The Beautifully Strange World of Miranda Lake

House Tour

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Name: Miranda Lake
Location: Uptown, New Orleans, Louisiana
Size: 2,400 square feet including the studio
Years lived in: 15 years; owned

Stepping onto the grounds of Miranda Lake’s New Orleans home feels like being transported into the whimsical world she depicts in her artwork. Just as her encaustic collages portray surreal scenes featuring cleverly juxtaposed animals and objects, Miranda’s Uptown home treats visitors to a visual feast of artfully assembled vignettes with similar motifs. The front porch alone is a delightful display: A plastic deer head peers out from a pot of colorful flowers; a small toy horse rests in front of a vintage scale holding an arrangement of succulents; a collection of tiny birds emerge from a rusty typewriter.

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“I see this house as an extension of my portfolio work,” Miranda explains. “It’s as much me and as much of my art as it is a house. It is an experience.” The experience is filled with collections of “beautifully strange” decorative objects she finds in a variety of places including junk stores, eBay, Etsy, Craigslist and travel. Her love of biology, zoology and all things having to do with animals is abundantly clear. In addition to her two dogs, Mr. Whipple and Birdie, and four bunnies, Tumpta, Flapjack, Toofus, and L.B. Fou Fou, the house is filled with creatures of land and sea in various forms: plastic toys, ceramic vases, entomological specimens, faux and real taxidermy. Animals are depicted in paintings, printed on pillows, and seem to appear wherever you turn.

When Miranda bought the house 15 years ago, she knew right away that the 1910 shotgun house on Jena Street was perfect. In fact, it was the only house she looked at. “It’s a special house. It’s deceptively large. It looks teeny from the front but keeps going, going and going.” The back half of the house is divided into a separate apartment, adding the bonus of a built-in source of income. If she needed any proof that it was meant to be, she got it two weeks before she moved in when she was shopping on Magazine Street. The stars aligned when she stumbled upon a fated find: a hand-painted 1920’s wood bar with a tag that read, “Made by the Coco-Cola Company for the Jena Street Social Club.” The bar is now the focal point of her parlor.

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When Miranda acquired the empty lot next door just before Katrina hit in 2005, she was able to add a swimming pool and transform the property into the compound it is today. It is a rarity in New Orleans for a modest home to have so much yard space.

It’s hard to believe the grounds that surround Miranda’s home started out as an empty patch of grass surrounded by a chain link fence. A lush garden path filled with little surprises – a claw foot tub filled with small horse figurines, antique toys tucked into the greenery – winds around the property and leads visitors into a magical adult playground where Miranda’s unique artistic vision comes to life. A fully restored ’62 Shasta camper trailer and a 1952 double-decker bus, which she describes as “one big shiny, giant happy pill you can actually get inside of,” are parked alongside a stunning lap pool. Miranda bought the bus from a friend and plans to get it water tight and eventually hook up electricity, air conditioning, and install a sound system. She envisions it as a poolside cabana. The atmosphere is perfect for Miranda’s casual lifestyle, where friends feel free to drop by for a swim.

Miranda’s home embodies the easy, offbeat spirit of New Orleans. Although she was raised in rural Connecticut, she has found a muse in the Crescent City. “The crumbling decay is just eye candy for me. It’s like Shakespeare here. The whole cycle of life is very easy to see and feel. It’s all around you.”

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Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Evolving. Ultimately I just want my space to feel relaxed and engaging.

Inspiration: Colors and patterns found in the natural world, especially when traveling.

Favorite Element: Color. In my book, go big or go home.

Biggest Challenge: Money, termites, and time.

What Friends Say: After a dip in the pool? Thank you.

Biggest Embarrassment: Forgetting to pooper scoop before company comes over.

Proudest DIY: The landscaping. When I bought the house in ’99 the yard was pretty much all grass with a chain link fence. I acquired the empty lot next door for the pool right before Katrina hit, making my house a true rarity in New Orleans. Very few houses of more modest proportions have this much yard space. When breaking major ground for new beds, I usually consult with local landscaping whiz and master gardener Tammany Baumgarten to make sure I’m not overstuffing the yard. My days of tilling the soil myself are over, so her crew now handles the heavy lifting for me. However, the bulk of the gardens I’ve planted and maintained myself with help from my friend and handyman Randy Humphrey.

Biggest Indulgence: I could say the pool, but come on… I live in NEW ORLEANS. And y’all might have heard it gets kinda hot down here. Ronnie Allen and his crew at Aquarius Pools did an amazing job and were a pleasure to work with. The 1952 Routemaster bus in my backyard is one big shiny, giant happy pill you can actually get inside of, so no regrets there. I will offer up my fully restored ’62 Shasta camper trailer as the guilty object.

Best Advice: Cull and curate your collections and don’t let things become too precious. It’s just stuff.

Dream Sources: Whatever Kelly Wearstler is looking at. I really relate to how she senses color and texture and am in awe of the scope of her talents.

Anywhere that involves traveling to an exotic locale that has amazing craft, food and flea markets. Preferably via London so I can visit with family and friends, and of course, shop!

Turkey is amazing. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is a good place to train your eye but can be overwhelming and overpriced. I prefer Gorëme in Cappadocia. The scenery alone makes it my favorite place to shop for rugs so far.

South Africa has a really fresh art and design scene, and I would love to live there someday. Some of my favorite spots in Cape Town are The Neighbourgoods Market in Woodstock, the botanical gardens for the Kirstenbosch Craft Market, Imagenius for fun gifts and housewares, or any of the other amazing markets Cape Town has to offer.

