Gina T. Spring Sale Underway, Now Be the First to Meet the Designer Up Close and Personal

April 3, 2009
Share this story:

The annual Gina T. Home Spring Sale is Under Way.

The annual Gina T. Home Spring Sale is Under Way.

 Joann Lammens, the artist and moving force behind Gina T Interior Accents and Gina T HOME in downtown La Verne, is an extraordinary business woman and even more remarkable interior designer. That her stores continue to thrive and flourish when so many “discretionary consumer” businesses have gone under in this recession is a testament to her inimitable sense of design, amazing attention to detail and her stylish stick-to-itiveness.

Her resume of interior design projects ranges across churches, office building, banks, hotel lobbies and what seems like half the residences along our foothill communities. “I’ve even done boats and mobile home parks, “Joann said. She’s also furnished homes from La Verne, to New York City, to Paris, to Dhaka, Bangladesh.

With so much success, it’s hard to believe that she started her interior design empire out of her parents’ garage 23 years ago, with practically no money and only her infant daughter, the eponymous Gina T., to inspire her. She had to reinvent herself after reigning as one of Pasadena’s premier restaurateurs (co-owner of Barney’s and One West California).

But Joann has always held a Nancy Reagan quote close to her heart: “A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she is in hot water,” Joann said, quoting the former first lady.

Brewing up success

Joann has been exceedingly strong and determined. Fed up with the restaurant business, despite overtures from new business suitors wanting her to consult, she started design studies at Mt. SAC. At the same time, she began thinking how she could best fill the needs of interior designers. Her design friends kept telling her that while there were several sources for them to select furniture, floor and wall coverings, there were few outlets offering high-end floral arrangements to accent and accessorize their interior design work.

Wherever you turn, Gina T. will make you feel welcome and comfortable.

Wherever you turn, Gina T. will make you feel welcome and comfortable.

Filling that niche would not be easy, however. Wholesale suppliers of the materials refrained from selling small quantities to every “Susie Homemaker” who came along.

“Every salesman I approached said, ‘No, I won’t sell to you,’” Joann said.

Finally, she prevailed on one supplier, who relented just so he wouldn’t have to take any more of her phone calls.

Joann told him, “This is a gamble on your part, but I promise you that if I stay in business, I will give you the majority of my business. I will not even approach another company.” She backed up her pledge of loyalty with a five-year guarantee.

After scraping together $5,000, she made her first wholesale purchase.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh,’ what have I gotten myself into?’ I didn’t even have a customer at the time, but I knew that unless I had a product I couldn’t get a customer.”

Launching production

So she started production, assembling arrangements in the garage or on her living room floor when Gina nodded off to sleep.

I would put my florals together and when she would wake up, I would stop,” Joann said. “When she would go back down, I’d start up again.”

With Gina in tow, Joann would walk into showrooms around Los Angeles to show her wares or the designers would come out to her car if Gina were asleep.

Over time, designers started coming to her home for pick-ups. Brown UPS trucks also made daily deliveries to her home, finally prompting the city to suggest that she start looking for a suitable storefront to continue her business.

The store she found is her current Bonita location in downtown La Verne. Despite her new home and growing reputation and clientele, getting ahead was difficult.

“The first six, seven, eight years I barely survived,” Joann said. “It was a labor of love. But I knew I could make it if I just stuck with it. A loyal group of designers supported me in the beginning, and many are still with me today.”

Find your seat at the annual spring sale.

Find your seat at the annual spring sale.

The store, which she eventually purchased, also paid another unexpected dividend. Concerned about her daughter’s long hours at the shop, Joann’s mother called D&J Electric in La Verne and asked owner Dave Lammens if he could install a security system for Joann. Because Lammens specialized in large commercial, industrial and public works projects, he was reluctant to take on the small job.

“My mom kept saying,” Joann recounted , ‘You’re only five minutes away, just come over,’ and he finally said, ‘All right.’” In a sense, the courtesy call never ended because the couple married in 1998.

