2013 Design Masters

See who made this year's list of the best of the best in New Orleans home design.

Photographs by Ron J. Berard

The year 2013 will be memorable for many things – including the portfolio of work accomplished by (appropriately enough) 13 talented individuals gracing this magazine’s sixth annual Design Masters feature. The buildings, homes, rooms and gardens they’ve shaped speak volumes about where New Orleans has been and where it is headed.

Second-generation custom cabinetmaker Ruppert Kohlmaier is a true master craftsman whose work is deeply rooted in the elite decorative traditions of the past.

Interior designer Gerrie Bremermann is nothing less than the doyenne of local interior designers (the esteemed work of both Kohlmaier and Bremermann also draw a national clientele).

Like Bremermann, interior designer Penny Francis has built both a thriving design business and a well-curated retail establishment (the former designer deals in antiques mixed with contemporary pieces; the latter deals in contemporary décor) and has partnered with one of her manufacturers to create a line of lighting, a sub-category of design about which she’s passionate.

Visionary real estate developer Sean Cummings of Ekistics and architect/educator Byron Mouton of Bild Design are known for their distinctively contemporary and highly individual aesthetics (the former for his residential lofts and boutique hotels; the latter most recently for his collection of modern Riverbend residences along Leake Avenue).

Father and son Bruce and B.J. Farrell of Campbell Cabinets started more than 40 years ago and are beautifying the world a kitchen at a time (actually, they design and sell thousands each year), while
Curtain Exchange owner Elaine Cullen tackles the task one window at a time with both off-the-rack and custom curtains.

Kenny and Jennifer Rabalais of The Plant Gallery and Travis Cleaver and Demetria Christo of EcoUrban Sustainable Landscaping have literally kept the bloom on the city with their landscaping expertise.

And finally, Mehmet Ergelen of Bluebag LLC has blended the concept of personal shopping with the affordability of IKEA, creating a business that provides multiple levels of assistance for customers interested in IKEA goods. Congratulations, Design Masters, on your tireless efforts and their pleasing effects!


Travis Cleaver | Demetria Christo

MASTERS of Green Design | EcoUrban Landscaping | Design + Services

Tell us about your background. Demetria Christo: I was born in New Orleans and raised in Virginia. I have a bachelor’s of science in biology and ecology with a minor in art from Tulane. I have about eight years of fisheries lab and field science experience in the Chesapeake Bay. That’s what got me into this business – I wanted to stop studying environmental problems and start creating sustainable solutions. Travis Cleaver: I’m originally from West Virginia. Demetria and I met at Tulane University, where I studied architecture. When I was the foreman at another landscaping company, I kept thinking to myself, there’s got to be a greener way to landscape. Form and function are both important components of a design; a yard shouldn’t just look gorgeous, it should also produce food, harvest rainwater and serve as an urban wildlife habitat.
 
Who are the principals of your business? Travis Cleaver and Demetria Christo.
 
How does New Orleans affect your profession? What are the benefits and challenges?
D.C. Our environmental challenges offer our biggest opportunities. Excess water and flooding are problems in New Orleans, but if we see the abundance of water as a resource, we can harvest rainwater for landscape irrigation and outdoor water use. By using EcoUrban’s cisterns, homeowners and businesses have the opportunity to save 20 percent on their water bills, while New Orleans as a whole benefits from the reduced strain on the storm water pump infrastructure. Additionally, by allowing this water to be utilized locally instead of pumped away into Lake Pontchartrain, the city’s water gets replenished, thereby reducing subsidence. There’s a whole emerging industry catering to hazard mitigation through storm water management; EcoUrban installs rain gardens, bioswales and cisterns. New Orleans has quite a bit of land per capita, so the city is an ideal place for urban food production. Citizens have room to compost, grow their own vegetables and plant orchards. EcoUrban has developed a line of products to aid urban growers including soil, rain barrels and compost barrels.

Tell us about your current projects.
 T.C.: We are working with Habitat for Humanity on their next 30 home installations, where we’ve designed small, simple “nativescapes,” which use 100-percent native, low-water, low-maintenance plants with locally harvested pine straw mulch. We have a number of residential projects ranging from formal Uptown gardens to sub-tropical Zen gardens – each with orchards and raised vegetable planters. We’re pleased to work with Project Lazarus installing a cistern with a pressurized rain-fed irrigation system for their raised vegetable planters. We’re also in the early design stages of a large-scale,  zero-runoff residential landscaping project.

