The Heart of the Room: Loft Living in Downtown New Orleans

Rodney Santana Villarreal’s small condo in a converted 19th-century warehouse in downtown New Orleans features furniture of his own design, art he created, and items of special personal importance. “Create a heart for the room and let everything else evolve around it,” he advises. “Once a strong focal point anchors the space, the rest is mostly accenting.”

Villarreal has worked in design for 20 years. He studied at the Art Institute of Houston and worked with Richard Holly in Houston and James Isola in New Orleans. What he chose to do with his own living space in the Civic Lofts epitomizes his design philosophy and his personal approach to life.

“Yellow reminds me of the outdoors. It is like the sun; it makes me happy,” says Villarreal in his sun-filled living room 50 feet above Barrone Street. To Villarreal, unless you are dealing with an interior that is strictly period, there should be no hard rules about what to include. “Good design is good design. Use things you love.”

Some of the most intriguing objects in Villarreal’s home he found at junk stores and transformed into unique accent pieces. An antler-like candelabra, a flea-market mirror, and piece of driftwood all found new life in the hands of Villarreal, who transformed them with silver leaf finishes.

He describes his home design as soft classic contemporary. Against a background of simple white walls, gray exposed brick, and frosted room dividers, creams, oranges, and yellows dominate the palette. Wood and Bergamo silk mingle with glass and metallic textures to create harmonic contrast.

“You can create balance with symmetry or asymmetry, and everything about our environment affects our mood,” says Villarreal. “For example, blue can lift the spirits if used with a strong contrasting tone, but too much blue brings me down.”

Loft living allows Villarreal a trouble-free alternative to owning a house. Grass cutting and home repairs do not take time from his busy schedule. “When I’m home, I want to relax,” Villarreal explains, “That’s why I like my living space uncluttered. Clean lines allow my mind to rest.”

He also likes the close proximity to New Orleans nightlife and sports arenas. The Civic Lofts and Penthouses were created when the Civic Theater (built in 1906, a national historic landmark and the oldest remaining theater structure in New Orleans) was converted into condominiums, together with the two old warehouses on either side of it. The old facade and Civic Theater sign out front remain as a bit of local history.

From the carefully chosen colors to the classic lines, everything about this soothing, yet contemporary space says something about the homeowner’s life and personality, and the decor complements the building’s character, the way all great interiors should. Villarreal himself is the heart of the room around which all else evolves.

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