Design doyenne Gerrie Bremermann’s second act and how she finds beauty in her life and in the lives of her clients
When noted interior decorator Gerrie Bremermann closed her iconic shop, Bremermann Designs, on Magazine it was the end of an era. But for Bremermann, 91, long considered the dean of decorating in the South, it was a new beginning.
“I’m not retiring,” she says. “I may write a book about my experiences, but it won’t be like others. It will be from a different perspective. I’ll do some consulting with clients I’ve had for ages. I can’t just stop.”
Bremermann was born in New Orleans and spent her formative years in Palm Beach. She returned to New Orleans at age 14 eventually married Tom Bremermann, with whom she spent 65 years.
The early years were consumed with rearing three daughters and doing volunteer work. Much of the latter was focused on decorating for fundraisers and parties and lead to Bremermann being asked to decorate a room for the first Junior League Show House.
“I turned them down at least three times until they finally told me they were desperate,” she says. “No one knew how to pull this off.”
Bremermann armed herself with rolls of a bold print fabric that she purchased for $1.50 per yard and decorated a powder room. It was a hit, and a career was launched. The women’s movement also helped.
“Few women of my generation worked at that time, much less ran a business,” she says. “I had no formal training in decorating, had never run a business and had three daughters and busy husband. But here I was.”
She admits that she had no trouble getting loans from banks or being accepted as a professional. Her role models, decorators Vera Gibbons and Lucille Andrus, helped pave the way.
Bremermann opened her first shop on St. Charles Avenue in 1980. In 1992, she — along with a few other pioneers — moved her shop to Magazine Street, where it stood until last summer.
Bremermann also became a great patron of local artisans. She often walked the streets of the French Quarter and Bywater and talked to people who were sitting on their stoops or porches. During these conversations, she found artists and craftsmen who were creating beautiful works.
“New Orleans is a marvelous artists’ colony,” she says. “It always has been and we must encourage this. I found these artisans and gave them a chance. I’m always looking for talent.”
She also found a way to make her clients feel that every fabulous decorating idea was theirs.
“Often people have good ideas for their home, they just don’t know how to accomplish them,” says Bremermann. “I have a sense about people, to be able to get into their heads and figure them out.”
Bremermann’s mantra remains consistent: buy quality. She tells her clients, especially the young ones, to save the money (don’t borrow) and buy one good piece a year. Don’t try to decorate a home all at once.
Her work has been featured in many home magazines and she has decorated some of the finest homes in the country. Enter a Bremermann-designed room and you’ll find exquisite (mostly 18th-century French) antiques, billowing draperies that puddle gracefully on the floor, soft colors of nature (pale pink is her favorite), a lucite end table and natural fabrics of cottons, linens and European blends. Details like crystal chandeliers, a small animal print and painted furniture punctuate the space. All combine to create a timeless, classic look that stands the test of time.
But her life has been tinged with sadness. In a two and half year period two of her daughters and her beloved husband died after long illnesses. Through it all, Bremermann took solace in finding the beauty in her life.
“Everyone has sadness and trials in their lives,” she says. “Until that hard period, my life was one of complete joy. And it is again. Imagine going into people’s homes and making them beautiful. Throughout my life, I have had so many good times, really good. I made people happy and I helped them love their homes. What could be better than that?”