Miranda’s Magical New Orleans House

By Jenn Rose Smith

photographed by buff strickland

We have to admit — as much as we’d like to claim scouting credit — that artist Miranda Lake fell into our lap by some sort of strange magic. We’d just been discussing reader comments in a meeting and lamenting that you (our lovely readers) were ready to see something different in terms of home tours. Wouldn’t it be great if we could find something historic? Something colorful… maybe even a little eclectic? The planets aligned for us quickly that week and boom: an email from our friend Buff with an attached photo of Miranda’s backyard. We were intrigued.

When I arrived in New Orleans in April I was overwhelmed by the pure cool of Miranda’s space. Her 1910 Victorian shotgun is a maximalist dream — a home layered with meaningful and magical objects. Talking with Miranda, one quickly recognizes that every piece has a story. Her home is a living, breathing entity. And she herself is 100% artist: we talked about her soul cities (New Orleans is one, Cape Town is the other), the beauty of a jazz funeral procession, and how a humongous chrome double-decker bus came to live in her backyard (“It’s a big, shiny, happy pill for all to enjoy,”). Under the spell of Miranda’s hundred year old house, our photoshoot/interview naturally dissolved into an epic hangout session that lasted all afternoon. Join us as we spend the day with Miranda and discover a magnetic space that only an artist could create.

How old is your home and how long have you been living here? What drew you to purchase this property?

The house was built as a Victorian shotgun single in 1910, and somewhere down the line a previous owner acquired the adjacent lot and built an L shaped addition on the back of the house which turned it into a double.

I started looking at houses in January or February of 2000, and besides a doozy of a place over on Peniston (a street name I knew I’d have a hard time embracing), this was the only other house I considered. One look and I was sold, the place just oozed with potential. The empty lot next door I managed to purchase (right before Katrina) was the icing on the cake so I could finally build a pool.

What do you love most about your home?

The sanctuary it provides for me and my friends.

You don’t seem to be afraid of color at all. What’s your process in choosing paint? Are there certain colors you’ve always been drawn to?

In general I tend to be drawn to blues and grays for their tranquility and range. They wear many shades well.

And this may sound silly, but my interior palettes seem to be inspired by what color my dogs are!
When I had orangey brown dogs, the colors were more muted and earthy, then over time, I ended up with 2 black dogs whose dark and shiny coats simply demanded something more punchy and graphic, so I just went for it.

Tell us a little about the incredible painting hanging over the fireplace in the blue room. This is one of your original works, and we love it. What inspired the piece?

That’s one of my favorite pieces called “hare trigger” which I did in 2010, and it’s a self portrait of sorts. Life was tough after Katrina for myriad reasons, and I was feeling a little uncertain on how to proceed in the most safe, sane, and productive way. For awhile I wondered if the rabbit ever got away from the snakes, but I’m happy to report she’s doing just fine!

This display of wooden ships is so unique — would you call yourself a “collector”?

I think once you have more than 3 related objects and find yourself wanting more, then you can probably call yourself a collector. One ship was from my childhood home, and the others I found at a fabulous estate sale in the Garden District.

Okay, your antique bar is EVERYTHING. Where did you find it?

I came across that bar just a few weeks before I moved into my new home in an old antique store on Magazine Street. The tag said it was made in the 1920’s for the Jena Street Social Club which is the street my house is on… it was destiny!

What’s your favorite drink to mix up and serve guests at the bar?

At this stage of the game it’s more of a self-serve situation with some hooch stashed in the bus or the outdoor fridge… But for holidays I might break out my great grandmother’s silver punch bowl and make some Stump Buster Punch — you take a fresh pineapple cut into cubes, soak it in whiskey overnight, then pour cheap champagne on top. Easy peasy and dangerously delicious.

I’ve always loved the idea of a “sleeping porch”. What inspired you to create yours?

Shotguns can be kind of static spaces, with the rooms in a straight line front to back, often without a hallway, so I wanted to open the space up and create some flow.

After I saved enough money to have custom windows milled I was able to use the space year round. First as my dining room/office, then as my bedroom. I love how the bead board adds texture and the dark blue green color plays nicely against the black walls and green ceiling of the bar room.

And a porch with a fireplace? I hope you don’t hate me but I am personally going to copy this idea. So great. Do you ever light the fireplace?

Copy away!

I do use it occasionally for parties and go the easy way out with some Duraflame logs.

What can you tell us about the “Planetellus” machine in your bedroom? Such an unusual and cool piece.

