Name: Emily and Alon Shaya and pups Henri and Ceci (“garbanzo bean” in Italian)
Location: Bayou St. John — New Orleans, Louisiana
Size: 1,200 square foot original creole cottage with a 900 square foot addition.
Years lived in: 5 years, owned (4 years prior to renovation, 1 year post-renovation)
The entrance to Alon and Emily’s home is bursting with life. Crisp white flower boxes overflow with color and a wall of lush greenery towers over a side gate, arching towards a tangerine-colored front door. The couple’s beloved canines, Henri and Ceci greet me with wagging tails and lead the way down a long outdoor side hall into an open kitchen and dining room. A big antique farm table and bench from Emily’s childhood home in Georgia are at the center of the airy, sun-filled space. An Art Deco leather settee and a pair of vintage rattan chairs, nestled perfectly between two windows, create an inviting little conversation nook. Entertaining is in this couple’s DNA, and it’s what inspired their home’s renovation a year ago.
On this sunny spring morning, music is playing, the doors are open, the iced coffee is flowing, and a soft breeze drifts through the space. Before the renovation, a wall divided the kitchen and dining room. Now that the wall is gone, the Shayas are better able to accommodate guests during their frequent dinner parties. For Alon, the critically acclaimed chef at the helm of three New Orleans restaurants, and Emily, who furnishes special events with her vast collection of unique vintage and antique decor, that’s no small thing.
“The house was already really beautiful and super quaint,” Emily says of their pre-renovation home, “We were drawn to the way it had been updated without forgetting about the old.” Original architectural details — french doors, high ceilings covered with heart pine wood, exposed beams, and pocket doors — were preserved. “We knew it was the one right when we walked in for the first time,” she recalls.
They lived in the house for four years before making plans to open up the kitchen. Room by room, the plans expanded and eventually led to the addition of a second story at the rear of house (known locally as a camelback). “We wanted to be able to have a guest room to invite family,” Alon says.
The couple worked closely with architect Lauren Hickman to build an addition that felt like a natural extension of the original structure they fell in love with. They used heart-pine, tongue and groove wood that was found behind every ceiling and wall downstairs as flooring upstairs. White shiplap walls create a clean, modern aesthetic with a hint of nostalgia. Vintage mirrors and light fixtures add an “old-timey feeling” Emily loves. The end result accomplishes another important goal of the Shayas — the creation of a home where they can kick back with guests and entertain with ease.
Over bowls of matzo ball soup around the kitchen island, conversation moves to comfort food, a topic Alon is exploring through memories, recipes, and photographs in the cookbook he is writing. He recalls cooking red beans and rice for New Orleanians in the days that followed Hurricane Katrina. The experience left a lasting impression. “I saw how food brought comfort to people,” he says. After lunch, the smell of chocolate and roasted hazelnuts fills the house while he tests a recipe for semi-freddo, a dessert that takes him back to the year after Hurricane Katrina when he lived in Italy and immersed himself in Italian cuisine.
When asked what recipe he associates with the home he and Emily have built together, Alon doesn’t hesitate. “Red beans and rice,” he says. Over a decade after Katrina, the classic New Orleans dish is punctuating another important chapter in his life, but this time he’s not the chef. On Monday nights, the couple opens their home to friends for red beans and rice dinner; Emily does the cooking. For the Shayas, married just five years, it’s a family tradition in the making.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
Our Style: We wanted to have a house that juxtaposed vintage fixtures and soft goods with clean lines. A comfortable house where you can kick your feet up and not worry about ruining anything too precious. And one where we can entertain and cook with the same ease and creativity as in our restaurants.
Inspiration: Our architect, Lauren Hickman, took us on a modern home tour of NOLA. She showed us examples of camelback additions that were done well and not so well done. That was eye opening to us. We wanted the house to fit with the neighborhood but added some modern elements, like our play on the traditional shutter wall that masks the master bath windows.
Favorite Element: For Alon, certainly the dream kitchen with the BlueStar range, giant island, and plenty of storage. We did lots of white marble and dark blue kitchen cabinets throughout our kitchen with copper light fixtures. We thought the copper-finished range would complement the rest of our kitchen and also act as a centerpiece to see from several other rooms in the house. And the fact that the range came in more than 750 colors made the selection fun,. We also are able to customize the cooking surface to meet our personal preferences.
For Emily, our dreamy bathroom with a six-and-a-half foot claw-foot tub alcove situated below windows. You can see the stars out those windows at night.
Biggest Challenge: Before we started the project, Emily’s dad Joel said “You’re going to ruin that house…” When adding a second story onto a 100-year-old house, it’s hard to make the addition not feel out of place. We wanted the upstairs and downstairs to feel seamless. Luckily, we found heart pine tongue and groove wood behind every ceiling and wall downstairs, so we were able to reuse those original house components as our floors upstairs.
What Friends Say: Friends like to hang out around the kitchen island, no surprise there!
Biggest Embarrassment: We hate it when our flower boxes aren’t overflowing with color…which has happened quite a few times. We use local gardener Niki Epstein to keep things up to date — she always knows where the best plants are around town!
Proudest DIY: We used regular wood knobs for most of our doors around the house and painted them the color of the wall or door. A simple DIY but it made a big difference!
Biggest Indulgence: The BlueStar range was not so much an indulgence, but a necessity, because I (Alon) can cook at home with the same power that I use at my restaurants. The BTUs are unstoppable and I have the freedom to create any menu without feeling limited by my cooking power. I can use all eight burners at once when I need to, or add on the grill and griddle when I want to add some more diversity to my menus for friends and family.
Best Advice: When choosing your fixtures, try to steer clear of the generic. The best way to do this is rewire vintage fixtures, use local artisans or shop for lighting on Etsy. You need to know what you want at least a few weeks before your contractor needs it, otherwise, you will end up with Home Depot sconces.
Dream Sources: We adore Lucullus in New Orleans but their selection usually falls outside of our budget.