A Creative Director, Prop Stylist and Set Designer Lives in This NOLA Rental Bursting With Color and DIYs

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Colorful living room with blue hand-shaped chair
The primary color palette in this room inspired by Mondrian and '60s pop art with a dash of absurdism.

Name: Melissa Cripe, Harvey the Movie Mutt, and roommate, Sasha
Location: 7th Ward — New Orleans, Louisiana
Type of home: Shotgun apartment
Size: 800 square feet
Years lived in: 1 year, renting

The light in this open space is just the dreamiest, and as far as decor: more is more is more!

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: I live in the 7th Ward in New Orleans with my sweet, Wes Anderson-looking mutt, Harvey, and my roommate, a born and raised local musician. This home is extremely special to me because it’s been a life’s dream realized. I’m a California native but have loved this city from afar for forever (my childhood bedroom walls were a mix of Seventeen magazine popstar headshots and posters of New Orleans). Once this pandemic put into perspective how precious and short life can be, I decided to take the leap and make my first real move out of the Golden State. I didn’t know a single person or where I’d end up, but nevertheless, I packed up my tiny car, shoved Harvey in the front seat, and off we leapt into the unknown.

Since I’m renting and not able to paint, I constructed this DIY arch to create a visual divider between the living and kitchen spaces. I ended up freehand cutting hundreds of Matisse-inspired shapes out of black vinyl, and I love how it turned out!

I had absolutely nothing in the apartment the day I moved in besides the couch I managed to find on Facebook Marketplace. The 12-foot-high ceilings of the shotgun apartment echoed, but the sound of a nearby second line kept us company in the silence. The space itself has great energy and tons of natural light. My landlord thoughtfully restored all the original features like the doorways, floors, and windows. Even the countertops come from a school science lab that mattered to her. And a claw foot tub?! An absolute interior dream bucket list!

I love the mix of light and dark tonal elements, like vintage Charlie Brown paired with an oversized clock and the surreal style of vintage Polish poster art. Also, this console from Homegoods had a few imperfections, so I was able to get a big discount and ended up spray painting the wood black and the rattan a light cream to fit the space better.

As a production designer and visual storyteller, I’m always looking for inspiration in the absurdity of the everyday. I love objects that make me laugh, make me think, or tug on my nostalgic heart strings. My space is a mix of thrifted treasures and a collection of props from projects past — a giant mouth mask on top of the kitchen cabinets, a jazzy sad face record on the turntable, chattering teeth biting a couple of fake scrambled eggs, a 1960s French man mask on the wall — the list goes on!

I’ve divided my space to reflect the different facets of my creative personality. The living room and kitchen are a bit more visually graphic while the bedroom is more soft. Stylistically, I’m drawn to the surreal world of ’60s pop art, so I playfully sprinkled that — along with an absurdist, French flair — throughout my home. Color is super important to me and plays into my mood, my closet, and even my hair (have rocked blue, pink, red, blonde, etc!), so naturally the palette of the apartment had to match.

I couldn’t fit much in my tiny car for this cross-country move but made sure to squeeze in all my favorite props from projects past — including these giant lips a good friend built for a shoot I designed.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Surreal, Nostalgic, Prop-Filled, Playful, Wonderland

I recently revamped this farmhouse cabinet that was wood grain with heart shaped cutouts and chicken wire backing into a colorful Art Deco-inspired unit. The hand-painted dresser was also a magic Marketplace find that I love!

What is your favorite room and why? I love the living room most because it’s the first thing people see when they enter the apartment. I designed the space to serve as a visual conversation starter when meeting and hosting new people and filled it with objects that reflect all the corners of my brain — hence the giant “Breathless” poster above the mantel and the bright cobalt blue hand chair and mannequin leg in front of the fireplace.

My coffee table holds some of my vintage matchbooks, favorite Playboys, a design book from Toiletpaper, and an art magazine with one of my favorite directors, Agnes Varda, on the cover. The coat rack displays a gumball machine filled with disco balls, and the bookshelf hosts some ceramic eyeballs peeping out in front of fun, vintage books like “Man in the Shower” and “The Advanced Techniques of Hypnosis.” Also, the insane natural light that pours through all day is absolutely dreamy. I was giddy the first time my landlord showed me how the shutters go all the way into the ceiling and open onto the street.

Since I can’t paint the place, one of the first DIYs I did was to apply the same graphic print peel-and-stick wallpaper in the fireplace and the coffee table. I also used the large archway to create a visual divider between the living room and kitchen by cutting hundreds and hundreds of Matisse-inspired shapes. It took forever (and I almost fell off the ladder — whoops!), but I really love how it turned out.

This vintage vanity from Facebook Marketplace is the first piece of furniture I scored and forever my favorite! The seat has original upholstery, and I use it every single day. I was also warned about the lack of storage space in New Orleans homes, so have learned to embrace the exposed closet. Definitely helps with organization accountability.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? I came back from a Midwest evacuation tour after Hurricane Ida with a vintage treasure trove from my grandma’s basement. I ended up driving north all the way to Michigan to help my mom and 90-year-old grandma pack up her home. She’s lived there her entire life, so we had a lifetime’s worth of treasures to sort through before her cross-country move. From her very first recipe book in 1950 to a beautiful gold mirror and hand-braided rug from my great aunt to a hefty stack of vintage Life magazines — there’s something from that trip in every corner of the apartment now.

A claw foot tub?! A dream!

Any advice for creating a home you love? Create your own world! Send yourself secret messages of love and support through your space and what you choose to fill it with. Sure, I could invest in a better sound system, but I love knowing that the radio on the kitchen countertop that I used for my jazzy CDs as a third grader is now playing the same tunes on the local station (shoutout WWOZ!).

Had to get creative during lockdown, so everyday objects like the shower curtain in the bathroom became useful. It served as a backdrop and costume for the art piece I now have hanging above the bathroom cabinet.

Also, this might sound silly, but this is the first home where I decided to frame some of my own work as art on the walls (since most of my creations end up living online). This solo move has tested all notions of who I am. On low days, it’s been nice to look up and see a piece of my weird little brain and remember the collaborators that made that art possible. Trying to build a creative community from scratch is tough, but seeing these images reminds me that I’ve done it once and I can do it again! One of my favorite framed pieces is the self portrait piece in the bathroom that inspired my move. I shot it in my apartment during the early stages of quarantine when the isolation forced me to look inward and really listen to my gut. I used my shower curtain as backdrop (and costume) as though I were talking to my subconscious. It says “Don’t Be Afraid. Answer the Call.” On my second week of living here, a street poet at a local flea market asked me some questions and then wrote a piece that fatefully had the exact words of that original artwork. So of course, that poem also went up on the walls of my living room as a reminder that I’m where I’m supposed to be.

This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.

 An earlier version of this post mistakenly credited the bathroom photos to Louis Lampkov. They were taken by Christy Lorio. We’ve updated it to be more accurate.