Kathleen Renda: New Orleans is as famed for its gracious interiors as its jazz. How much did that regional style influence you?
Rivers Spencer: From the get-go, I knew the rooms would be classic New Orleans, but with a fresh, modern bent. They are elegant and clean, with lots of warm-hued wood antiques and modern art, and they’re pared down almost to the point of sparseness. It’s my signature look, and it works incredibly well for this home and these clients. A young couple with two preschoolers and a baby on the way, they’re only the third owners of the property, a circa-1905 Colonial Revival they renovated from top to bottom. The Southern-style refinement is unmistakable — and unavoidable, because I’m from Jackson, Mississippi, and it’s in my DNA — but this puts a cooler spin on it.
Tell me how you first met the clients.
The wife came into my Magazine Street store [Rivers Spencer Interiors], a double-shotgun house with 11 rooms. It’s decorated like an actual New Orleans residence — it feels as if you’re walking through a real dining room set for a formal dinner, a bedroom with a beautifully dressed bed, and a living room with a fireplace. She looked around and said, “Do this to my house.” The whole process was seamless because I was replicating what I do in my shop.
From taffeta curtains to quartz lamps, you really bring the glamour!
And also the texture, which was so important to this project. With the minimal color palette and streamlined furniture, it would have felt flat if there weren’t something tactile going on. That’s why I layered in pieced-cowhide rugs, a gleaming Biedermeier table, raised-silk pillows, and mirror after mirror — gilded, carved, trumeau. My favorite is the antique Parisian pareclose in the foyer. Etched with laurel leaves and topped with a cartouche of carved birds, it’s the priciest mirror I’ve ever purchased. I bought it to use in the store, but when this homeowner saw it, she couldn’t live without it.
Why did you go to the dark side in the study?
It’s the husband’s hangout and the one room where we took a risk. The rest of the house is demure, but here we went moody with deep gray walls. The sleek 1970s acrylic chairs are the biggest surprise. They were in rough shape when I found them, but I had them upholstered in a black-and-white stripe. They really shouldn’t make sense in the space, but somehow they do.
Rooms this gorgeous seem tailor-made for holiday parties.
What’s wonderful is that entertaining never went out of fashion in New Orleans. I knew the clients would host their guests in the formal living room—not to be confused with their regular living room—so it had to be pretty, with a chandelier and wingback chairs in a silk velvet. Of course there would also be candlelit dinners in the dining room, so the walls and the chairs there are lacquered to bounce light around. All of the rooms are ethereal and luminous, like you’re living inside a pearl. It’s amazing at Christmas, or really any time of year!
See more photos of this gorgeous home:
This story originally appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of CQ.