Tucked away on a side street near Tulane University is a 1920s cottage whose only hint at its fanciful interior is a red door flanked by two urns filled with pearl Mardi Gras beads and painted green orbs. Upon entering, a new set of stairs takes you up to the cottage floors, which are now three feet higher than they were during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when the house flooded. The stairs lead right toward a long, narrow hallway and the private rooms, a living-dining room, “Bubba’s room” and a small but colorful kitchen.
“ ‘Bubba’ doesn’t really exist,” explains Suzanne McClellan, a Virginia native whose career has included military signal officer, stints at Clear Channel and WWL and, now, owner of Inside Design, an 800-foot shop within Glenn Michael’s Salon & Spa on Metairie Road. “Bubba is a concept. The room is dark and masculine, with big leather sofas, a red lacquer Chinese armoire for TV and tech stuff and a rolling cart bar. My husband’s name is Michael, but there was something about the room, originally the dining room, screamed ‘Bubba,’ so it’s Bubba’s room.”
This sort of approach to function and folly is typical of the life and lifestyle embraced by McClellan, who mixes colors with abandon. In the kitchen are three shades of Benjamin Moore paint: red, poison apple and lemon chiffon; a bedroom is delicate blue trimmed with chocolate; Bubba’s room is chocolate with heavy natural-linen drapes; and the living room is a soft burlap. The unifying element throughout is found on the ceilings, all painted a pale-gray Benjamin Moore color called Billowy Down.
Against these backdrops, McClellan, whose mentor and friend is Edward Walker of Trading Spaces, places fine antiques, pieces from big-box stores, Lutyen’s benches and colorful accessories. “I believe in mixing high and low. It’s modern. In this economy, decorating shouldn’t cost a fortune. There are investment pieces and fast design statements that, when dated, can be remixed, painted or passed along. I love bright, happy touches … polka-dotted bowls, table skirts made from sheets topped with elaborate cloths and linens, Edward’s really expensive hand-painted pillows, mixed with Stein Mart. My dining chairs are from Target; my sofas are custom-made at a resource in High Point, North Carolina, that Edward introduced me to.” There are also her hand-painted lamp shades, many with a midcentury modern vibe jazzed up with swirls and squiggles. A signature seems to be the draping of a piece of jewelry or object around the neck of a vase or lamp.
One of her inspirations is the art collective known as the Ya/Yas (Young Aspirations/Young Artists), a group of artistically inclined inner city youth from the area who are given the chance to be expressive, and professionally self-sufficient, through visual art. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this month, the group’s works are an explosion of contemporary folk art that typically uses furniture as a medium.
“I am a painter at heart. Most of the work on the walls here is mine. The Ya/Yas made me think of painting the braces on the legs and backs of my metal kitchen chairs. Ya/Ya whimsy helped give a dumb ’50s coffee table a whole new life,” she continues, with a bubbling enthusiasm that belies an Army-trained and Army-disciplined organized mind.
“Besides the Ya/Yas, I am a huge supporter of women helping each other in business. I host POSH parties at my shop for women with fledging businesses. They show, sell their work, explain their services and network. Some really great connections, ideas and teamwork come from these. I’m having one in December. Now more than ever, creative people need to connect with creative people to come up with creative solutions in the changing times,” says McClellan, who has circled December 11 for her next event.
Meanwhile, her home is decorated for the seasons to come. Pumpkins glitter in wooden bowls and glass vases on tables; a tall Neapolitan angel sends guests out safely on a winter night; Christmas wreaths frame doors outside and in; and Mardi Gras beads never wait for the Carnival season.