“Here in New Orleans, our environmental challenges offer our biggest opportunities.” – Demetria Christo


Gerrie Bremermann

MASTER of Interior design | Bremermann DESIGNS

Tell us about your background. I began my career 40 years ago. After doing a room in the first Junior League house, I woke up and found myself in the design world. I was in the right place at the right time and have been lucky ever since.

Who are the principals of your business? I have three employees: Sarah Vizard, Mel Hickey and Katherine Sauska.
 
How does New Orleans affect your profession? What are the benefits and challenges? New Orleans is a wonderful place to do design work. The architecture, art, antiques market, creative and design world all have no boundaries. You can design in any direction you choose. I love New Orleans.
 
Tell us about your current projects. My projects range from a new large mansion on St. Charles Ave to a new penthouse condo in the Warehouse District, 425 Notre Dame St. I also just completed a beautiful house in Montecito, Calif.
 
What else would you do if you weren’t doing this? I can’t imagine that. Travel, maybe.

“New Orleans is a wonderful place to do design work. The architecture, art, antiques market, creative and design world all have no boundaries.


Penny Francis

MASTER of Lighting | Eclectic Home

Tell us about your background. Eclectic Home has now been in business for 13 years. I had always dreamed of owning my own store someday, where I could provide access to furnishings from many periods and styles. As a decorator, I found it took longer and was more difficult to complete projects without having direct access to resources. The hardest part for most clients is only relying on a drawing or a picture. Having the store helps them to visualize more clearly the design direction.

Who are the principals of your business? Myself.

How does New Orleans affect your profession? What are the benefits and challenges? I am energized by this city’s diverse culture, passion and resilience. After moving to Houston for two years after Katrina, so many encouraged me to leave the city with my business and family and said that I would “do better in another city.” Well, I refused to believe that, and my business and family have thrived. One of the misconceptions that goes along with being in the Big Easy is that we also are slow and not “on top” of design trends and resources like other parts of the country. Nothing could be further from the truth. New Orleans has so many talented people and wonderful resources. I am obsessed with interiors and committed to showcasing the best in design.

Tell us about your current projects. I love that my projects are diverse. I am completing three large new construction projects as well as several home renovations and remodeling four kitchens and eight bathrooms. I also have clients that I have worked with over the years, one room at a time.

“I am energized by this city’s diverse culture, passion and resilience.”


Kenny Rabalais

MASTER Of Landscaping | The Plant Gallery

Tell us about your background. After finishing college with a degree in management and marketing, my love of nature inspired me to start The Plant Gallery in 1991. It began as a plant shop in the French Market, across from the open-air market with two full-time employees.
 
Who are the principals of your business? My wife, Jennifer, and I are the principals of our business.
 
How does New Orleans affect your profession? What are the benefits and the challenges? I am blessed to live and work in such a resilient, ever-changing city. Our clients are always striving for excellence and the quality that I find energizing and refreshing. It is easy to be passionate about what you do when the people you work with share the same passion, and New Orleans has a lot of passion.
 
Tell us about your current projects. The Plant Gallery is a comprehensive center for sophisticated lifestyles, gardening services and products. TPG offers a variety of services, ranging from estate and commercial landscaping to floral creations for all occasions. We believe that we offer our clients a superior experience by consolidating our services and resources to one central location. While TPG projects vary greatly in scope, each exhibits a sensitive response to the unique needs of the design – with our clients’ goals in mind.

“I am blessed to live and work in such a resilient, ever-changing city.”


B.J. Farrell | Bruce Farrell

MASTERS Of Kitchen & Bath Design | Campbell Cabinets

[Ed. Note: All answers by B.J. Farrell]
Tell us about your background. In 1995, I graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University with a bachelor’s of arts in marketing. A week after graduation, I started working at Campbell’s to gain experience and utilize my education. My dad, Bruce Farrell, spent most of his career in the banking industry, so we have a great combination here, with my education in marketing combined with his financial background.

Who are the principals of your firm/business? My dad and myself are the owners of Campbell’s, but we have a great staff of office personnel, warehouse workers and kitchen designers. We work together as a team and have one goal: to make our kitchens and bathrooms beautiful and keep the customers happy. Our kitchen designers have been with us for many years, making them the most experienced and qualified team in the area.

How does New Orleans affect your profession? What are the benefits and challenges? New Orleans has an amazing array of architecture and culture. If you look at the different styles of homes in the New Orleans area, including Jefferson Parish, Orleans Parish, Eastbank and West Bank, the architecture differs among these areas, which in turn will reflect the kitchen style, color and design. Because of the different architectural styles of houses, we offer a large selection of cabinet styles and finishes to fit most décors.

