Designer Sara Ruffin Costello brings drama back into a Georgian-style home overlooking Audubon Park.
Two years ago, in the wee morning hours, an urgent text appeared: I need you. It was CeCe Colhoun—an entertaining and wildly stylish new friend who had adopted me since my move from New York to New Orleans. Overwhelmed by the wide world of decorating options, CeCe wanted my help in rethinking a few rooms in her Georgian house overlooking Audubon Park. With her fashion background—she had worked at Bergdorf Goodman in her 20s and then returned to New Orleans to help run her mother’s luxury-frock shop on Magazine Street—she knew precisely the look she wanted: a well-organized take on bohemian. Meanwhile, after enjoying several careers myself—the longest one as a magazine editor and writer—my fledgling New Orleans decorating business was just starting to take off. So I eagerly said yes.
The house, all white walls and white upholstery, was furnished with family heirlooms, including French antiques inherited from her mother and grandmother. It needed a whiff of youth, a little fashion, some irreverence, and more pizzazz. CeCe and I began with the transformation of a small front room—an underutilized addendum to the main living area. The space had gone through several iterations, but to no avail: Not even the most thrilling wallpaper was ever going to make anyone go into that box. Fortunately, it wasn’t totally without its charms, as a wall of French doors opened onto a lush side yard.
What the room needed was a purpose. Inspired by the view to the outdoors, we turned the space into a garden room. The concept was loosely defined: I began by covering the walls in floor-to-ceiling trellises, which were painted in Farrow & Ball’s Archive, a rich manila hue. Some of the room’s furnishings continued the theme, such as a sofa upholstered in frosty Lee Jofa flowers and a rattan chandelier. Other pieces, like a pair of stainless steel leather sling chairs and a fully loaded bar set atop an inherited chest of drawers, were more eclectic choices.
The overall effect encouraged hanging out. CeCe’s husband, Trevor, a hedge-fund manager, immediately colonized the extra-long sofa; a music lover, he suggested adding an analog touch, a turntable, to the space so he could listen to his collection of LP records. We all agreed that was a good idea. Meanwhile, the couple’s two children, eight-year-old Trevor, Jr., and six-year-old Blaise, turned the vintage card table in the corner into a stage for their Legos.
Emboldened, we moved systematically through the house, one room at a time. CeCe was the decisive one in our relationship. As a fairly new decorator, I still agonized over floor options, only to receive a text (often at 2 a.m.) much like the following: Sample B is the right way to go ♥. She was bold—even pulling a graffiti artist named Jules Muck off the street one night, mid-spray, to commission a mural for her kids’ bedroom.
It was pure joy to watch the house blossom. Placeholder furniture that had kicked around for decades was finally jettisoned, replaced with alternatives that blended practicality with poetry. As the home’s decor came together, a lightness of being descended upon the whole family. Many afternoons, CeCe and I would sprawl across the vintage sofa in the boudoir off her master bedroom and chat about life while listening to the birds trilling outside. Her house, she told me when it was completed last summer, finally felt good and right. It reflected her young family’s collective personality. It helped her to feel inspired.
And I, too, felt energized. Not only had I found my calling, I could finally sleep through the night without checking my phone.