Trading in New York for New Orleans — Sara Ruffin Costello, designer, writer and Domino’s former creative director, has allowed the South to teach her just when to work and when to play. She always finds time to stop and smell the jasmine alongside her photographer husband, three children, nine chickens and cat. She has designed a capsule collection of dresses, jewelry and homewares while also styling bohemian spaces in her current city, her old one and Los Angeles, too. Inspired by New Orleans, its heat and good comfort. Her career is built on the foundation of putting things together with the sole purpose to please.
A serious lover of books and following her own advice, Sara willingly and confidently looks past the rules. A little bit traditional and a little bit eclectic. Her curious design is dictated by harmony, pleasure and interest. She gives rooms a soul by highlighting more than just a mix of old and new. Weaving an appealing modern tone no matter how historic or classic the space — she gets provocative with it without losing sight of what is revered in old, Southern taste. Light and dark, curvy and straight, progressive and traditional. If she wouldn’t be comfortable living there, it doesn’t work. Helping to shift Southern design from unapproachable to take your shoes off at the door and come as you are — Sara embodies The New Southern through and through.
With a distinct design style which reflects her interesting story — I felt compelled to ask more about Sara’s authentic approach.
Alyssa Rosenheck: Tell us about yourself….
Sara Ruffin Costello: I’m a designer and a writer which seems to keeps both sides of my brain occupied! I was the Creative Director at a magazine called Domino awhile back. After the magazine closed my husband photographer, Paul Costello, and I saw an opportunity to switch to Plan B. So we, and our three children, headed South from New York to New Orleans. That transition has very much defined how I now see the world. We’ve been here for about seven years. We are still as busy as we were, but definitely stop to smell the jasmine.
AR: How are you modernizing / updating southern style when you design?
SRC: Southern style can be vastly different depending on the region, but in a broad sense southern style means knowing how to live — how to kick back in your living room or lie down for a snooze on the porch sofa. Where to keep the booze, the bitters and the wine glasses. No matter the budget, you find these commonalities in every neighborhood around here. Southerners just seem to know when to work and when to play and its reflected in their homes.
AR: What innovative trends are you seeing with Southern design across the country?
SRC: Technology is affecting how we live in a big way, so integrated systems are in demand. At the other end of that spectrum, people want to maximize time spent outdoors, that means interesting pergolas, covered porches, covered dining areas, fire pits.
AR: What are your favorite hometown design boutiques?
AR: Favorite shade of white and black paint color?
SRC: For exterior: Benjamin Moore Crisp Linen. For interior: white - Donal Kauffman, DKC-100; black - Benjamin Moore Black Jack, 2133-20
AR: What’s your life motto?
SRC: I should get one one of those! I am a curious person so that takes me on an adventurous path. Everyday I read a bit from the Stoics — That reminds me how to be. And finally — Levity, I try to remember to lighten up when we run into problems at the studio...This ain’t life threatening stuff!
AR: The one shade that changes everything? Tell us what mood it evokes and when/how you’ve used it.
SRC: I really like this dark olive color — Benjamin Moore CW-85 Randolph Gray. I’ve used it in my bedroom, in a clients stairwell, and in an entire church renovation. It makes small spaces richer, and giant spaces more comforting. It reminds me of martini olives, flak jackets and wool pea coats
AR: The place you go to get inspired?
SRC: The movies! My son is a budding filmmaker, we are constantly at the theater. I basically watch for the sets! Travel is critical too. We just went to London and hit spots including the John Soane museum which directly influenced my work when I came back home.
AR: The key to making a house a home? What does a home need more of and less of?
SRC: Books! But spotting them in homes is getting to be as rare as seeing an old school telephone. Truthfully, making a house a home is more about attitude than anything else. I have friends with disastrous decor situations but their houses are amongst my favorite to hang out in! So who knows?! I will say, we had potential clients with disastrous home decor situations asking if we could send them ideas and they could do the job themselves….in response, we created a “DIY decorating business” where we do a site visit and send you shopping/paint, furniture plan ideas. It’s been really fun and people who couldn’t afford the whole soup to nuts hiring a decorator experience are getting my skills for a fraction of the price!! Go to sararuffincostello.com for more info.
AR: Life advice you’ve gotten that made all the difference?
SRC: Do your hardest work two hours after you wake up.
AR: Design advice you’ve gotten that made all the difference?
SRC: When it comes to decorating, I follow my own advice: Would I want this? Does it interest me? Could I live here? Is it comfortable? If the answer is no, then I haven’t done a good enough job. When it comes to styling a room, place objects as if you are composing elements for a painting. Is it pleasing? Is there harmony? Is there interest?
AR: What’s your favorite housewarming gift?
SRC: Tequila and fresh lemons.
AR: Tell us something we probably don’t know.
SRC: I love babies!
AR: Design book you’ll always have on your shelf?
SRC: Oberto Gili’s books, Diana Vreeland and Vogue books.
AR: What’s your dream project/client?
SRC: My dream client is happening now! We just wrapped. Her house is totally her. It was a beautiful collaboration. She makes quick decisions, trusts me, but is also vocal.
AR: What’s currently on your nightstand?
SRC: Stacks and stacks of books.