In 2010, Brandon Cheramie and Dennis Peacock took the plunge as first-time homeowners. After looking at more than 70 houses, Cheramie, then a student at University of New Orleans, and Peacock, a physician practicing urgent care, fell for a 19th-century Victorian in the Irish Channel and closed on the property in just 12 days. During the five weeks of renovation and three years of decorating that followed, Cheramie learned that buying a house could be life-altering.
"This house really changed me and my goals in life," he says.
With more than 3,000 square feet that included a spacious owner's unit downstairs and a rental unit or guest suite upstairs, the house's footprint was ample enough for the couple and their three dogs. Originally built as a double shotgun in the late 1800s, the house had good structure and classic architectural features: 12-foot ceilings, wide plank wood floors and pocket doors. It also had a few unusually refined selling points, given its working-class Irish Channel roots. The original owner, a stonemason, outfitted the hearths with marble mantels — typically, a similar house would have wooden ones. There were plaster medallions and crown moldings, already repaired during a previous renovation. The plumbing and wiring had been updated as well. Still, turning the house into the showplace Cheramie envisioned would be a major undertaking.
"A few days after we closed on the house, my father came to see it and had a look of horror on his face," Cheramie says. "There was significant cosmetic work that needed to happen."
The new owners replaced out-of-character jalousie windows from the 1960s with floor-to-ceiling windows that were more true to the home's 19th-century roots. They refurbished the floors with an ebonized finish, painted the rooms with a palette of pale neutrals, revitalized the kitchens with Carrera marble and new appliances, replaced light fixtures and remodeled the master bath.
Cheramie regularly met with contractors at 6 a.m. before school and spent hours picking out the many details. He relished shaping the house. Encouraged by family and friends, he changed his studies from marketing to interior design.
"Even though I did not initially pursue a design career, I always had a passion for interior design," says the Louisiana native, who works as a design associate at Chet Pourciau Design and will graduate from Delgado Community College this spring. "I eat, breathe and sleep design. This is what I was meant to do."
Once the house was complete, Cheramie turned his attention to furnishing it. While the couple's last home had been outfitted with sleek, modern pieces, they found themselves attracted to a timeless mix of old and new.
"At the time, our design style was completely different," Cheramie says. "When we purchased the house, it changed to what I call 'new traditional.' We wanted to create something that 15 years from now we could look back and still say, 'This is current and relevant.'"
Guided by the heritage of the house and grounded by Peacock's emphasis on comfort, Cheramie sought a wide array of forms, finishes and periods. If a chair or sofa wasn't comfortable, it didn't make the cut. Even one of Cheramie's favorite pieces, a Parisian coffee table from the 1920s, was replaced with a table that proved more conducive to lounging.
"Comfort is very important to Dennis; it was non-negotiable for him," Cheramie says. "Keeping his need for comfort and my need for structured and tailored challenged me as a designer but overall made the design stronger."
The couples' travels also influenced their interior. Weeks before buying the house, they vacationed in Whistler, a ski resort in British Columbia with classic mountain lodge touches like antlers and animal hides. Last summer, they visited Paris and London, where Cheramie found another font of inspiration.
"We went to Napoleon's apartment in the Louvre and to Windsor Castle," he says. "I rediscovered the appeal of the traditional. I tried to create a harmony between all these different things, traditional, organic, sophisticated, comfortable, rustic, modern.
"It's about knowing how to walk that line. It's a careful balance," he adds, pointing out the way a crystal chandelier provides a feminine counterpoint to the masculinity of a tufted velvet sofa.
Rather than compose an environment that looks like it was purchased en suite from a catalog, Cheramie took his time making new acquisitions. On weekends, after walking the dogs and going out to breakfast, he and Peacock often head to local estate sales or antique stores in small country towns looking for deals. "I'm almost the anti-design designer," Cheramie says. "A lot of designers have created the notion that design has to be expensive. But you can do design on a budget."
He's also an avid shopper of flash-sale sites like One Kings Lane, consignment stores like Renaissance Interiors ("They make antiques accessible to everyone," he says), trendy, reasonably priced sites like Z Gallerie and local stores like Perch and Shaun Smith Home.
"This house has taught me a lot of patience," he says. "I'm not willing to compromise on something just to fill space. I'd rather wait and search for that right item that I know will work."
Having found his way to a career in design as a result of transforming his own home, it's a conviction that he brings to his profession as well.
"For me, design is not about using the most expensive items possible and creating cold interiors," Cheramie says. "It is about the client and enriching their lives through making their house feel like a home. I approach every client's home as if it were my own. It is essential to create a design a client will love and will enjoy coming home to every day, which is the most important thing to me."