From all over the South, more than two dozen innovative designer assembled to work their magic, transforming the Queen Anne home on New Orleans’ St. Charles Avenue into the first Southern Style Now showhouse.
Open for touring through June 12, the 4,000-square-foot mansion, once painted purple with black ironwork, is now exactly what Robert LeLeux and Shaun Smith had in mind when they dreamed up the idea last summer.
“People tend to think of Southern style as bows and ribbons and ruffles — kind of cutesy,” says LeLeux. “What the showhouse demonstrates, though, is that it is sophisticated and contemporary with a gracious sensibility. That’s what we want our guests to experience.”
To tackle the transformation of the home, which Smith had painted a creamy white, the pair called on a cadre of top Southern designers, including Baton Rouge’s Reagan Hayes.
Hayes conceived the second parlor/music room with its geometrically patterned ceiling.
“Reagan designs and manufactures furniture and has showrooms in New York and Los Angeles,” says LeLeux, the former editor of Domino magazine. “There is something so classic yet contemporary in her work. It isn’t just the upholstery on the sofa — it’s the form of the sofa itself. It’s refined but comfortable.”
But it was Smith’s lavish front parlor, where it took 25 coats of paint and putty to achieve the luminous white lacquered walls and ceiling, that set the tone for the home at 7618 St. Charles Ave.
“Shaun is a terrific New Orleans talent who was mentored by our festival’s honoree, the great Gerrie Bremermann,” says LeLeux. “You can see her influence in the ancient régime antiques and glorious French brocade pillows mixed with simple white slipcovers.”
In addition to the candescent walls, the parlor’s sisal floor covering overlain by an animal hide, Lucite (for the pedestals that display sculpture) and a glass coffee table contribute to the room’s bright, light feel.
Moving from Smith’s parlor to the entry hall, LeLeux describes the work of New Orleans designer Melissa Rufty as “cosmopolitan.”
“The walls are covered in a wonderful fabric that mimics the look of Italian marbleized paper. The chairs have a Turkish feel and the console is chinoiserie. Yet, you can identify Melissa as a Southern designer by the portrait and palmettos that look Creole or Caribbean,” Leleux says. “I can’t think of any place else in the country where a regional design sense is as strong as it is in the south.”
Leleux leads the way to the dining room, where 25-year-old William McClure devised the concept, painted the wall art and even contributed some made-over flea market finds to the décor.
“The idea of the space is that dining rooms aren’t used for dining as often as they used to be, so why not have the space serve double duty as a library?” explains Leleux.
Blue and white import ware and furniture painted glossy white (in this case, the Chinese Chippendale-esque dining chairs) often appear in this Birmingham, Alabama, designer’s rooms.
Intense color distinguishes the family room by Atlanta’s Parker Kennedy (a partnership of Lance Jackson and David Ecton), who refer to their style as “preppy on the edge” and “Southern Regency.” Those terms help explain the gilt-framed portraits and family silhouettes on the walls.
“The vivid color of the green chairs with the blue sofa and ceiling make something somewhat outré out of what could have been a typical family room,” says Leleux.
Bedrooms upstairs include the master (designed with a French accent by Birmingham’s Ware Porter) and a guest room by Paloma Contreras, a Houston talent also known for her blog.
“Paloma’s walls are covered in hand-painted paper accented with platinum,” says Leleux. “One of the pieces in the room — the footstool — is a reproduction by New Orleans-based furniture maker Lisa Rickert of AVE Home, a great resource. The room respects heritage but is traditional in a thoroughly modern vein.”
A third bedroom upstairs was re-interpreted as a sitting room by HGTV’s Brian Patrick Flynn of Atlanta.
“He likes to mix patterns — stripes, plaids, geometrics — but it works because he narrows the palette. In the sitting room, he relies on the brown leather sofa as an anchor, then introduces pattern in the blue chair upholstery and pillows,” Leleux explains.