Earlier this decade, Joann opened Gina T. Home on D Street in downtown La Verne, the second store signaling her full immersion in designing interiors from concept to completion.

The Artist at Work

Joann has a signature style that is highly recognizable. It’s lush, it’s rich, it’s grand, it’s warm, it’s embracing, it’s inviting, it’s classic, it’s stylish, yet, to find just one word to describe or characterize it, is difficult. Finally, Joann helped us out.

“The look is finished,” Joann said. “Every bookend is in place, every candleholder is in place, the florals are there, the trees are there, the furniture is exactly where it should be placed.

“When someone says, ‘Gina T. has been here,’ it’s because it’s 100 percent finished.”

Joann sweats the details for all her clients. A visit to either of her downtown shops is a pleasurable sensory experience — each step or turn a serendipitous entry into a showroom of paintings, sofas, tapestries and scores of other bewitching home delights. It’s not unusual for women on their lunch hour to browse her shops, using it as a form of restorative therapy to fortify them for the remainder of the day.  Customers have described her shops as a sort of “Toys R Us for grown-ups.”

Of course, Joann’s knack is making everything look perfectly in place. Like a great composer or choreographer, she knows the role and function of every piece in her vast repertoire.

“We’ll never sell you a piece of furniture,” Joann said. “To make sure it fits and enhances your home, we photograph the space, measure the space and graph it out.”

If a client hires Joann as an interior designer – an appointment that often gets pushed out as far as six weeks because of the high demand for her services, there is a $600 initial payment, $100 of which covers a detailed home consultation, including blueprints, pulling of paints and fabrics and design approval. The other $500 is used to purchase product at the appropriate time in the remodel.

While Gina T. fans often associate her work with strong earth colors – the browns, golds, rusts, camels, and caramels, with accents of blues and greens and reds — Joann’s complete and finished palette is whatever colors move and excite her clients.

Colorful expressions

“When I walk into people’s homes,” Joann said, “one of the first things I say is, ‘Tell me where you’re heart is, tell me what colors make you comfortable when you’re surrounded by them, tell me where you were last that really got you excited by the colors you saw.”

While Joann will know what the current home decorating rage is in practically any region of the country, owing in part to her semi-annual buying trips, she will never impose her stylistic preferences on her clients. “My job is to guide them. I’m always open 100% to their direction.”

That’s why each of her interior designs ultimately reflects her client’s personality.

Asked to name her favorite interior design project over the years, an unfair question because she’s done so many, she said, “All have their own personality. But I’ll honestly say this, when we walk out of every job, we say, ‘Yeah, we nailed it.’”

Too many casual observers, interior design connotes a glamorous and luxurious profession, and perhaps the finished product promotes that pixie dust perception, but Joann knows that success in her craft is strictly a hands-on affair.

“There’s a lot of hard work involved,” Joann said. “We move furniture, we hang pictures, we hang mirrors, and we even move walls when we have to.” To her credit, most of her staff has been with her from the beginning. She is still as eager to learn from them, as they are from her.

“Just because I’ve been doing this forever doesn’t mean I know everything,” Joann said. “I get excited about learning something new, or finding a new source that we can bring to our design and to our clients.”

Of course, part of Joann’s success stems from the incredible resources and connections she’s made over the years. At the same, she’s agonized over losing some of them during this current recession, such as a specialty fabric mill or a favorite candle line. While she’s had to scramble sometimes for new suppliers to help her achieve a precise look or style she’s aiming for, she keeps hunting until she turns up what she wants. “We just never give up,” Joann said. “If we don’t think we have a source for something, we keep digging. We never give up. If the solution is out there, we’ll find it or create a new one.”

As for Joann’s two stores and her interior design consulting business, Joann said, “We’re here, we’re not going anywhere, we’re strong.”

Just like a tea bag in hot water brewed to full strength.


One Response to “Gina T. Spring Sale Underway, Now Be the First to Meet the Designer Up Close and Personal”



Leave a Reply