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New Orleans designer Sarah Ott puts a modern twist on timeless antiques 

The Otts added the arch that frames the kitchen like a casement opening when they enlarged and renovated the space. Custom concrete tops the large central island. Acrylic bar stools from CB2.

As newlyweds decorating their first home, Sarah and Spencer Ott discovered a shared passion for antiques. The couple enjoyed the hunt so much they became antiques dealers. Their home incorporates trumeau mirrors, beaded chandeliers, opulent silk draperies and plaster ceiling medallions, mostly acquired during that time and all convened with the trained eyes of people in the trade.

  "We were so fortunate when we first began decorating our first home to also begin our first business, Rue Toulouse Antiques," Sarah says. "From that we inherited our love for Old World European furnishings. A majority of our home is filled with these pieces."

  As a designer, Sarah puts her own spin on mixing old and new pieces. "Too much of one thing can get boring and seem tired," she says. "I slowly began injecting more mid-century and modern pieces with clean lines to freshen things up. The house looks and lives better with something old and new."

  Over the last decade, the Otts have gone from selling antiques to running Sarah Ott New Orleans (, a retail business that began with a scarf Sarah designed for an Academy of the Sacred Heart fundraiser. It was so well-received that she designed scarves for other schools. When a friend suggested she sell her scarves at the Preservation Resource Center's Holiday Home Tour market, she expanded her designs to include streetcars, iron fences and a black-and-gold "Who Dat" motif. Today, her New Orleans-inspired merchandise line includes T-shirts, caps, pillows, purses and jewelry.

  "My design inspiration comes from living and appreciating even the little things that I love about this city, from its delicious food [and] its magical moss that glistens in the sun after a steamy summer rain shower, to the love we all have for the colors black and gold," Sarah says. "Mixing that with my love of fashion ... I was able to grow my business and have fun doing it."

  As the Otts built their business and raised their family (they have three children: Ella, 13, Everett, 10, and Merritt, 8), they took their home through various stages of renovation. In 2005, when they purchased the 1920s Georgian-style residence (with a 1960s addition) near Audubon Park, they gutted the kitchen and master bath, restored the hardwood floors, painted and added a closet/dressing room for Sarah. They also gutted three areas at the rear of the home, changing the existing flat roofline to mimic the rest of the house and turning the rustic brick-and-beam interior into an office for Spencer. Several years later, they added a pool and patio to a neglected concrete-covered yard and made the garage into a showroom for Sarah's business, which since has moved to a storefront on Maple Street. Three years ago, they remodeled an upstairs bath for the kids, added an outdoor kitchen and re-landscaped.

  Sarah says freshening the decor has been an ongoing endeavor and a creative outlet that complements her design work.

  "I guess you could say my design inspiration at home overlaps my design inspiration at work," Sarah says. "I like to start with something classic — at home, an antique; at work, a New Orleans motif like the Superdome. Then I add some clean lines, some great colors and create a balance of something old with a fresh updated look."

  Nearly every room has received a new twist intended to lighten the atmosphere and tap into today's design world. At the front of the house, two wall-mounted antique consoles have been transformed with yellow lacquered tops in place of their original faux bois finish. Pleated panels of peacock-colored linen ikat replaced the old ball-gown drapery from a decade ago. Graphic fabric covers a triple-seat settee, creating a bold counterpoint to its feminine lines. Antique sofas in the living room have been replaced with an inviting pair of upholstered sofas. The powder room, once gray, pops with coral lacquered walls. The breakfast area is home to iconic mid-century modern pieces — a Saarinen tulip table and chairs. The draped bed canopy and delicate chandelier in daughter Merritt's room juxtapose a modern desk area against a backdrop of patterned wallpaper. Bright yellow benches add a flourish of color to the outdoor kitchen area.

  Sarah's own designs bring a new dimension to the Otts' cache of antiques. A pair of her oyster pillows — made with fabric digitally printed from a photograph — accents an Italian Regency-style daybed in the living room. Contemporary art adds a final layer.

  "I think years ago I would try to match a piece of furniture with how it was 'supposed' to look," Sarah says. "Now I have more confidence to see there are so many other options out there. I love seeing an antique bench that used to have a silk pinstripe come alive with a more modern geometric design." 


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