Designers to Watch

A New Orleans Designer Who Uses Her Retail and Art Savvy to Create Inviting Homes

Portrait of Hattie Sparks Collins
New Orleans–based interior designer Hattie Sparks Collins enjoys mixing traditional style with regional flair, such as tropical patterns and fabrics from the Caribbean. Top: For the living room of a historic house in the city’s Uptown section, Collins covered a 1920s sofa in a botanical fabric from Kravet. The colors are picked up in the art by Hunt Slonem (left) and Logan Ledford (right). Photos by Laura Steffan

Although she grew up toggling between Houston and the mountains just outside Aspen, Hattie Sparks Collins of interiors firm Hattie Sparks is making her mark in the city of New Orleans. 

Collins graduated from Texas Christian University, where she majored in art history and minored in business, in 2008, just as the housing bubble burst and the economy tanked. Counseled by an academic adviser that continuing her education might be easier than looking for a job, she took the advice, won a scholarship to Tulane University and moved to the Crescent City to pursue her master’s degree in art history.

After grad school, Collins ran operations for a major clothing and home goods retailer that partnered with many local artists and designers. Inspired by the work of these artisans and realizing that they had no consistent retail representation, she opened a store that carried their art as well as decor and a selection of furniture. “That’s where I gained a lot of experience with sourcing and buying,” she says. Using her middle name, a family name passed down through generations, she called her shop Hattie Sparks.

Soon, friends came calling with requests for help designing their spaces. “I was doing it as a hobby,” she says. “I’d style some shelves or source a piece for someone here and there.” 

Eventually, burned out from the retail grind, Collins closed her doors in 2017. Two years later, she officially turned her design hobby into a career, reviving the name of her old business for her new interiors firm. Her success has been swift, and today she has projects all over the country. 

She describes her style as a layered look that mixes contemporary and traditional aesthetics, and she frequently incorporates elements that pay tribute to her corner of the world. “I use a lot of antiques and patterns and prints that really speak to this region,” she explains. “For instance, I use a lot of tropical patterns and fabrics from the Caribbean.”

Collins spoke to Introspective from her adopted hometown about British country style, peel-and-stick wallpaper and finding inspiration in a Jewish deli. 

Sunroom designed by Collins
In a family home in the Audubon neighborhood, Collins grounded the airy sunroom with natural elements like teak-root side tables and a vintage sheepskin rug. The vintage bentwood chairs are by Thonet. Photo by Laura Steffan

Where do you find inspiration?

Traveling! A couple of months ago, I went to Las Vegas, and I found so much inspiration in the scale of everything and in the attention to detail. For example, there was this really beautiful pink flamingo wallpaper in the bathroom of a Jewish deli. It was used with pink tiled wainscoting, and it looked so good. I don’t know if I would ever use that specific print, but I love that idea of wallpaper with color-coordinating tile for a bathroom.

Who is your favorite furniture designer?

I’m really drawn to Milo Baughman and Vladimir Kagan. Their pieces paired with an antique rug and a striking chandelier or light fixture is my favorite look right now. I like Baughman’s work in particular because he’s got these sharp, clean lines, but he uses a beautiful patinated wood or burl wood. 

I recently bought two Vladimir Kagan barrel-back chairs from 1stDibs and had them restored in a blue tweed fabric for a home built in the 1920s. I love that juxtaposition of those modern clean lines with the older homes here.

Who is your favorite artist?  

Mary Ball is a current favorite. She’s from New Orleans, and she does these very abstract but figurative layered paintings. They have such great texture, and her use of color is incredible. 

Butch Anthony is another favorite. He’s based in Alabama and does reproductions of Audubon prints and other classic works. He paints over them with outlines of bones and skeletal elements, and it’s this really beautiful mix of Southern classic and Gothic. It’s not for everyone, but I love it. 

Puget Sound living room designed by Collins
On Washington State’s Vashon Island, in Puget Sound, Collins styled the living room of a vacation retreat with a mix of antique, modern and contemporary pieces, including a custom sofa, a pair of contemporary brass tables, an antique velvet bergère and an Eames lounge chair and ottoman. Photo by Andrew Giammarco

What is your favorite design style?

I gravitate most toward eclectic British country interiors. I love all the really thoughtful touches and how nothing’s too perfect — it’s okay if the lampshades are a little crooked and if everything doesn’t match perfectly.

Who is your personal style icon?

I’m currently reading The Diana Chronicles, by Tina Brown, so I would say Princess Diana. Her style was so effortless. It was elegant but a little sporty and exuded a quiet luxury. 

What is your favorite historic house?

The one that’s had the most impact on me recently is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. It’s definitely different from how I decorate, but the creativity, resourcefulness and influence it had certainly made an impact on me. 

Dining room designed by Collins
The Vashon Island clients chose a pair of portraits by Josh Young Design House as the inspiration for the dining room. “They were a great jumping-off point,” says Collins, who surrounded a burlwood-and-chrome dining table with Italian Biedermeier-style chairs. An antique ebonized console continues what she calls the “moody, quirky” theme. Photo by Andrew Giammarco

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?

Provence seems like a lovely place to live. The pace of life there appears to be slower than it is here, and everything seems very intentional. There’s this real commitment to beauty and aesthetics and also to preserving history and culture. I love the look and patina of worn antiques paired with modern and contemporary elements. 

What’s one thing you’ve done that shouldn’t have worked in a project but did?

I’m working on a project where we did peel-and-stick wallpaper in the dining room. It’s this incredible large-scale floral. It’s beautiful, but they only made it in a peel-and-stick format, which I was a little nervous about. The installer and I FaceTimed and just made it work. Now it’s the clients’ favorite room in the house.

What do you think is the most underappreciated design idea? 

Everyone’s been doing open-concept designs for a while, but I think having really distinct spaces — especially living areas and kitchens — is great. It’s fun when you move from room to room and the atmosphere changes. You can really give each room its own personality rather than having to wrap it all into one big space. I think that’s making a return thanks to COVID. People are working from home and realizing, “Oh my gosh, I can’t hide out anywhere!”

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