You are here

Body & Soul: New Orleans' Soniat House

The Soniat House hotel in New Orleans shows that some things do improve with age

Written and produced by Jenny Bradley Pfeffer

Visitors to the Big Easy should be eternally grateful that Frances and Rodney Smith found their calling. As design enthusiasts, antiques dealers, and hoteliers, the couple has passionately and painstakingly preserved New Orleans’s Soniat House hotel—a beloved institution in the city’s French Quarter—for more than 30 years. 

Built in the 1830s as a series of townhouses, the elegant lodging draws part of its charm from lush, fountain-clad courtyards and its French Quarter setting. 

Courtyard water features create an environment for relaxation.

The classic New Orleans red-brick building, complete with intricate cast-iron balconies, courtyards filled with lush plantings, and original architectural details, is arguably as much a part of the city as beignets, Mardi Gras, and jazz.

Ornate cast-iron balconies grace the front of Soniat House on Chartres Street. 

After years of traveling the world on the prowl for the perfect boutique hotel, Frances and Rodney serendipitously struck gold in their own backyard. In 1982, the Louisiana natives purchased and set about restoring a group of adjoining Creole townhouses built in the 1830s by plantation owner Joseph Soniat Duffossat and his son, Robert. 

French and English antiques—many dressed in sumptuous fabrics—embellish the 31 guest rooms. 

Keen to keep the hotel modern and relevant, the Smiths recently tackled a new round of guest room renovations. 

And while suites have been updated, they still blend seamlessly with the rest of the historic property. 

Each of the 31 guest rooms is unique, elegantly appointed with luxurious fabrics and French and English antiques handpicked by Rodney, who also owns Soniat House Antique Galleries.

Owner Rodney Smith handpicks pieces—mostly 18th- and early-19th-century French antiques—for the property’s shop.

While vintage furnishings may set the stage, the hotel’s reputation hinges on its Southern hospitality. (Don’t be surprised to be personally greeted by Frances or Rodney.) 

And don’t miss breakfast. Their homemade buttermilk biscuits with strawberry preserves and French café au lait are celebrities in their own right. 

The hotel’s stately dining room, decorated by the owners, is host to a mix of elegant furnishings and antiques. 

The property, while modernized, retains its original 19th-century charm.

Photography: Kerri McCaffety