Design Masters

jeffery johnston

Master of Landscape Design

Beverly Katz

Exterior Designs

As a girl growing up in Texas, Beverly Katz wanted to be a ballerina. As an adult, she found her way into another artistic endeavor — landscape design. Katz first worked as a landscape architect’s assistant and then struck out on her own.  In business for more than 25 years, clients have come to refer to Katz as a “landscape therapist” due to her way of transforming their outdoor spaces by exploring an owner’s interior life. “I study people through their interior first so I can capture what they like and need and let it flow to the outside,” she says. A life member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, Katz has garnered multiple awards and has been featured on HGTV. She believes her ability to create livable outdoor rooms is the key to her success. “Function and correcting problems are first, beauty comes next,” says Katz, who has worked closely with landscape architect Kay Ourso for 20 years. She infuses each job, even the ultra modern, with a touch of historic New Orleans, making her a favorite among owners of historic homes and other landmark properties. “I love to take design and put it in place,” she says.

Master of Interior Design

Shaun Smith

Shaun Smith Home

Native Mississippian Shaun Smith grew up spending weekends, summer vacations and holidays in New Orleans visiting family. “That’s when my love for New Orleans developed,” says Smith. After attending college in California and working for an Atlanta design firm, he made his way back to New Orleans and began renovating houses. In 2008, he renovated, decorated and flipped his first residence, which garnered multiple offers and sold above asking price even before going on the market. “That created a buzz,” he says. “All of a sudden, I had people calling me to decorate their houses.” Smith soon opened a retail shop on Magazine Street, which also serves as his design office. The magic, according to the designer, is in the mix. “I saw that there was [a] need for somebody who was mixing vintage with antiques,” he says. “Things with a little less age but still a lot of style. It’s all about the right pairing of different periods of furniture all living together.” Smith’s work has caught the attention of House Beautiful, which counted him among its Next Wave Designers in 2015. He also served as the New Orleans partner and lead project coordinator for the well-attended Traditional Home inaugural Southern Style Now Showhouse held in the spring. 

Master of Kitchen Design

Chris Licciardi

Marchand Creative Kitchens

Designing kitchens is second nature to Chris Licciardi. The third generation of his family to own and operate Marchand Creative Kitchens, he began learning the business inside and out when he started working in the various departments of Marchand at 13. Today, Licciardi and his staff design hundreds of kitchens each year. “We like to say sell kitchens and provide cabinets, appliances and countertops for those kitchens,” says Licciardi, a certified kitchen designer. “Every kitchen is different for every person. You have to find out what that person wants and needs and design for them.” With individuality such a key part of the business, Marchand sells a wide range of products; handles every type of kitchen from traditional to contemporary; and designs every size kitchen from small and efficient to large and luxurious. “We can supply it, deliver and install it,” says Licciardi.  Now in its 57th year (55 of those in the same Division Street location), Marchand has Metairie and Northshore showrooms to service the needs of New Orleans and its surrounding areas as well as the broad spectrum of customer tastes. “Kitchens are all about the people you do them for,” says Licciardi.

Master of  Home Accents

Dianna Knost

A.K.A. Stella Gray

If there’s one thing that feeds Dianna Knost’s creative spirit and eye for home accents more than any other, it’s travel. A south Louisiana native with a love for organic forms, found objects and self-made designs, Knost has always loved the hunt for beauty, especially the bohemian variety.  “I always preferred to go out and find it or build it myself,” says Knost, who repurposes furniture, is a self-taught painter and has designed her own jewelry. But it was a trip to Africa that set the course for Knost’s eventual path into retail. In 2012, she opened A.K.A. Stella Gray on Magazine Street. Today, she regularly travels the world in search of furnishings, textiles and home décor, which she describes as “bohemian luxury.” In the last few years, road trips have yielded such treasures as tumbleweeds and taxidermy from Wyoming and rustic furnishings from country fairs she found while heading to and from Massachusetts. Masks, beads and Kuba cloth from Africa, handmade textiles found off the beaten path in Italy, are also among the shop’s wares. “I travel to places I love,” says Knost. “I know there will be something I want to bring back – something from a local craftsman or street artist or something I find.”

Master of Decorative Finishes

Diane Killeen

Diane Killeen Painting Studios

Diane Killeen was always artistic. After graduating from college with a degree in studio art, she honed her artistic direction, completing the decorative painting and restoration course through the City & Guilds of London Institute’s North American program. There she got hands-on training at the renowned Biltmore Estate. Today, Diane Killeen Painting Studios specializes in custom hand-painted finishes for historical and contemporary settings. Her expertise includes traditional water gilding, venetian plaster, faux marble, faux bois, trompe l’oeil, stenciling, glazing, murals, metallic finishes and decorative plaster restoration. Her classical training provided experience and cachet, but Killeen says growing up in New Orleans was the catalyst for her love of the decorative arts. “I’ve travelled extensively,” she says. “But most places only have one or two buildings that are registered National Historic Landmarks. In New Orleans, everything is unique and beautiful.” Locally, she has worked on the Milton H. Latter Memorial Library, The Roosevelt New Orleans and the lobby of the newly refurbished Pontchartrain Hotel, as well as private residences. On historic jobs, she enjoys the reward of doing her work so accurately that it’s undetectable. On contemporary commissions, she strives to adapt old world techniques to contemporary aesthetics. “I like to get creative by adding a fresh new twist,” she says.

