Divide & Conquer
Brian Bockman and Jack Forbes put their complementary design styles to good use at work and at home.
Photographed by Eugenia Uhl, Styled by Lisa Tudor
When asked what it’s like to be partners in life and work, and how their individual design styles complement one another, designers Brian Bockman and Jack Forbes have a succinct reply that indicates that they’ve discussed this before. “Brian says we divide and conquer,” says Forbes, who is described as more exploratory in his work, while Bockman is characterized as the more pragmatic of the two. “Jack’s approach is more open-ended, while I tighten things up,” explains Bockman. “Jack’s a bigger dreamer; I’m more along the lines of making things work.”
The couple’s full-time city residence (they also own vacation homes in Bay St. Louis and Columbia, Mississippi), located in a historic Garden District home, is a good illustration of their urbane alchemy. The overall effect is rich and layered; a well-traveled, collected look that flies in the face of what the partners call “the vanilla look” purveyed by mass retailers and websites, no matter how high end their stock. “A lot of this design came from our past,” says Forbes, emphasizing the highly personalized nature of the space.
The building itself, built as a Georgian-style residence named Warwick Manor in the 1850s, features tall windows, restful porches and high ceilings and was subsequently used for a variety of purposes including a grade school, a dance school and an apartment house before being renovated in the 1980s.
Bockman and Forbes, who met at Tulane School of Architecture and joined forces to form Bockman + Forbes Design more than a decade ago, saw the second floor condo while working on a client’s ground floor unit after hurricane Katrina. Drawn to its classical bones, and “all-day light,” they purchased the two-bedroom, two-bath property and renovated it fully. “The tile on the kitchen floor, which is from a previous renovation, covered nearly every surface in the bathrooms and kitchen,” says Bockman. “We left the kitchen floor but gutted out everything else.” The partners, known for infusing a modernist sensibility into their work and for adeptly interpreting design trends ahead of the curve, worked around the existing cabinetry to install a new kitchen that counts among its updated features an icemaker, Sub-Zero refrigerator, quartzite counters tinted with subtle shades of green, and a backsplash of glass subway tiles. They also created the bar area with open shelving. Instead of restoring the adjacent living area’s original wood floors, which proved unsalvageable, they added a sound-absorbing insulation membrane underneath new carpeting. The living room’s natural sea grass carpet lends an organic element to the many textures in the main living and entertaining area, where antique and vintage furniture, handmade rugs, animal prints, Missoni pillows, traditional and modernist oil paintings, vintage glass, sculpture and photography are all part of the mix.
The painting on the wall opposite the wet bar was purchased on a trip to Mexico.
Orange Washu chairs by Powell & Bonnell, painting entitled Fronteras by Mexican artist Liliana Basulto, Twiggy floor lamp by Foscarini.
Left: "Brian Bockman and Jack Forbes worked around the existing cabinetry and ceramic floor tiles to remodel the kitchen. Updated features include Monte Bello quartzite
Right: Bockman seated in the living room’s Poltrona Frau recliner, which the homeowners describe as “The Ferrari of recliners.”
Bockman and Forbes created seating areas with sofas on both sides of the living room. Ebanista taupe velvet sofa with Missoni pillows; the green corduroy velvet sofa has pillows by Dransfield & Ross.
The condo’s bathrooms were completely renovated, as well. The guest bath is a graphic interplay of vibrant green and jet-black tiles set against a backdrop of wool boucle walls accented with art. The master bath is masculinely clad in a blend of dark wooden cabinetry and Carrera marble, a classic material that lightens and visually enlarges the windowless space.
Inspiration for the project came from a variety of sources, including the building’s scale and natural light, the couple’s travels and items that they collect. Forbes collects paintings and photography and also is a painter and photographer himself; the vividly hued vintage glass vessels are collected by Bockman; the 17th-century Dutch paintings and taxidermied animals displayed prominently in the home are from Forbes’ family. A shared appreciation for Mid-Century Modern furnishings and art is evident throughout. “When [the remodel] was all done and we first moved in, I sat on the bed and said ‘I feel like we’re in our parents’ bedroom,’” says Forbes, alluding to the notable presence of vintage modern. There are paintings and pottery from the couples’ frequent trips to Mexico and South America. Revolutionary design movements underway in places like San Miguel De Allende have nourished the designers’ creative spirits. Bockman and Forbes also took cues from unexpected details such as the fish scale pattern on the master bedroom’s Fortuny drapery. The scale motif was repeated in the custom nail head trim of the headboard and in the textural wainscoting of the wall. The partners’ friend, California artist Nic Valle, created both the embossed-plaster wainscoting and the playful marine mural depicting fish above it. Both Bockman and Forbes designed custom furnishings for the home. Forbes created the metal bedside tables in the guest room, while Bockman designed the circular ottoman in the master bedroom. Used as both a footrest for a pair of Carl Hanson’s Heritage wingback chairs and a place to store linens, it’s a prime example of Bockman’s make-it-work pragmatism. “Everything was made multifunctional,” says Bockman.
This fall, Bockman and Forbes officially launch their second business, Suite 222, a full-scale architecture firm with new partner, architect Julie Ford. Their offices are fittingly housed at nearby K&B Plaza, a modernist structure designed in the 1960s. Suite 222 is already at work on a full roster of residential and commercial clients, including three Ralph Brennan restaurants: Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen in California, and both the Red Fish Grill and Ralph’s On The Park here at home. “It was time to step up the business and take it to a new level,” says Bockman, underscoring the momentum taking place in both the Bockman/Forbes partnership and the new undertaking with Ford. “As we design new projects, residential and commercial, we strive to continue our successful synthesis of old and new, creative and pragmatic sensibilities, expressing our individual points of view, while creating a cohesive whole.”