Liz Solms, proprietor of historic Philadelphia properties The Touraine and The Annex, knows a thing or two about home decor: Both hybrid hospitality concepts (they offer rental apartments and short-term stays) boast unique architectural elements, like handcarved mantels and stained glass, mixed with clean design to make the historic spaces feel elevated, yet calm and welcoming—and as such, they’re now two of the most sought-after spaces in Philly, with 10-year waiting lists.
Solms, who spends half the year in her Philly home and the other half in Jamaica working with her sustainable agricultural firm Banana Tree Consulting, says her mission is to create spaces that pay homage to a place’s original architectural details—and her vacation home in the historic Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans tries to do just that, along with making sure it maintains a semblance of Solms’s own personality.
The shotgun house dates to the 1800s, and it needed some TLC when Solms bought it. Her goal, therefore, was to have “the original details reveal themselves again” in a way that allowed for unique decor choices and making the most of what she had… a task that wasn’t too hard for the design fiend, who used her treasured vintage finds and large collection of artwork to truly revamp the space.
The living room, for instance, was “tiny, as most shotgun homes are,” says Solms. The major issue here was making the most out of the small space, and the high ceilings helped to achieve some airiness. Solms outfitted the room with multipurpose furniture to maximize the space: By the entry, a wicker cart from Serena & Lily serves as both a bar and a place for keys and mail to land, while the daybed doubles as a place for guests to stay. “I splurged on an organic mattress for the daybed because the living room serves as my mum’s room when she stays with us, and she must be comfy,” says Solms.
She also carved out an area for her husband to work by incorporating a small antique secretary desk, which she found at Fireside Antiques in the neighborhood, into the room. With “tons of nooks and crannies,” the piece is both functional and adds interest.
Her vast art collection and unique fixtures purchased from all over the world put the finishing touches on the room. A green milk glass light from Morocco purchased at Logan Killen hangs above a pink armchair, while the gallery wall above the green velvet sofa features a collection of female nudes from either unknown or forgotten artists that she’s collected over the years. “Many were eBay purchased and stored away until I had the right space for them.”
Her “most prized piece of art,” a painting by renowned African American artist Emma Amos, holds court above the daybed, near a bold painting by local New Orleans artist John Isiah that Solms traded him for use of studio space. Bold colors and textures—a pink kilim rug, a blue mudcloth ottoman, a vintage yellow desk chair, a palm-printed kantha quilt from India—infuse a vibrancy to the small space without feeling overwhelming.
The bedroom, however, is more minimalist. Meant to be a place of rest rather than a space for work or play, the room, tucked behind a pair of blue-grey French doors, plays with restored finds, and lets the original features of the home shine through.
“Our bedroom only has three pieces of furniture,” says Solm. “An iron four poster bed from Anthropologie, a Danish chair, and an armoire antique find from Fireside Antiques in Baton Rouge.” And of course, some artwork, this time from a Cuban artist.
More playful are the bathroom and the nursery for Soleil, Solms’s daughter, which both feature bright botanical wallpaper. The pink ombre shower curtain “rounds out my affinity for pink on pink,” says Solms of the bathroom, and she reglazed the original cat claw tub the same “shockingly” bright hue as well. Tropical palm print wallpaper adds to the boho vibes, but she kept the grey tile, which nicely balances out the colors.
For her daughter’s bedroom, Solms faced a real challenge: It was an addition to the original house, and the ceiling was low. She made it work by creating an extra cozy space that feels bright thanks a winning combination of yellow and pale pink. The back wall is covered with Jungalow wallpaper, “optimistic” folk art adds cheer, and a Moroccan rug and pink sheepskin create warmth. The vintage taffeta fringed armchair and natural lighting gives the area an organic feel, perfect for baby to relax.
The kitchen was the one place Solms chose not to leave as is. ”I ripped out the cabinets and replaced them with reclaimed cypress from an old tobacco barn, all 1950s-themed Big Chill appliances, a marble countertop, and a 1950’s style Formica table set,” she says. She did, however, keep the original floor tile, which she regrouted in red.
The purpose? Preserving certain architectural details, while still maintaining a functional, modern area for all her needs. A few fun additions, like a children’s metal table (where Soleil does her painting) and a small modern dining area add a vintage feel to an otherwise redone space.
The real star of the home, though? The tropics-inspired backyard, complete with a swing hanging from a great oak and a turquoise seating area. However, Solms insists that it wasn’t easy to create the restful space we currently see: “The backyard was a jungle,” she says. To tame it, she replanted banana trees along with other native plants, and dotted the yard with replica vintage patio furniture and some aluminum urns from Ricca’s. This allowed the area to thrive on its own without completely gardening it down to its core, and the eclectic collection of furniture makes it a boho chic dream.