Master of Furniture Design

Adem Vant Hull

Furniture Designer

Minneapolis native Adem Vant Hull fell in love with New Orleans while growing up. At 18, he moved to the city (just prior to Hurricane Katrina) in hopes of becoming a chef. When Chip Martinson, owner of Monkey wid-a Fez — a custom furniture workshop and gallery — asked Adem to help move his storm-damaged business, Adem became intrigued by the craft. “I was interested, so I started showing up,” he says. “I had always drawn and been good with my hands. I caught on quickly.” Vant Hull apprenticed under Martinson and spent a year in Minneapolis working with custom cabinet makers. He makes tables, chairs, chests, dressers and other furnishings, mostly out of raw hardwoods like cherry, poplar, walnut and maple. His creations vary from rustic pieces based on traditional designs to clean-lined modern forms. “If a client wants a table, I tell them to Google tables and screenshot 20,” he says.  “Then we come up with a drawing and a design.” The end goal is a piece that will stand the test of time. “The thing we preach is that we want to be on the Antiques Road Show 200 years from now,” says Vant Hull. “We try to make something your grandkids are going to have.”

Masters of Lighting

Michael Ber and Otis Alexander

Lighting Inc. 

As co-owners of Lighting Inc., Michael Ber and Otis Alexander bring a wide variety of quality lighting and related products to the New Orleans market. Ber’s father started the business (located, until Hurricane Katrina, on Tulane Avenue at Carrollton Avenue) in 1959 and Ber began working there in 1971. Alexander, whose mother managed the store’s lamp center, began working at the store during summers and weekends when he was growing up. When Ber’s father retired, Ber and Alexander formed a partnership. “We’re a full service lighting business,” says Alexander. “We don’t just have a showroom. We work small commercial projects, we offer design services, we sell shades, picture lighting, gas lanterns, ceiling fans, landscape lighting and design, the latest in LED lighting — the gamut of what’s out there.” Ber and Alexander say the level of quality and service and their staff’s knowledge sets the business apart. Many of their employees have been with the business for more than 20 years. The store strives to serve both the older, traditional market as well as the influx of younger buyers who’ve moved to the city. “We are very particular about what we buy,” says Ber. “We won’t put it in the store unless we would put in our own houses,” adds Alexander. 

Master of Architecture

Julie Babin, AIA


New Orleans first made its way into Julie Babin’s life as a college destination. The Philadelphia native, who planned to attend a university in the northeast, visited Tulane and fell in love. “I thought it was fabulous down here,” says Babin. “It was so different than anything I had experienced growing up.” Babin’s accomplishments at Tulane, where she earned her Master of Architecture, including The John W. Lawrence Travel Research Fellowship and the John W. Lawrence Memorial Medal for Design Excellence. When Hurricane Katrina halted her thesis, she temporarily attended a satellite program in Arizona and then returned to New Orleans. “I felt I needed to stay and help rebuild the city I’d grown to love,” she says. Since 2006, she has been with studioWTA, a full-service design firm with an emphasis on creating buildings that are regionally responsive and sustainable. Her projects run the gamut from single-family homes to universities.  She’s currently working on the renovation of a downtown building that has the distinction of being the birthplace of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, as well as a renovation and new addition to a 115-year old building on Tulane’s campus. Earlier this year, she and fellow female coworker, Tracie Ashe, were honored to become partners with studioWTA’s founding architect, Wayne Troyer. “The profession has historically been male-dominated, but it’s changing,” says Babin. 

Master of Drapery

Neil Peyroux

Peyroux’s Custom Curtains

Neil Peyroux learned the drapery business by jumping in and teaching himself. He started his to-the-trade workroom in 1998, by purchasing equipment and hiring one seamstress. Within six months, he had expanded to five seamstresses and was filling orders for a clientele that included designers and retailers. After Katrina, a large segment of the population needed draperies to replace those ruined by the storm. Peyroux opened a store on Jefferson Highway, offering ready-made and custom heirloom quality products at the best value possible, and business took off. “You can get beautiful curtains off the rack,” says Peyroux. He sells his ready-made drapery in single width and width-and-a-half panels as well as his custom work to individual clients’ and designers’ specifications. Peyroux is known for his distinctive styles and unexpected color combinations popular among both traditional tastemakers and young homeowners. “I’m inspired by color and especially clients who desire a punch of color with their curtains,” he says. Peyroux’s trims and fabrics come from the top names in home décor including Lee Jofa, Robet Allen, Kravet, and Samuel & Sons, and every order is created in his New Orleans workroom by a team of professional seamstresses.

Master of Real Estate Development

Greg Cummings

Cummings Development and Design 

Raised in Shreveport, Greg Cummings obtained an engineering degree from LSU and an MBA from Tulane; worked in real estate; and lived in multiple areas of the south. After he built an investment property in Watercolor, Florida, his various areas of experience came together and he found his calling as a developer of high-end residential properties. “I was hooked,” says Cummings. “It was the worst of [real estate] times in Florida. To be successful at the worst of times gave me confidence.” The New Orleans-based developer says he’s created a much-needed specialty. “I have the ability to recognize investment properties and to bridge the gap between contractor, architect and end user,” he says. “I can come into a project and figure out the problems on the front end.” The majority of Cummings’ projects are spec houses along Florida’s 30A, and in New Orleans and Louisiana. He buys the land, designs a plan for the home, manages construction, interior design (the homes are fully finished with furnishings and drapery) and the real estate agents who sell the homes. “I manage every aspect from designing the HVAC system to creating an environment that’s superior all the way through,” he says.


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