Text: Alice Welsh Doyle
Photos: Sara Essex Bradley
When writer and stylist Margaret Zainey Roux started decorating her family’s 1903 uptown New Orleans Victorian, she took cues from her day job and set about creating a design narrative.
“As a writer, I’m always looking for a good story,” she says. “I often wonder about the tales that would be told if these walls could talk. This structure has experienced a whole lot in its lifetime, and to me, that is something to respect and celebrate.”
Located steps away from Audubon Park, the house had been renovated and adapted over the years, but each generation of owners kept the architectural integrity intact. The floor-to-ceiling windows and French doors, plaster medallions, and intricate moldings and millwork still shine 119 years later.
While Roux looked to those intrinsic assets, she didn’t take a page from the very elaborate, somewhat overwrought décor from the Victorian era. Instead, she looked to the earlier decades of French design, the King Louis eras that are in sync with her native city. “This home called out for antiques and pieces drenched in patina,” she says. “Anything too new, too minimal, or too sleek just wouldn’t feel at home here, but anything too ornate would feel staid and stuffy.” To that effect, she chose sofas and chairs with traditional profiles and shook them up with eye-popping fabrics for the upholstery and pillows.
Roux enlisted a similar tactic when selecting the decorative accents. To create an engaging contrast, she topped antique tables and case pieces with contemporary lamps as well as her own bespoke designs, like a pair of oversized foo dogs that she had electrified into lamps and placed in her dining room as an unexpected departure from the room’s frills and formality. Little surprises such as these lurk around almost every corner and reflect her love of art, travel, and her penchant for pink. There’s the tribal mask she purchased at a Moroccan souk; the hand-sewn spirit doll from a Peruvian artisan market; and a tattered and painted panel from a London gallery. Among the fabulous finds she sourced closer to home are numerous pieces of Nemaji pottery. According to Roux, she was instantly attracted to the Native American vessels and their marbleized texture and luscious rosy hues.
The pink palette may be a bit of a surprise for many, but for Roux, it’s a forever favorite that can act like a neutral when called for. “Although I love every shade, I’m particularly drawn to warmer, more saturated hues like coral, salmon, and melon,” she says. To keep them from reading saccharine, she strategically placed black and gold accents throughout each room to invoke a little edge.
Art is another way Roux keeps things lively and not too formal. She is known for digging up amazing antique and vintage works at estate sales and flea markets, but she is most passionate about her paintings by local New Orleans contemporary artists, including Tony Mose, Beth Lambert, Paula Landrum, and Evelyne Clinton. “My most cherished pieces are by Alexis Walter, one of my oldest friends and one of the most talented artists I know,” she says.
“THE SECOND MY FAMILY DRIVES OFF, I START ON THE GARLANDS, WREATHS, AND SWAGS. I LOVE HAVING THIS QUIET TIME—IT’S LIKE THE CALM BEFORE THE HOLIDAY STORM!”
—MARGARET ZAINEY ROUX
A home such as the Rouxs’ calls out to be decorated to the nines during the holiday season, and she certainly delivers. The day after Thanksgiving, her husband and sons are tasked with excavating the decorations from the attic before departing on their annual pre-Christmas hunting trip. “The second they drive off, I start on the garlands, wreaths, and swags. I love having this quiet, creative time—it’s like the calm before the holiday storm,” says Roux. By the time they return, the halls are decked, and everything is done except for the tree, which is always a family affair. “I’ll make a big pot of gumbo and cue up some old-school Christmas carols before we start trimming the tree,” she says. “My two sons (and even my husband) will graciously indulge me by wearing matching Christmas pajamas if the bribe is big enough.”