The queen of interior design still rules
In the 40 years since Gerrie Bremermann started her business, much has changed, but principles of good design have not. Her throne is a functional white and black desk that looks down a flight of stairs to her shop that is filled with antique chairs, tables and sconces mixed with contemporary Lucite. The doyenne of interior design talks of self-effacing beginnings, changes in the industry and how she creates rooms that have character and longevity.
“In the 40s and 50s, stores like D.H.Holmes, Hemingway and the 20th Century Shop had in-house decorators. You’d go to the store and they would plan your rooms, sell you the furniture and ‘do’ your house. You’d pick out fabric at Halpern’s and they would make the curtains free! Imagine!” joked Bremermann, whose signature rooms mix heirlooms with antiques, modern accents and art.
Like many woman of her era, Bremermann was an accomplished seamstress. She made her daughters’ wedding dresses and clothes for herself that landed her on the Best Dressed lists. Clothes led to curtains, curtains led to slipcovers and all of that led to being asked to create a room for the first Junior League Show House.
“I didn’t consider myself a decorator so I asked for a small room. I got a bathroom. I went to a local showroom and bought fabulous fabric for about $1.50 a yard and covered everything, even the walls, with fabric. People loved it. Suddenly, I had clients and was in business. Back then things like that happened. It was perfect timing in my life; I was 45 and ready take on something new.”
‘New’ meant throwing herself into decorating, retailing and shopping for clients in France and England once or twice a year. “I opened my first shop on St. Charles Avenue in 1980 and in 1992 I moved to Magazine Street. It was a nice location but nothing like the hub it is today. I think it’s the most exciting shopping street in the city now.”
Forty years after that Junior League Show House, Bremermann is going strong with clients who span generations of families and cross endless time zones. She has garnered stacks of press in magazines like Architectural Digest, Southern Accents, and House Beautiful. Still, the acknowledged connoisseur of interior design maintains a humble stance mixed with humor and an ability to educate, nurture and enlighten clients and friends with not a drop of condescension. “I never forget that I am at the service of the client and not the other way around.”
In today’s world of catalogs, instant chic and stylish retailers such as Design Within Reach, Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn, one can’t avoid asking the obvious: In a world that offers immediate designs, does one really need a proper decorator to make a statement?
“Some of those places have terrific, interesting and clever things,” said Bremermann, who has included pieces from those sources in some of her work. “For people who want that look and are happy to toss it out for the next trend, it’s a way to go. But if you want to decorate once, and then as time goes by give it a little nip here, tuck there, you hire a decorator.
“With a decorator, you make a plan that may happen in a year or over many years. If you incorporate things dear to you and buy the very best furniture, accessories and art, you will not tire of them. They will make a statement about your taste for a long time,” said Bremermann. “I have a young couple who may buy a piece of furniture once every year or two but it is classic and the best their budget will allow. I feel sure their home will be beautiful whether they stay in their present house or move someplace else.”
A walk through Bremermann’s condominium is a testament to her beliefs. Completed some 20 years ago, the apartment is awash in Benjamin Moore #957; tone-on-tone white, beige to greige, and back to white again. It is decorated with a mix of a comfortable sofa, tailored ottomans, chairs with deep down cushions, Lucite tables (once meant for cigarettes and now hosting a book or cocktail) and French polished antiques that glow with a patina only achieved with age. There have been a few updates but no massive overhaul. And that’s her approach to all she takes on.
Known for her calm, elegant rooms, Bremermann is often teased for her love of white. “I love color. Really I do. And I do color,” she said, showing a photo of a solarium with recently installed poison apple green curtains. “But, you know, I always have this feeling for white. There are a million whites. White is fresh, glamorous and elegant. It works with every complexion; blondes look wonderful in a white room and how beautifully white frames the face of women with exotic skin!”
Aside from white, other hallmarks in a Gerrie Bremermann project include:
• Comfortable furniture. “I always say: ‘Have furniture you, your family and guests can actually sit in and on. No little chairs one has to perch on!’ Even my small tables are weighted, stable and not something that will go over with a swat.”
• Modern art. “I love contemporary art mixed with antiques. … I believe in supporting local artists; we have so much talent in this city.”
• Mirrors, chandeliers and candlelight; elements that add glitter, glow and soften a room.
• Pretty glassware and handsome cutlery.
• Collections that appear to have been gathered over many years of interesting travel.
• Scented candles. Nothing overwhelming; a pleasant fragrance that calms and soothes.
‘Soothe’ is an interesting word and one that applies well to Bremermann’s work, whether in a grand salon or a simple beach condo. Her rooms are beautiful, elegant and serene; when someone enters one of them; the harmonious design elements calmly surround the individual and make them the center of attention.Bremermann Designs
3943 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70115