International House offers slice of New Orleans

Senior editor Phyllis Fine stayed at the International House in New Orleans. Here is her report:

NEW ORLEANS -- In a city where big, impersonal convention hotels seem to be popping up overnight, the International House stands out for its minimalist yet elegant approach to hospitality.

Here, the 119 guest rooms are decorated in soothing neutral tones, a color scheme repeated in the lobby and even carried through in what the friendly staff members wear -- in warm weather months, a uniform consisting of a beige seersucker suit and a black shirt.

Many of the pieces that decorate the rooms and public spaces were created by local artisans copying designs from New Orleans' history, such as the three chandeliers hanging in the lobby, based on typical 19th century fixtures. The armoires in each room were inspired by cabinets created by a noted 18th century craftsman. In-room vases holding Louisiana wildflowers are copies of 1860 mineral water bottles created by a local bottler, S. Pablo & Son.

For me, though, the favorite design element in my suite was the headboard, which was made of velvet and attached to the wall. The headboard was high enough that I could rest my head against it and read. It was the most comfortable headboard I've ever experienced.

I also appreciated the other touches in the room, such as the Aveda toiletries and the stereo/CD player, which comes with two CDs by local artists. The radio was tuned to New Orleans' jazz and blues station, WWOZ, when I first walked in. I played one of the CDs -- "Loved Ones," a mellow mix of love songs performed by Branford Marsalis and his father, Ellis -- over and over again.

Another nice touch is the excellent guidebook, Randolph Delehanty's "Ultimate Guide to New Orleans," which can be found in each room.

There is also a ceiling fan and a two-line speaker phone with data ports. And instead of typical generic hotel paintings, rooms and public spaces are decorated with original black-and-white photographs of local jazz greats.

Form wins out over function, though, when it comes to storage space. There are only three small drawers in the room -- probably enough for someone traveling alone on a short business trip, since most business attire would be hung in a closet, but too little for two people on a longer vacation.

For travelers who are in the graphic arts field and pride themselves on being "hipper than thou," this is the perfect place. They will appreciate the property's understated, modern style as well as such touches as the "do not disturb/please clean up the room" sign, whose two sides read "later" and "now."

The television offers such artsy cable offerings as Bravo and the Independent Film Channel.

Trendoids should also enjoy the hotel's restaurant -- now under construction -- an outpost of the French/Vietnamese Lemon Grass Cafe, open elsewhere in the city, as well as the atmosphere in the bar, Loa, lighted only by candles at night. A free continental breakfast is served in Loa every morning (with great orange muffins on the weekend). Loa means divine spirit in the voodoo world, and for those interested in this mystical religion, the property offers a Sanctuary of Love package.

For $249 per night, per couple, guests receive a spell basket filled with ingredients for a lovers' special ceremony: a sugarcane stalk, a statuette, a feather and gris-gris, which is a voodoo charm. For an additional charge, a voodoo priestess will restyle the guest room with special objects, create a personal voodoo altar and perform a special ceremony.

The International House, which opened last year, bills itself as the first boutique hotel in the city and also has a prime location. It is in the central business district, just off Canal Street, the main thoroughfare, and a few blocks from the French Quarter and the trendy warehouse district.

I stayed at the property during the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival this year and found another convenient benefit to the location: It is just a block away from where Jazzfest buses load.

Room rates range from $189 to $289 for singles and doubles, $439 to $539 for penthouse suites. A summer special rate of $119 is available through Labor Day. The price includes two free tickets to Tipitina's, one of the city's best-known live music clubs.
International House
221 Camp St., New Orleans 70130
Phone: (800) 633-5770 or (504) 553-9550

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