The stunning architecture and intriguing culture of New Orleans will always be a treasure for the Southeast. The mansions along St. Charles Avenue in particular have been called “The jewel of America’s grand avenues,” and draw visitors from all over to stroll the street and marvel at 100-year-old+ homes.

This historic house on St. Charles Avenue began its story in 1905. A couple of years ago, interior designer Rivers Spencer was approached by a young NOLA family to update and furnish the regal home. “The home had beautiful bones and great architectural features, as most New Orleans homes do,” says Rivers. “However, when it came to the design work and overall aesthetic, we really took it down to the studs.” Working with Protocol Construction — specialists in historic renovations — the team pursued the overall goal of creating a clean, modern space within a historic framework, freshening up every room.

This columned beauty was built more than 100 years ago.

The ethereal ambiance of the living room owes some of its style to the antique-looking fabrics of Sabina Fay Braxton and art by Carolyn Busenlener.

Rivers found the ornate chandelier that serves as a centerpiece for the dining room at an antiques store (now closed) on Magazine Street. Every other antique in the home was sourced from Rivers’ store.

“All of the antiques in the home were from our store,” says Rivers. “I go to market and Europe a few times a year and really try to curate unique and beautiful pieces for my clients.”

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Original windows in the stairwell are distinguished with stained glass.

As one tactic to allow the architecture to stand out, Rivers and team bathed the house in a light color palette of whites, blues and gray, which also allows the weathered patina of antiques to take the spotlight. The designer showed restraint by mixing in modern elements where it made sense — such as the contemporary art in almost every room — but selected classic crystal chandeliers and simple drapery fabrics not to overdo the modern.

“I loved working with this specific home in New Orleans because the client and I had a great rapport and similar aesthetic,” says Rivers. “The project took about a year and a half, and I felt that we were always on the same page design-wise, which made it incredibly fun.”

An all-white kitchen has modern elements mixed with traditional cabinetry.

Playing with scale and styles, Rivers placed an ornate gold mirror beside two abstract paintings by New Orleans artist Alexis Walter.

A trumeau mirror adds patina to the dreamy master bedroom.

The bedroom is more about architecture and quiet elegance with its arched window and white four-poster bed.

“Most of the upholstery throughout the home is Verellen, which we sell in our store,” says Rivers. “We like to use that in a lot of our projects because of how great the quality is.”

The statement pale pink painting was created by New Orleans-based artist, Mallory Page.

As a departure from the light tones elsewhere in the house, the office walls and high ceiling are bathed in a charcoal gray, which accentuates the high ceilings with a focal-point chandelier.

Rivers didn’t grow up in New Orleans, but moved there six years ago and opened her first store, later moving to her current location on Magazine Street. The store itself is a house-lover’s dream destination, with each room in the grand house filled with furnishings and architectural details reflecting the NOLA look.

“I feel that there’s a lot of layering and richness in New Orleans because of the architectural backdrop, and most designs here reflect that starting point,” says Rivers, who isn’t afraid to mix in an unexpected current accessory. Stepping into a house designed by Rivers is like visiting past and present, she likes to say, where white lacquered paint and 19th-century walnut can peacefully coexist in the same room.

Jackson, Mississippi native Rivers Spencer runs her successful business in New Orleans but still does projects in her hometown and other parts of the United States. Image: Rick Olivier

To see more work by Rivers Spencer, visit her website at riversspencer.com. Thanks to Paul Costello for the beautiful home photography. 

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