“That's my favorite hotel in New Orleans,” responded friends when we mentioned we were staying at Soniat House, the historic boutique property in the French Quarter and member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH). Architectural Digest calls it “the place to stay for visiting musicians, actors, politicians, and the generally stylish,” and after our visit it was easy to see why. Located next to the renowned 1827 Beauregard House and not far from the mansion owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Soniat House is steeped in history, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Between 1829 and 1833, French sugar plantation owner Joseph Soniat Duffossat and his son Robert built three brick townhouses on Chartres Street, with gracious courtyards and wrought iron balconies in New Orleans style. In 1982, a trendy couple named Frances and Rodney Smith acquired the properties and converted them into a hotel, combining modern amenities with its historic architecture. The 31 guestrooms and suites were furnished and decorated with French and English antiques and custom European fabrics. You don’t notice the modern touches until you look for them—the past is allowed to shine through.
While some places are decorated to look like luxurious private residences, Soniat House could actually be one. Completely free from pretension, it’s one of the best small luxury hotels we’ve had the pleasure of staying at, anywhere. The hotel immediately makes you feel like a part of New Orleans, in a way that’s usually only accorded to full-time residents. Each room and suite has been individually furnished and decorated with no duplicated items. All are filled with beautiful, era-appropriate antiques and artwork personally collected by the Smiths, as well as designer fabrics and wallpapers. The best rooms could easily be the settings of classic novels.
The hotel is featured in The Majesty of the French Quarter by photographer Kerri McCafferty, who included it among the city’s very best interiors. Old school touches appropriate to its gracious past abound, including the white-jacketed porters who bring a breakfast of fresh baked biscuits and chicory coffee on silver trays each morning, and the honor bar in a cozy sitting room open to all guests. The Grand Suites are the Soniat’s premier accommodation. They are large, gracious queen or king bed suites of around 800 square feet with living rooms, separate bedrooms, and Jacuzzi bathtubs, most with balconies. The artwork in many of these suites is on loan from the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Repeat guests, which are many, have cited its charm and romantic atmosphere due to its gas lamps and candles lit at night casting shadows on the mellow brick. It’s a place you want to move into forever after only a couple of nights. It feels like a great discovery every time you arrive at the door. As with many SLH properties, it exudes a quiet luxury that always makes you feel at home, never put upon to act a certain way. The Soniat House attracts a fashionable crowd because it’s a very stylish place, though in a restrained, comfortable way. Credit the owners with making it an extension of their own beautiful residence around the corner.
"I imagined a warm hotel, with chic and elegant guests, and I’d be sitting in one of the gardens reading Faulkner," Rodney Smith told Architectural Digest. "But I never even got to garden. All I did was work to make the place perfect. The hard work got me interested in antiques and collecting. The Soniat has a unique atmosphere, with glamorous courtyards and all the trimmings that make it special.” He seems to have succeeded. Fodor’s chose Soniat House as one of their top 20 hotels in the world, while Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers Choice Awards selected it as one of the top 10 hotels in New Orleans. Even The Grand Budapest Hotel’s director Wes Anderson is a fan; as is Cameron Diaz who stayed there for her friend Lake Bell’s wedding in 2013, which earned the hotel a mention in the British tabloids and gossip magazines.
It’s also extremely peaceful with no children under 10 permitted, though the bustle of Bourbon Street isn’t far away for those who want it. You can even take some of the property’s style home with you. The Smiths have opened one of New Orleans’ best antique stores, the Soniat House Antiques Gallery, in one of the buildings. It features a handpicked collection of 18th to 20th century French, English, and Italian furniture, light fixtures and decorative objects. Trust me, you’ll want to buy something in the hopes of recreating one of the most pleasurable places you’ve ever stayed in.