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.

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New Orleans Manse Remodel
Paul Costello

CeCe Colhoun, in a Michael Kors skirt and Roger Vivier shoes, in the boudoir of her New Orleans home, which was designed by Sara Ruffin Costello. The Cassina chaise longue is from Design Within Reach, the Louis Vuitton trunk is vintage, and the wallpaper is by House of Hackney.

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.

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New Orleans Manse Remodel
Paul Costello

In the garden room, an antique settee is in a Malabar fabric, the armchairs are from Design Within Reach, and the dresser was inherited from Colhoun’s grandmother; the mirror is Louis XV, the chandelier is by Currey & Company, and the trellis is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Archive.

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.

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New Orleans Manse Remodel
Paul Costello

The entry hall’s Saarinen table is from Design Within Reach, the bench has a seat in a David Hicks by Ashley Hicks fabric, and the antique child’s chair is a family heirloom. The wallpaper is from Anthropologie, and the woodwork is in Farrow & Ball’s Slipper Satin.

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.

New Orleans Manse Remodel
In the kitchen, the range and hood are by Wolf and the barstools are by CB2. The counters and backsplash are of Carrara gold marble, and the pendant is by Arteriors.
Paul Costello

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.

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New Orleans Manse Remodel
Paul Costello

The antique bed in the guest room is dressed with a throw from the Citizenry, the antique screen is Chinese, and the vintage rug is from Sunday Shop. The wall trim is in Farrow & Ball’s Lichen. Kate Moss photograph by Craig McDean.

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.

New Orleans Manse Remodel
Paul Costello

The powder room’s washstand and fittings are by RH, Restoration Hardware, the mirror is from Design Within Reach, and the sconces are by Jonathan Adler. The wallpaper is by Ellie Cashman, the basket is by Eliza Gran, and the door is painted in Benjamin Moore’s Black Panther.