Sara Ruffin Costello: Grand Designs

by Melissa Goldstein

THE DOSSIER: NAME: Sara Ruffin Costello. TRADE: Contributor to New York Times and T Magazine. Design consultant. Former Creative Director for Domino. VIBE: Perfect imperfect goes grand dame. ABODE: A 19th-century historical manse in the Garden District, New Orleans, LA.

Interiors maven Sara Ruffin Costello quit New York for the Big Easy in 2011, after she and her photographer husband Paul fell in love with a 19th-century historical manse while on spring vacation with their kids. "To experience 14-foot-tall ceilings and these voluminous rooms every day--it's totally spoiled me for any future house," the Virginia native gushes. "It's pretty magical here," she adds. "You stand in peoples' backyards, drink French 75s, there's jazz wafting through the trees, and you feel like you're in a movie. Like, can it really be like this?"

CASE STUDY Her library embodies the undecorated decorative look Costello has long championed. "It's my many different lives," she says. There's the sleek glass-topped coffee table from Housing Works, the espresso velvet sofa picked up in SoHo at Montauk Sofas, and family heirlooms are also plentiful: the cluster of shotguns propped up against the fireplace are from Costello's parents' place in Virginia.

LOCAL FLAVOUR Costello fondly refers to the custom-mixed blue-green of the walls as 'swamp.' "I feel like it might be the most perfect colour ever, it changes all day long," she says of the shade, created with her architect Michael Carbine. The pair chose to keep the moldings the same hue for a muted, more modern feel. She picked up the colonial palm chandelier at local antiques haunt Oops, and those portraits, the ones that look like they were sent from the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil prop room? They're paintings of Costello's ancestors Tom and Mary Ruffin, purchased only weeks prior to our visit, at the estate sale of a recently reacquainted long-lost relative.

THE NEW LOOK The environs can't help but seep into her interiors. "It's fun to mix that feminine look of chintz and elements of the garden with Panton furniture. That freaks people out," she says. Since relocating, Costello has also taken on decorating clients for the first time, picking up a string of projects in New York. It's a full-circle move that sees her employing wisdom from her Domino days."One of the greatest things I took away from that time was not giving people what they want, but giving people what they don't know they want," she says. "That's part of creating newness."

In that spirit, we asked Costello to introduce us to the places we didn't know we needed to know. Below, her top five NOLA design haunts, in her own words.



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"A quirky collection of one-of-a-kind lamps. If you're looking to give the room an exclamation point, they have got it."


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"She ferrets out the best and mixes cool, weird things like the latest from the Milan Furniture Fair and the most glorious French antique daybeds. She is suspiciously cool for a lady with grey hair."


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"Exquisite linens. If you're into the monogram thing--they're the best. They also have beautiful embroidered sheets."



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"This is interior designer Melissa Miles Rufty's store; she's very luxe and loves textured surfaces. It's a mix of old and new, but everything is really rich in there--it's like a rich meal. She's got these little vintage gold-leaf ashtrays, and I could just snatch up the whole lot of them."


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"This is where you go for the new stuff. It's young and fresh--for that bold girl who likes hot pink upholstery mixed with some chinoiserie wallpaper. All the best stuff from the design shows is here, and there are also some antiques to give it a little gravitas."


Photographs: Andrew Arthur 

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