Tell us about your current projects. Remodeling has always been strong in our area, but this year, we have seen an increase in new construction. Of course, Lakeview remains a hot new construction market, but we are seeing an increase of new construction on the Northshore. Currently, we are working on some multi-unit condominiums in the area, as well as some local celebrities’ kitchens and bathrooms. Because of our great reputation, we stay busy year-round, which is fun because every new kitchen and bathroom presents a new challenge.

What else would you be doing if you weren’t doing this? I have always had a love for advertising. After graduating in marketing, I always felt that advertising would be my future. Similar to kitchen design, you need creativity and an eye for design.

“Because of our great reputation, we stay busy year-round, which is fun because every new kitchen and bathroom presents a new challenge.”


Ruppert Kohlmaier

MASTER Of Furniture Design | Kohlmaier & Kohlmaier

Tell us about your background. I was born here in 1936. I started working professionally in 1954 with my father, a first-class cabinetmaker from Germany, building chairs, tables and beds. We worked for many plantations and private people in New Orleans, New York, Connecticut and other places. My father taught me inlay making and marquetry when I was 12. I learned carving and sculpture from Maurice Hewllant. Most of the furniture I build is 18th- and 19th-century period furniture. Kohlmaier & Kohlmaier has made furniture for two Louisiana governors, Robert Kennon and Mike Foster. From 1954 until my father’s death in 2002, all of our furniture was signed in German: “Ruppert Kohlmaier Sr.-Jr.”

Who are the principals of your business? Myself, and I have three helpers.

How does New Orleans affect your profession? What are the benefits and challenges? A lot of people bring antiques to me to be restored, remodeled or made (reproductions of antiques). I also make furniture from photographs. I make only period furniture. Benefits: I get very close to my customers. They become part of my life. Challenges: I also designed Oriental rugs, was in the interior design business, made leather-tooled tabletops, restored antique clocks and their movements for 28 years and did custom upholstery with hand-stitched edges. My father influenced me to go into many different art fields. The challenges are to be successful with so many things and to accomplish what the client wants. I strictly work for individuals and a few decorators.

Tell us about your current projects. I am making some fine reproductions of period pieces made by my father and me that were on exhibition at Longue Vue House & Gardens in 1985. They are 18th-century Hepplewhite designs: chests of drawers, veneered and inlaid with sunburst tops and in the sunburst, a display of seashell designs in marquetry, and some of the seashells will be painted. I just completed a secretary and a fine bed, and I am making a Hepplewhite table.

“I get very close to my customers. They become part of my life.”


Byron Mouton

MASTER of Architecture | Bild Design

Tell us about your background. I am an architect, educator, New Orleans native and alumnus of Tulane University. I left home for Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, then went on to professional practice in Central Europe. Eventually I made my way back to New Orleans and founded the architecture studio BILD Design. I also hold an academic appointment as Professor of Practice at Tulane’s School of Architecture where I am director of their design/build program, URBANbuild. Recently, I have been recognized as the Tulane University New Day Professor of Social Entrepreneurship.
 
Who are the principals of your firm? I am the principal and founder of BILD Design, a studio for independent architects, designers and fabricators to come together and collaborate. BILD is a studio in its truest sense: Each participant has his or her own individual portfolio of experience and talent. The common thread is a shared dedication to the rebirth of the New Orleans region.
 
How does New Orleans affect your profession? What are the benefits and challenges? New Orleans is a unique place. Its benefits are also its challenges – good food, good drinks and a comfortable pace of life. It is a place that forces you to be creative by asking for much to be done with little. New Orleans’ deep-seated architectural heritage also forces respect for nostalgia. Aiming to produce contemporary architecture in New Orleans can be challenging, yet I believe it is our responsibility as professionals to think forward and create architecture of its time.
 
Tell us about your current projects. A little old, a little new. At the moment, we have a restoration project underway in the Marigny, but we are also applying a contemporary addition to the rear. We are developing a residential project along the banks of Bayou St. John, and we have a major project wrapping up along the riverfront on Leake Avenue. In addition, my teaching with Tulane School of Architecture and its URBANbuild program is very rewarding. This past spring we finished our eighth design-build project with students. All of these projects have been located in underprivileged neighborhoods of New Orleans, and we have worked with a number of our community’s nonprofit groups.

“Aiming to produce contemporary architecture in New Orleans can be challenging, yet I believe it is our responsibility as professionals to think forward and create architecture of its time.”


