Updated: May 30, 2019
WRITTEN BY RACHEL BURCHFIELD
For this New York-based interior decorator, southern roots run deep.
As a little girl growing up amidst the antebellum homes of Corinth, Courtney Coleman knew she wanted to be an interior decorator.
In fact, decorating is in her blood. Her great aunt was an interior decorator in the Delta in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, and would travel to New York City and Dallas to go shopping for clients. By the time Coleman landed at Mississippi State University, she knew she wanted to follow in her great aunt’s footsteps. It was this aunt, Mary Jane Lyle, who encouraged Coleman to pursue a degree in architecture in order to study and understand the bones of a home.
“It was good advice,” Coleman said. “In architecture school I learned a lot about history, I learned about building systems and structure, and I learned a lot about possibilities. Growing up in Mississippi definitely gave me an appreciation for old houses — when we were in architecture school, a bunch of friends and I would ride around and look at houses on weekends. That was a good part of my education.”
After she graduated from Mississippi State, Coleman followed close friends from architecture school to New York City. They had, in Coleman’s view, cool jobs and cool apartments, and soon Coleman was working at an architecture firm she loved and living in a loft apartment in TriBeCa. When she arrived in New York City in the 1990s, Coleman became a fellow at the Institute of Classical Architecture, where, in that role, she was an advocate for the study and practice of classical architecture. It was there that she met her future business partner, Bill Brockschmidt, who hails from Virginia. As two Southerners living in the Big Apple, they were naturally drawn to one another.
“In New York, all of the Southerners hang out together,” Coleman said. “I don’t know if we have the best food or have the best culture. There’s a lot of glitz here [in New York City], but being Southern shows you that’s not all there is. There is nature and a porch with a rocking chair — in so many ways, I’d rather have a porch on Main Street as a place to hang with my friends than a space on Park Avenue.”
Coleman and Brockschmidt first crossed paths at the Institute, where Brockschmidt was taking classes after he relocated to New York City from Chicago. Both trained as architects, the two hit it off because of their shared love of architectural and decor detail; both Southern, their styles complemented one another.
“Southerners in general have a great sense of houses, and houses are really important to them,” Coleman said. “Southerners like to live in pretty surroundings and have a place where they can entertain well.”
In 2001 the duo founded Brockschmidt & Coleman LLC, a firm focused on decoration and design. Eighteen years into their journey together, they’re set to open a second office in the Garden District of New Orleans in the first half of 2019, a throwback to both Coleman and Brockschmidt’s Southern roots.
The team works all over the United States and even internationally. They are currently working on interior decorating projects in Washington, D.C., Palm Beach, Texas and, of course, New York City, and have decorated spaces in Bermuda, Croatia, France and Italy in the past. But Coleman is excited to continually rediscover the South, where her family and many of her friends still live, through the opening of her firm’s second office in New Orleans.
“I am looking forward to spending more time in the South,” Coleman said. “There is so much construction and a renaissance going on in a way [in New Orleans].”
Coleman has brought her style to homes all across the Southeast, from Louisiana to South Carolina and everywhere in between. She is currently working on a project in the Mississippi Delta for acclaimed author, journalist and columnist Julia Reed, whom she met when Reed interviewed Coleman and Brockschmidt for a piece in Elle Decor.
The firm typically takes on between 15 and 20 clients at a time, with the size of work ranging from one room to an entire home.
“What is really fun is to get to keep learning,” Coleman said. “We get to do different kinds of projects. Sometimes they are projects for clients that we immediately understand, and we are immediately sympathetic with the client’s wishes. Sometimes we don’t understand the style, colors, or floor plan [a client wants], and it’s interesting to get into somebody’s mind and really fun to start to understand their taste.”
Coleman always knew that interior decorating was her passion. What would she tell another aspiring young designer in north Mississippi?
“Travel as much as you can and look at as much as you can,” she said. “Be exposed to as much as you can — read everything from novels to design books. And never miss an opportunity to take a class or go to a lecture.”
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