Interior designer, decorator, stylist, and writer Valorie Hart is a self-described “New New”, a New Yorker transplanted in New Orleans. Her love affair with her adopted city has inspired Ms. Hart to put pen to paper in countless ways, all of which have culminated in the publication of her first book, House Proud: Unique Home Design, Louisiana, by Glitterati Incorporated.
As Debra Shriver writes in the book’s introduction, “A house in not a home. It is much, much more…. A home can be anything and everything: a cocoon for these dizzying times we live in, or a footprint in the place that makes you feel alive. If you are luck, you may one day live in a house that is so effusively part of who you are and how you live that it will have become a main character in your life. It will escape the bounds of geography, topography, street address, and square footage, and be, instead, the perfect backdrop for a life well lived—the life you live.”
Indeed, it is this very quality of life, this very quality to life, which makes a house more than a home. It is the way in which one expresses themselves through physical space that makes a home come alive, vibrating with the energy of life.
Ms. Hart recalls “When I was seventeen the book,The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn, set me on a lifelong path. I loved Art Deco and old Hollywood glamour of 1930s movies when I was in my twenties. I decorated my homes and dressed this way. Movie sets have always been a catalyst. My trips to Europe got me all hot for rustic design elements from France, Italy, and Spain. A trip to England got me on the English Country bandwagon. The furniture department at Bloomingdales (in New York) in the 1970s showed me the art of the mix.
“My art school background informs all my choices regarding color and proportion and history. Never having a great deal of money took me to the flea markets and junk shops of the world that taught me about vintage and antique things. Design books of all types have filled my bookshelves for forty years. Flowers and gardens are a passion that I have carried with me all my life.
“My little office I have now is a distillation of all of this. I have things in it that clients may never let me do, but they are things that delight me. There’s an antique French settee with crumbling gilt; a hot pink ombre wall; a Ghost chair and also a chrome Platner chair recovered in Italian silk; an oversize painting by Louis St. Lewis called the ‘Royal Couple”; Fornasetti cut-outs; books are stacked up everywhere, and there is a giant disco ball hanging between two vintage chandeliers laden with crystals. Flowers are on my turquoise Chinese Chippendale desk. Tango music plays in the background and a TV is on with the sound off where an old movie is showing on TMC. I find it very chic.
“Chic is in the eye of the beholder. It is that certain something you cannot quite put your finger on, but you know it when you experience it. Those that try to be chic are often not chic. Think of the iconic women we define as chic. Audrey Hepburn is a good one to use as an example. She never thought of herself as chic or even beautiful. She was simply herself, and yet she has become the poster child of chic.
“Chic has to do with how you live your life. Joie de vivre; being engaged with and enjoying people; humility; gratitude; kindness; generosity; good manners; good grooming; a passion for beautiful places and things like art, books, flowers, music, dance, architecture, photography, food; beautiful rooms and beautiful clothes – all of those things are the underpinnings to chic that leads up to an organic natural elegance. Chic is dimensional and not just an image in a magazine or a book, though such an image can certainly be a catalyst to chic. A book is chic when it is well designed, and when it inspires and transports the reader.
“I have been writing since I learned the alphabet. It came in tandem with learning to read as a child. I was a young avid reader, and that led me to write poetry, letters, stories, journaling, etc. I loved English classes (and Latin classes) in school. As a young adult in my twenties I studied poetry in New York with Erica Jong, Edward Field, and Michael Bennett.
“Along the way, I started an event design business in New York. When I started out I did not have a portfolio but I could write a descriptive proposal that would weave a vivid enough story for the client to visualize the job and hire me with confidence.
“A little further along the way, I met and married a man from Buenos Aires. We were tango dancers together, who taught Argentine tango classes all over the world. We wrote a seminal book together called Gotta Tango. We also published and wrote a tango magazine together called El Firulete.
“As a ‘creative’ both art school trained, and also trained as a lady of letters, convergence is organic. There are no boundaries for a creative person. Everything overlaps and feeds into another manifestation of expression. For me personally, I feel that I can do any artistic thing, or find out how to do it.
My husband Alberto encouraged me to blog. We live in New Orleans and it was after Hurricane Katrina when the whole city was suffering a profound depression. He thought writing a blog would be therapy. He suggested I call it “The Cholo Diaries”.
“Cholo is our King Charles Spaniel, and he wanted me to write it in the dog’s voice and tell of Cholo’s post Katrina experiences and observations. I was very negative, and called it self-indulgent journal scribbling. And I had not yet embraced the Internet, but Alberto was always very up to the minute with every new technology and saw the creative possibility for me.
“I was not convinced and was devoting my time to redecorating the inside of our house. There was chaos outside my door that I could not control, but I could control the beauty I created inside the house. In tandem, I discovered a web site called Rate My Space where you could upload pictures of your house and let other people rate them. After a while I found it too limiting and decided to ask Alberto about that blog thing. My idea was to start my own magazine of things I liked and wanted to share with other people interested in design and the arts.
Blogging became a regular discipline that allowed me to write and collect images and do projects to share with readers and other bloggers. It has led to fantastic friendships and connections to a creative community.
“You ask me when I decided to become an author. It never was a decision. I always felt like I was an author. Producing House Proud was natural. I had been working with the photographer Sara Essex Bradley styling and shooting editorial work with her. We saw a lot of wonderful houses and met a lot of wonderful homeowners who loved to decorate. The book was a natural. Sara and I love to work together and the process of shooting the book was exhilarating and rewarding. I am visual, so her photographs were the catalyst for my words, combined with the stories the homeowners told me.
“You ask about books as objects – Yes they are beautiful and many do use them for purely decorative purposes. The photographs in House Proud are stunning, but I always tell people after they flip through the book looking at the pretty pictures, to please read the text too. Those that do are rewarded with another layer to add to their visual enjoyment. Words paint pictures and evoke emotion, and when coupled with imagery offer a complete experience.”
Valorie Hart: The Visual Vamp Blog & Website
Photographs by Sara Essex Bradley from House Proud
Curated by Miss Rosen