Mehmet Ergelen

MASTER Of Innovative Concept | Bluebag LLC

Tell us about your background. I moved from Istanbul, Turkey, to study aerospace engineering at the University of Texas – Austin. I went on to receive an MFA in industrial design from Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y. In the past, I have designed a wide range of products including office furniture for Herman Miller, snowboard bindings for Burton and consumer electronics for MIT startups, working both for small consulting firms and corporate giants such as Procter & Gamble. When I arrived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina I was already familiar with IKEA furniture and made regular journeys to Houston when I was renovating my Uptown double shotgun. My friends capitalized on my expertise, and I parlayed what began as shopping trips for friends into a full-blown lifestyle. Since I began Bluebag LLC in 2010, we have provided design services, personal shopping, delivery and assembly of IKEA products to more than 3,500 clients in Greater New Orleans via our weekly trip to IKEA Houston and out of our Lower Garden District showroom.

Who are the principals of your business? I am the sole principal, founder and master IKEAlogist at Bluebag LLC.

How does New Orleans affect your profession? What are the benefits and challenges? Because New Orleans is considered a small market, IKEA has never had plans of opening a store here, and the closest IKEA is in Houston. Using this gap as an opportunity, we provide design, personal shopping and installation services to local residents, including students, households and businesses. The film industry has become a new and exciting group of clientele as well. The challenge of marketing the modern aesthetic to a town full of historic architecture has been adventurous, and the marriage of the different styles is a continuing mission to respect the past and embrace the future.

Tell us about your current projects. Our design team works on commercial and residential projects. We just completed the new offices for the New Orleans area Habitat for Humanity. On the residential side, we are involved in whole house renovations in addition to kitchen, bathroom and closet designs for our clients, using IKEA products exclusively.

“The challenge of marketing the modern aesthetic to a town full of historic architecture has been adventurous.”


Elaine Cullen

MASTER Of Window Treatments | the Curtain Exchange

Tell us about your background. I’m originally from New York State, about 60 miles from New York City. I first moved to New Orleans in 1975 and worked for Godchaux’s as the buyer for boyswear. I left New Orleans in 1981 and moved back in 2000.

Who are the principals of your business? I own the store by myself, having purchased the store in 2007 from Georgina Callan, who started The Curtain Exchange, now a franchise business with 12 stores in 10 states, in 1997.

How does New Orleans affect your profession? What are the benefits and challenges? As a retailer of fine window fashions, New Orleans and The Curtain Exchange are a perfect match. With the typical Uptown window that measures 120 inches long, an “off the rack” solution had never been possible. We have ready-to-hang curtains in stock in these long lengths, as well as the ability to manufacture any desired length in a very short time, often in less than three weeks. These long windows have always required custom work, so it is sometimes a challenge to convince people that we actually have custom quality curtains already to go in the store.

Tell us about your current projects. With so many new people moving [here], it’s always a pleasure working with people furnishing their first New Orleans home. We recently helped a newly transplanted family with window coverings for every room in the house that really did put the finishing touch to their home.

What else would you be doing if you weren’t doing this? I would still be in retail. I have always enjoyed working with my customers in a store setting, especially in New Orleans.

“ With so many new people moving [here], it’s always a pleasure working with people furnishing their first New Orleans home. ”


Sean Cummings

Master Of Creative Vision/Real Estate | Ekistics

Tell us about your background. I was born in New Orleans. I received an Urban Studies degree from Brown University and studied at the London School of Economics. At 22, I started Ekistics, a New Orleans-based real estate development firm, creating the city’s first lofts in 1988, first boutique hotel in 1998, 18 other buildings and, through public service, the lifetime opportunity to reinvent the city’s Riverfront in 2008.

Who are the principals of your business? I am the CEO, but since every vice president is a woman, well, I kinda know to let them run things.

How does New Orleans affect your profession? What are the benefits and challenges? New Orleans is attracting new talent with new ideas, and whether one paints on a canvas or her company is her canvas, we love to collaborate with artists and entrepreneurs – inspired rebels with a cause. We love simple products made exceptionally well by passionate people who care way more than normal people do. I’m also inspired by this city’s exotic beauty, a rich mix of African, Caribbean, Native American and European influences.

Tell us about your current projects. We are creating new lofts and a design institute that we will announce in the fall. This one means a lot to me because the father of American architecture, Benjamin Latrobe, died on the property. Our design has to be breathtakingly original to properly honor the man who gave us a quintessentially American architectural style and the design vocabulary for a radically different nation.  

What else would you be doing if you weren’t doing this? I’d make films. Creatively, it’s remarkably similar, though maybe even more difficult than the thousands of design decisions and relentless attention to detail that our buildings require.

“We love to collaborate with artists and entrepreneurs – inspired rebels with a cause.”


 

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