I found Planetellus  3 or 4 years ago at The Bargain Center down in the Bywater… they almost always have some little goodie I don’t need but must have.

From what I’ve gathered, Planetellus is one of 837 astrology reading machines made sometime in the 1930’s by the Bally Manufacturing Company and would most likely have been found in theater lobbies and department stores. You chose the month of your birthday and then a wooden peg to pick the date, and for just 10 cents your horoscope would pop out of the bottom! There are 12 boxes inside that still hold some of the original horoscopes and I can’t wait to get her back in shape. But even without the painting, she’s still a pretty cool piece and creates great ambient light.

What do you love about New Orleans?

That the city is a palpable presence with a mind of her own, and we’re all just along for the ride. She demands you embrace both the absurdities and tragedies of life in a very visceral way, with the elegance of Shakespeare and the ruthlessness of Attilla the Hun.

Your backyard seems so ideal for entertaining. Do you have friends over often? Any backyard bbqs or parties planned for this summer?

I do! There’s a pretty regular crew I’ve given keys to that gathers number of times throughout the week. If we’re feeling ambitious we’ll set up a big movie screen at the end of the pool and pretend we’re at an underwater drive-in.

Tell us about the little airstream trailer in your backyard: do you know the make and model?

Actually, she’s a 1961 Shasta camper trailer I had restored outside of Detroit. She’s got a queen sized fold down bed in back and a dining area that folds down into another bed in the front, along with AC, a kitchenette, bathroom and shower. I’ll be hitting the road later this summer once I find the right rig to tow her.

This bamboo is incredible. It’s like mega-bamboo. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I planted the Giant Timber bamboo about 10 years ago and it’s about 50 feet tall and 6 -7 inches in diameter. I love how the new stalks look like giant asparagus when they come out of the ground, and it makes the most soothing sounds in the wind.

Nice bus! Does she have a name? And more importantly, how did she make her way into your backyard?


She does have a name, but I didn’t give it to her, some previous owner spelled out Big Al on the top of the front, so she may be a he… I’m not sure.

As best I know, the bus is a 1952 Routemaster from Bristol, England that came to the states for the New Orleans World’s Fair in 1984. After its time with the parades, it passed through a series of private owners’ hands. Dr. Steven Lesser had it parked outside the TwiRoPa building and used it as a DJ booth that complemented the amazing musical venue inside. Unfortunately the building was razed by the city of New Orleans citing eminent domain in order to expand the convention center. Major bummer.

Then somehow over the course of some lovely, long and boozy dinner party my friend Prisca Weems was convinced that she needed the bus in her life, and the bus needed her. A deal was struck, and before the sun could rise, some sort of Bobcat machine wielding hooligans maneuvered the bus into the side yard of her fabulous house in Treme. So at this point it wasn’t running, and now it’s not going anywhere so I don’t care.

About 5 years ago Prisca decided to do a little downsizing, and I guess when you’re trying to simplify life you don’t really “need” a vintage double-decker bus in your yard as a storage shed, and she knew I was already in love… et voila! The bus, Big Al found its forever home with me.
I hired Rudy’s Towing to move the bus from Treme to my place Uptown which was no small feat, especially since I wanted it positioned at the back of the empty lot parallel to the street. With a crazy James Bond tow truck with a million different buttons and levers these cowboy rockstar trucker dudes backed it down my street then jackknifed it into place right where I wanted it and where it shall remain until we sink into the sea.

I have yet to fully realize my plans for the bus, but what’s so great about it is that it doesn’t matter… it’s perfect as is. A big, shiny happy pill for all to enjoy.

Okay, we’re in New Orleans for one night only: where should we eat? Where should we stay?

I’m a huge fan of whatever Donald Link and his crew cooks, so any of his places would be a great bet. Currently I would suggest starting at Peche and sit at the bar, have a Hemingway and order the fish sticks and the grilled chicken with white BBQ sauce, and maybe a side of fried brussels sprouts with chili vinegar depending on hunger level, stomach capacity, and drinking objectives. Then toddle down to Butcher, and try a Tepache Mode or the The Randy Sauvage and get some pimento cheese sliders, and hot boudin (best eaten spread on Zapp’s potato chips)… finally, loosen your belt and get Le Pig Mac. Drink your dessert.

As far as where to stay, try a vacation rental and see how people really live. Like many other cities, we’re having some issues with unregulated short term rentals that hopefully will be resolved soon.

Fill in the blank: “A good house guest should always _______.”
Leave you looking forward to seeing them again.