to the Eiffel Society (he designed a piece of furniture for that space, too).
I don’t usually get overly excited about the slick interiors of fancy nightclubs or restaurants, but Michael assured us this hybrid underground supper club and special performance space was worth checking out (and since he’s a humble woodworker with a penchant for public service, we kinda trusted him). And even though I wanted to spend my last afternoon in New Orleans lounging by the courtyard pool at the beautiful house we’re staying in, I felt compelled to check it out. Turns out, Michael wasn’t exaggerating. The place is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The glass and iron dome, which looks like some kind of kooky spacecraft from the outside, is actually the former restaurant top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris! Apparently, the geometric iron dome was causing the tower damage and had to be removed in the early ’80s. They wouldn’t let the owner keep the name, so he refused to reopen the restaurant in Paris. An investor from New York convinced him to have it shipped to the United States on a boat like a set of iron Legos, and it sat there for a few years until finding a new home in New Orleans in 1986 for the World Fair.
And if the history isn’t fascinating enough, consider the latest incarnation: the newest interior design is a collaborative art installation curated by the local art collective Life is Art Foundation, who used the space as an artist residency while they worked on it. (Headed by Kirsha Kaechele, the Life is Art Foundation has gotten a lot of slack lately for their abandoned public art project in the St. Roch neighborhood, but that’s another story.) This space, which opened six months ago, is a total spectacle, from the Wooly Pocket-covered entrance to the site-specific furniture and lighting installations to the pretty significant artwork. Edward Burtynsky, who has made a name for himself photographing man-made disasters, was recently in town shooting the oil spill and donated a gigantic photograph of the inky black ocean swirls with one condition: It can’t be sold. They built a wall for it the next day. Designer Thomas Beeale, who was dating a girl from New Orleans, came to town to work on a gigantic, curvaceous floor pillow made from sculpted wood scraps. And Louise Kiley created an intricate dreamcatcher-esque chandelier made of bicycle frames and colored thread. Like so much happening in New Orleans right now, the work relates to transformation–taking the unexpected and making it beautiful and useful again.
New Orleans Giveaway!
For anyone inspired by our design pursuits in New Orleans, enter the Lincoln-Designtripper giveaway. Our awesome road trip sponsor Lincoln is sending the lucky winner to New Orleans for a weekend–airfare provided, with a Lincoln MKX to tool around in while you’re here, and a two-night stay at Fair Folks and a Goat (unless you want to stay somewhere else of equivalent value, but I have no idea why you’d want to do that. I mean, HELLO, you get to sleep in an art installation). Check out some of the places we visited, but even more importantly, get out there and create your own web.
[Disclaimer: Ford Motor Company is the paying sponsor of designtripper’s road trip to New Orleans, which also included a Lincoln MKX for the duration of the trip.]