Since I can’t afford to fling myself around the globe as often as I like, there is always Ebay.

Stateside, I consistently find excellent junk in Texas, especially at Uncommon Objects in Austin. One of these days I’d like to catch The Marburger Farm Antique Show in the fall, and the Antique Weekend that happens twice a year between Houston and Dallas. I hear they’re amazing. I have yet to brave the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts when I’m up north visiting my mom, but I’m not sure I can wake up that early!

Favorite shops I wish I could afford online include Voila Gallery, 1stdibs, and ABC Carpet and Home.

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Resources of Note:

PAINT & COLORS

  • I usually use Sherwin Williams paint and will take other companies' chips to be matched by them, but have also used paint from Lowe’s and Home Depot. I like to use old paint up, so trim colors are usually whatever’s leftover that’s some kind of white semi-gloss, then hand tinted by me for each room.
  • Exterior- Body in Cracked Pepper, by Behr, trim in Sherwin William’s Stunning Shade, shutters in Sherwin William’s Special Gray. Doors in Benjamin Moore’s Gibralter Cliffs.
  • Living room- Walls, Decathalon, Ralph Lauren Paints at Home Depot.
  • Lounge- Walls in Benjamin Moore’s Black Berry, trim in Valspar’s Cliveden Gray Morning. Ceiling was faux-finished by me and took almost a month. I used a deep turquoise as the base, then 2 different light and dark golden green glazes applied in multiple layers using a large stippler brush.
  • Office-Walls in Stained Glass by Behr.
  • Bathroom- Walls in Garden Clog by Martha Stewart.
  • Kitchen- The top color is Sherwin Williams Thistle, and the bottom is close to Framboise.

PORCH

  • Large vintage scale and horse figurine from a Texan junk store.
  • Pressure gauges gifts from my very talented friend Abe Geasland who makes artful lamps, furniture, and sculpture out of found objects.

LIVING ROOM

  • Most of the antiques throughout the house are family pieces, unless otherwise noted. Wall decorations and art are about 90% thrift store and Ebay finds, the other 10% is a rotating gallery of my own work or my father’s or friends’.
  • Queen sleeper sofa from Sleepers in Seattle in Pace Turquoise.
  • Mirrored coffee table by Bassett Mirror. Got mine through Craigslist for way less.
  • Family chair reupholstered in Brunschwhig and Fils Bayou Leather Black. I go to Mark at Benson’s Upholstery in Metairie for all my furniture projects. He can special order whatever you need and also has a great selection in his showroom.
  • Faux coral and Saber Tooth Tiger skull from Z Gallerie.
  • The painting over the mantle piece, hare trigger, is self-portrait of sorts I did in 2010, and the David Bowie painting and the geometric Op Art pieces are by my late father, Doug Lake.
  • The Norton fuel tank, model ship, typewriter, and countless other objects
    are family pieces as well.
  • The circular mirrors are from Target, and the one by the front door is a yard sale find.
  • Horse collection of bookends, planters and TV lamps from Ebay, Etsy, and junk store finds.

PARLOR

  • The fainting couch and the 2 chairs were my Grandmother’s. The suzani style pillow is from a while ago at World Market. I periodically check in to see what they’re peddling. The Berber wedding blanket I got in Morocco, but you can find them on Ebay, Etsy and even Urban Outfitters as well.
  • The chairs were redone but I can’t remember what the patterns were called. Maybe they were from Kravet or Lee Jofa.
  • The bar came from a shop on Magazine Street that has since changed hands. The tag read that it was made in the 1920’s by the Coco-Cola Company for the Jena Street Social Club. Seeing as my house is on Jena, it was a no-brainer.
  • The painting of owls, the watchmen, available on my website.
  • The side table and the console are from Bargain Center in the Bywater. It’s one of the best antique/junk stores in town.
  • I have both faux taxidermy and real taxidermy, leaning further towards the latter. The resin deer head is from Z Gallerie, and the birds I have been gifted or collected from all over.

OFFICE

  • Desk and file cabinet from Craigslist.
  • Lockers and blue tool cart from A-Plus Warehouse. I initially wanted vintage, but decided to go with new so they would be nice and clean to store my clothes in. I thought I would save a little money on the lockers and assemble them myself. Big mistake! Made wrestling IKEA furniture together seem like fun. If I were to do it again, I would pay extra to have them shipped pre-assembled.
  • The painting of the peacocks in the tree, at the day’s end, available on my website.

BATHROOM

  • Thrift store decor.

KITCHEN

  • Photo collage of dog and still life by my very talented and dear friend, New Orleans-based food and interiors photographer Sara Essex Bradley. Sara teamed up with local design maven Valorie Hart to make a beautiful book about Louisiana homes called House Proud:Unique Home Design, Louisiana in which you can see more shots of my home as well as some other fantastic abodes of New Orleans.

BEDROOM

  • Bedside table I bought at Nadeau and painted gold.
  • Upholstered storage bench from Urban Outfitters. Much of the furniture they offer (and many other retailers in fact) is by Skyline Furniture which can be found at a variety of price points depending on the fabric and the retailer, so it pays to look around.
  • Green paper collaged votive holder was a gift from my dear friend Leah Spurrier, an award-winning designer with an amazing store called High Street in Cincinatti, OH.
  • Indoor/outdoor floor mat from Amazon.
  • Air plants and moss covered baskets from Urban Roots, a new favorite garden center in New Orleans.
  • Painting over mantle, organ grinder, available on my website.

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Thanks, Miranda!

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(Image credits: Jacqueline Marque; Jacqueline Marque for The Beautifully Strange World of Miranda Lake)