How a Historic Southern City Became a Global Capital of Style

Designer, writer, and avid traveler Sara Ruffin Costello shares insight on New Orleans’s transformation into a worldwide design destination.

How a Historic Southern City Became a Global Capital of Style

A home in New Orleans’s Garden District, decorated by Sara Ruffin Costello

Photo by Nicole Lamotte

Sara Ruffin Costello is more than familiar with good design—and where to find it. The well-known (and well-traveled) writer, editor, and interior designer called one of the world’s creative capitals, New York City, home for many years, until a more surprising design destination sparked her interest.

New Orleans’s unique culture and electrifying environment proved the perfect place for the creative to expand her influence, so Costello relocated from the Big Apple to the Big Easy to set up shop—literally and figuratively. We asked Costello about where she finds inspiration in the historic Southern city (and where you can, too). Here’s what she shared.

What drew you to life in New Orleans?
“My husband and I lived in New York City’s West Village for 18 years, and decided it was time for an adventure. I went to Tulane University, and my photographer husband, Paul, has always been smitten with New Orleans, so the Big Easy was on our very short list of relocation destinations. We currently live in NOLA’s Garden District. I’m lucky to be able to work from here as both a writer and designer. I cover travel, architecture, and art for various publications, and I also write books—my third, titled About Decorating: The Remarkable Rooms of Richard Keith Langham, about the legendary interior designer, is out soon!”

Explain your life as a designer in New Orleans. “Well, I have a clothing line, which I sell online and at pop-ups around the country. Basically, I make dresses that I want to wear but can’t find anywhere. I also have a really fun mobile decorating business—I describe it as ‘decorating help at a fraction of the cost.’ People from all over the country who want their homes redecorated send photos of their spaces, and my team makes suggestions—paint ideas, layout options, furniture and fabric—then we come in and style it all up!”

“This city is foremost a small town with a huge devotion to culture.”

What inspires you about the city?
“For us, New Orleans provides a new backdrop to expand on the inspiration we’ve always drawn from. Being in a new place challenges you on so many levels—there’s a lot of navigating and discovery to be done. It always keeps you on your toes. This city is foremost a small town with a huge devotion to culture. There’s an intact community that you just don’t find everywhere. It’s really special.”

What do you find unique about New Orleans’s creative scene?“Stuff is popping in New Orleans! People here think totally outside of the box. No one really bothers about trends and focus groups—you either have a hit or you don’t. I also love the undying devotion to ritual. New Orleanians will not allow tradition to die—there’s a reason there are so many 100-year-old restaurants that are thriving here.”

Sara Ruffin Costello with Donut, one of her 9 chickens, at her home in New Orleans's Garden District

Sara Ruffin Costello with Donut, one of her 9 chickens, at her home in New Orleans’s Garden District

Courtesy of Sara Ruffin Costello

Exactly—history and culture are such a part of NOLA’s famous feel. What kind of fusion do you see between old and new influences in the city? “This city is all about the past. That’s precisely its charm and mystery, and also the root of its problems. The potholes and floods and general entropy go hand-in-hand with the floats rolling down St. Charles Avenue (rain or shine). Despite whatever setbacks occur, the culture of the city rolls onward—New Orleans is the definition of soulful.”

Lastly, where would you take a visitor on a quick trip to New Orleans to experience the city’s creative scene?“Personally, I’d get Frozen French 75s—an iconic New Orleanian cocktail—at Superior Grill, then head for a stroll through one of the city’s cemeteries to experience their history, beauty, and decay. I’d bike through the Marigny and the Bywater and make sure to see the Mississippi at Crescent Park. Also, I’d visit the Galleries in St. Claude, the sculpture garden at City Park. And don’t miss a meal at N7 or Marjie’s Grill.”

Follow her on Instagram: @sararuffincostello.

Make sure to join us at AFAR Experiences New Orleans on October 11-13!

>>Next: A Locals’ Guide to Where to Go in Nashville Right Now

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