Vesta deYampert Fort; photos by Katherine Slingluff
Walking into decorator Melissa Rufty’s house, one would never guess that she has three girls—Olivia, Lilly and Adair—under the age of 10, until one of them comes riding up on her bike with training wheels at a pretty fast pace. Adair, age 2 1/2, screeches to a halt behind her mother who is dressed casually in running clothes. Instead of turning around to correct her daughter, Melissa tells her to ride back to the kitchen and whisks me up the stairs to her third floor office where the cacophony of girls playing becomes a muffled memory. Melissa talks the whole way up about her plans for changing the house, an addition that would be their second to this house. She and her husband Alfred, an attorney with Harris and Rufty, bought the house nine years ago. “We weren’t counting on having a third child here, but I love this house and my neighborhood,” she says. The house is a rambling three stories that Melissa has cleverly maximized, but in truth, the family could use one more bedroom.
The short story of this addition represents the crux of Melissa’s decorating philosophy, which is about incorporating all of the factors of one’s life into an elegant setting that doesn’t sacrifice comfort. The sum of this theory is rooms that are fairly formal, but amazingly approachable and surprisingly durable. The reason Melissa’s company, MMR Interiors, has garnered instant success among her peers is because she decorates for the long haul. “I can’t help but draw on my own personal experiences, and right now the three things that most influence me are my love for New Orleans and its aesthetic, my love for family and each one’s unique history, and, of course, my three young girls,” she says. “Living in New Orleans has taught me to love ‘crusty’ things. Now, I find that every room I decorate needs something old and crusty—something with a history, a patina that tells a story.” Melissa also knows about inherited history, exemplified in her grandmother’s sofa. Even though it wasn’t her favorite thing, she upholstered it in a Bergamo silk and is keeping it for sentimental reasons. But where Rufty is most talented is the durability of her decorating and her approach to decorating houses that have small children—for now.
“I have lots of ‘tricks,’ that for me are the fundamentals of decorating, whether you have children or not,” says Melissa. “For example, I have five hundred dollared myself to death and I have finally learned to restrain myself. To wait, to save for something that I can use forever.” And although this is not a new theory, one of the dictums of the matriarch of modern decorating, Elsie de Wolfe, is to always buy the best you can afford, yet be practical in your choices. Melissa puts her own spin on these tenets, applying them to these very modern times. “Our parents were younger when they were having kids, they were able to have nice things when they were in their 40s and we can too, we just have to make them work with small children.” Melissa does just that by using textures to hide stains, French buffets for toy storage and having fun with it all. “I want nice things, but I also want my children to be able to be kids in this house,” she says. “What’s another nick in an antique chair or spill on a Persian rug? It’s just adds patina.”
So much of what Melissa says just makes good sense, it’s how she takes these fundamental principles and applies them to her myriad of projects that makes her sought after by people who need guidance in expressing their own aesthetic, not someone to dictate what it should be. “I feel like I’ve just hit my stride, I really like the variety of jobs that I’ve been getting and I don’t feel like people have labeled me with a style,” says Melissa. “That way it becomes more about influencing people to follow a few good design principles and find their own style.” In a way, it’s Melissa’s way of demystifying the whole decorating process that makes her a good decorator.
The dining room functions well with an antique table and chairs from Karla Katz Antiques while Melissa Rufty's grandmother's sofa encourages lingering after dinner.
A cozy niche in the entryway.
A decorative painted metal "skirt" cleverly hides the plumbing without taking up too much space in the tiny powder room.