Creative Louisiana Speaker Kenneth Brown on Southern Design

Apr 26, 2012

Interior Designer, Kenneth Brown. (Tegan Wendland/WRKF)

Designer and reality TV star Kenneth Brown says the best way to design a space is to get a fresh start - take everything out of the room and take a good long look at it.

Brown recently moved back to Baton Rouge from Los Angeles to start a new design firm. He's the featured speaker for this month's Creative Louisiana monthly meet-up.

He talked with WRKF's Tegan Wendland about why he moved back, and what the city has going for it.

WENDLAND: You're known for your ability to "blend southern style with sharp California lines," as they say, so what does that look like and what feeling are you trying to create?

BROWN: I think design is sort of a reflection of your environment, and when I moved to California, you know, California has it's own look - its about a much more casual, laid-back lifestyle, it's a little bit less fussy than what you might see here down south, so, I think what made my designs unique in California was the fact that I had this upbringing here in the south that was full of rich colors and textures and creating this warm and inviting environment, and I was able to combine that with the clean lines of California, where things are a little bit more tailored and toned down a little bit.

WENDLAND: So tell me more about that. You actually moved back here from LA, where you had set up a successful business - why Baton Rouge, of all places?

BROWN: I grew up in Baton Rouge and when I moved away, over 17 years ago, I left a different city than I'm living in now and, you know, I had a lot of great fortune in California to have my own television show and to have my own business, and there gets to be a point in your life where you say to yourself, ‘okay, what's next?' I'd accomplished the goals I'd set for myself earlier than expected and I was kind of just staring at myself and saying, ‘what's the bigger challenge here?' and it was to move back to where I grew up and start giving back to the community and to open up a firm here that can support the same kind of work that I do out there.

WENDLAND: Has that been true so far? Is there enough of a demand here? And what kinds of businesses are you serving, mostly individuals or establishments?

BROWN: The projects that I'm working on down here are still the residential projects. I haven't made the big announcement yet that I'm here full-time yet. It's been a process over the past four months to sort of get settled in. I rent an amazing space in downtown Baton Rouge, which I LOVE. It's actually in the oldest building in Baton Rouge - the Old Tessier building. So, I set up offices down there and I'm hoping to do some commercial work, we'd love to do some hospitality work and high-end residential. What's more exciting to me is that I'm giving opportunity to the designers I've hired to work here on sort of an international level, because our firm in California is the bigger office and we have large projects there and I'm able to bring some of that work back home and have the kids work on it.

WENDLAND: So, what, if anything, do you think is really holding designers back here in the south?

BROWN: I think we're all exposed to things all over the world through our access to information and I think there's a younger generation that understands design is above and beyond what they've seen locally - because of what they've seen on Facebook or traveling, so there's a demand with a younger group of kids who are carving out a budget to spend on design, whereas before you didn't hire designers until you older and had more money. Today you have kids who are saving up money, not just to buy their own house but they're also saving up money to hire a designer because they understand that that's something that's very unique to them. No one wants the cookie cutter, and that's true across the board. But I find that, here, people are more interested in what's different outside of what I always see and that's exciting to me. People are embracing kind of warmer, modern esthetic; they're not so much about the traditional look.