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Big Easy Living

Most New Orleans boutique hotels are hidden behind 19th-century façades and filled with precious antiques. The 18-room Loft 523, set amid high-rises in the city's Central Business District, feels more like an artists' lair in SoHo: hand-hammered copper doors, 15-foot ceilings, slate floors. While the look is spare, owner Sean Cummings—a local real estate developer and Ian Schrager wannabe—hasn't compromised on comfort, dressing up the capacious rooms with Herman Miller desk chairs, downy Italian daybeds instead of sofas, chenille throws, and Frette linens. Two of the three penthouse suites have rooftop aquatic Zen gardens. The lobby's "Bo Derek" chair (you'll know it when you see it) is attracting almost as much attention as the raw wood columns that support the ceiling in the bar. No, your eyesight isn't bad: they are indeed crooked, but they've been standing strong since the building was erected as a warehouse in the 1880's. Loft 523, 523 Gravier St., New Orleans; 888/813-9373 or 504/200-6523, fax 504/200-6522; www.loft523.com; doubles from $199.

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