The Style Files: Melissa Rufty

Melissa Headshot

{Melissa Rufty and her Sweet Wheaten Terrier, Otis}

New Orleans-based interior designer, Melissa Rufty is exactly the type of designer that comes to mind when I think of great design in the South. Her work is rooted in the traditional, yet it carries a modern air about it. There is a certain energy present in her designs that makes her work incredibly memorable. Melissa’s use of color and pattern evokes thoughts of a special type of genteel, Southern eccentricity– well-heeled, but with a bit of a rebellious streak. Classic, French antiques are just as at home in one of Melissa’s spaces as are well-worn finds. The spaces she designs each seem to tell a story told through precious family heirlooms, bold, lacquered walls; beautiful, patterned fabric, and an undeniable joie de vivre that is only found in the great city of New Orleans.

Like so many of the wonderful decorators I have interviewed for The Style Files, interior design is a second career for Melissa. She enjoyed a very successful career in advertising, but eventually honed in on her love of design and founded her eponymous firm the Crescent City. Since then, Melissa’s work has been featured extensively in top publications including Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, ELLE DECOR, and Southern Living. I recently chatted with Melissa about design in the South, her bold style, and some of her favorite things. Enjoy!


Paloma Contreras: How would you describe your style?

Melissa Rufty: I get asked this question a lot and it is always hard for me to answer. Many designers have a “look” that they identify with or– more importantly – that others identify with them. I get bored in formula, so I try and draw inspiration from my client and so my design style varies a lot from job to job. That being said, the common thread throughout my projects is a curated, layered look. Invariably, there will be at least one piece of pretty wood in every room, comfortable seating, lots of little drinks tables (we need a lot of those in the South!), and small meaningful pieces that give a room its soul.

melissa rufty dining room

PC: Has living in New Orleans influenced the way you decorate in any way?

MR: Absolutely…New Orleans is a huge inspiration. There is something I’ve always loved about the mix of grit and grandeur here. I feel like there is a lot of that in my decorating…there are a lot of eclectic finds mixed in with well-appointed antiques, old oil paintings and sterling silver. In addition, my office is on Magazine street which is one of the best streets in the country in my opinion…the wealth of artistisans and antique stores located within blocks of my office is a designer’s dream!

 melissa rufty kitchen

PC: What does your home say about you?

MR: While I love pretty things, I don’t take myself too seriously.

Rufty LR shot with settee (1)

PC: Where do you turn for inspiration?

MR: Antique Rugs and textiles for color palettes. They often combine an unexpected mix of color. If it works in a beautiful rug or an old suzani, you know the combination will work in the larger context of a room as well.

melissa rufty living room

PC: Who are your personal style icons?

MR: Aerin Lauder…she’s just as at home in a t-shirt and jeans as she is in a couture gown.

aerin claiborne swanson frank

{Aerin Lauder in her New York Apartment | Photograph by Claiborne Swanson Frank}

PC: What is your guilty pleasure?

MR: Watching TV in the bath

melissa rufty bath

PC: What trait do you most admire in a person?

MR: Empathy. Those that can put themselves in others shoes are patient and understanding by definition.

Edrington Toile guest

PC: Who or what has been your greatest professional influence?

MR: Definitely my parents. My mother is the epitome of Southern style. She is old-fashioned in her values and ahead of her time in fashion. My father was a creative genius. He is legendary for his practical jokes and surprises. I’d like to think I got her taste and his imagination.

Currence old banquette (1)


PC: What is your idea of living “la dolce vita”?

MR: A happy, healthy family–somewhere on a beach with no internet access!

Currene chair with turtle (1)


PC: What can we look forward to next from you?

MR: We are finishing up one of my favorite projects of my career. It is a party barn in the swamp complete with a quarter mile lit swamp walk. It is one of the most amazing spaces I’ve ever seen. Also, we are working on a beautiful old Louisiana house with great bones. It was once decorated by Mark Hampton and published in Architectural Digest in the eighties…Just a little pressure!! I purposely didn’t look at the AD article until after I re-designed the house myself. It was fun to see that, independently, I had brought back some of his design elements. It was reassuring to me that I was still telling an old story but in a new way.

melissa rufty chinoiserie




Go-To Outfit: Anything Rag and Bone

Style Mantra: you don’t want it to look like it all arrived on the same day (even if it did).

Scent: gardenia

Piece of Jewelry: a statement cuff by Jody Candrian

Color I Never Tire Of: Green

Flower: Magnolia

Indispensable Design Element: a good French polish

Era for Design: Early 50s

Dream Project: A house in the Low Country with a screened porch and a dock. I grew up there and have always wanted to do the “arrogantly shabby” thing.

Fabric/Textile: Fortuny. Does it get any better?

Hostess Gift: Leontine Linens cocktail napkins.

Meal: Chicken and Dumplings – it’s a family recipe and the best comfort food I know.

Drink: pinot noir

Way to Unwind after a Long Day at Work: with a plate of chicken and dumplings and a glass of pinot noir.

3 Things I Love About My City: This could be a whole other interview!


Weekend Destination: Charleston or the beach

Hotel: Il San Pietro in Positano, Italy

City: New Orleans of course!

Museum: The Whitney

Artist: George Dunbar, Bradley Sabin, John Alexander

Song that Always Puts Me in a Great Mood: Mustang Sally

Actor/Actress: Jack Nicholson

Prized Possession: a chandelier that my father gave me for my 30th birthday

Risk Worth Taking: quitting a successful advertising career

Greatest Extravagance: Free Time!

Go-To Color Palette: That’s like asking a sugar addict for their favorite dessert!

Rule to Break: Matching

Movie Set Design: (The original) Willy Wonka and The Chocolate factory. It was just creativity overload for its time.

I can never have too many…trusting clients!

For more on Melissa Rufty, visit her fabulous shop, Malachite and follow her on Instagram @melissarufty and @malachitehome.

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  1. It takes major talent to be able to design with a multitude of aesthetics and still make it look beautiful and curated versus a hodge podge of stuff. PS Aerin Lauder’s apartment is FAB!