Making a house a home
Joann Lammens of Gina T designs elite home fashion.
by Cheryl Regan
photography by Brittney Slater-Shew
Her business started in her parents’ garage with florals, trees and wreaths. Her hard work paid off, for now, with two thriving businesses in downtown La Verne, Joann Lammens, owner of Gina T Interior Accents and Gina T Home, looks back on 26 successful years of interior design. Joann’s businesses continue to thrive because of her hands-on attention to detail and stylish design. She not only performs interior home designs in La Verne and surrounding communities; she also is an acclaimed designer of office buildings, banks, hotel lobbies, restaurants and weddings. Her artistic interpretation is sought nationally and throughout the world and includes stops in Dallas, New York City, Paris and Bangladesh.
Joann started Gina T with basically no up-front money while tending to infant daughter Gina, after whom she named her stores. Her journey began with design studies at Mt. San Antonio College, while co-owning Barney’s and One West California, both restaurants in Pasadena. Weary of the restaurant business, Joann sought a new career role in interior design. Her design friends told her that many outlets offered new furniture and flooring, but there were very few businesses that offered high-end floral arrangements and trees to accent and accessorize their work. This is where Joann found her niche, and, at first, it was not easy. She was repeatedly turned down by vendors. “Finally I found someone who would sell to me because he was tired of taking my phone calls everyday,” Joann says. “I guaranteed him that I would be in business with him for at least five years.”
After scrounging up start up money, Joann went straight to work. At this time, she was a single mom living with her parents. While daughter Gina napped, she assembled her flower arrangements in the garage. “I put my floral arrangements together when she was down, and when she woke up, I would stop. When she went back down again, I would start again.” Over time, Joann began to gain more business, which meant more shipments and more deliveries to her home. “Neighbors started to complain that delivery trucks were always dropping things off at my house, so the city of La Verne strongly suggested I find a store to continue my business.” That is when Joann launched her current Gina T location on Bonita Avenue in old town La Verne. “The first seven or eight years were rough,” she remembers. “I knew that it was going to be difficult, but I also knew if I just stuck with it, I could do it.” At first, Joann rented the store, but when the building owner told her he was selling, Joann bought it outright. “He came up to me and asked whether I wanted to buy it, and I knew that I didn’t want to go anywhere, so I bought it.”
When daughter Gina started at Bonita High School in 2000, Joann noticed how little money was saved for the graduating class Grad Night. She stepped in and started a La Verne Home Tour to raise money for Gina’s Grad Night. She decorated all of the homes in the tour; people then bought tickets to tour the homes—all adorned in their festive Christmas decorations, provided by Gina T. “I knew that a Home Tour would be a good thing to do because I had been involved with them in other surrounding cities,” Joann says. “I also knew that this would raise a lot of money in a little amount of time.” After the first year of the successful Home Tour, she helped raise money for the graduating classes for eight years up until 2010 when Bonita High School stopped hosting the Home Tour. Daughter Gina is now a graduate from California State University, San Diego, and is actively engaged in Ph.D. studies in psychology at Loyola Marymount University. Joann’s own life changed in 1998 when she married Dave Lammens, who owns D&J Electric in La Verne. “Dave and I met when he came to my store to install a security system,” Joann says. “And we have been together ever since.”
Joann opened, in 2005, her second store, Gina T Home, on D Street in downtown La Verne. Gina T Home differs from the Bonita Avenue store and features Gina T’s signature home style. “For awhile, the Bonita store carried the D Street store; now it’s really taking off on its own,” she says. With the opening, the original Bonita Avenue store features seasonal holiday accessories while the new store captures everyday home decor. Her patrons call that look warm, embracing, stylish, classic, but Joann summarizes her style best. “The look is finished. From every bookend, candleholder, to the florals, to the trees, everything is exactly where it should be placed. When someone says that Gina T has been here, that means that it’s 100 percent finished.” This is what Joann emphasizes; she makes sure that everything looks perfectly in place. “We will never just sell you a piece of furniture. To make sure that it enhances your home, we go look at the space, photograph it, measure the space and graph it out.” She has many long-time customers. Relationships quickly developed. She is known for treating her clients as if they are family.
Joann the artist
Joann lives in a world of fantasy, myth and legend. From the Romans and Greeks to the world of elves and Santas, it is a very different world in each of her stores. During the holiday season, Gina T Interior Accents immerses shop visitors with the Christmas spirit. From wreaths, trees and ornaments; it’s like Santa’s village the moment a person walks in. All year long, Gina T Home carries a wild variety of mythical pieces that bring a room to life. The store displays just a sample of Joann’s vivid imagination. She can see a photograph and visualize actuality. People often send her room measurements with desired details; she takes it from there and performs artistic designs without a physical presence—sometimes from thousands of miles away. She says her clients rave at the results.
Joann has recently found a different design venture: weddings. Featured are her signature designs for everything from the centerpieces to altars. “Joann did my flowers for my wedding [at the Hyatt at Huntington Beach], and I could not have been happier with her,” says Danielle Gallinger, a University of La Verne Law School student. “I told her my vision, and she executed it perfectly.” Adds Kasey Scroggins, a University of La Verne alumnus, “I have dreamed about my wedding ever since I was a little girl, and Joann made that dream come true with the arrangements she made for my wedding day.” Joann says she gains her inspiration from life experiences. While in Napa, Calif., she had an inspirational design flash for an underground wine cellar. She designed the whole cellar on a beverage napkin. “I came up with the design while enjoying my nice glass of red wine at the Del Dotto Winery in Napa Valley. I pictured every little detail right there.”
If a client hires Joann as an interior designer, her appointment will most likely not take place until six weeks later because of her high demand. And while she loves to work with red, brown and gold colors, she prides herself in designing whatever excites her clients. “One of the first things I say when walking into people’s homes is, ‘Tell me where your heart is, 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.’” Despite Joann knowing the best look for a client’s home, she will never impose her style preference. “My job is to guide the client; I always go 100 percent in their direction.” She is one who sweats the finer details for her clients.
Joann has inspired associates. Ariel Moul, a 12-year employee, says she looks forward to walking into work with myriad tasks on her to-do list. “I just love what I do; everyday I have something new going on.” Her favorite task is designing. “I love the concept of starting from scratch, then walking out of a beautiful room that is complete.” Myranda Snapp is also empowered by her work. “Everyday is something new.” She says her job continues to be exciting after four years. “Joann keeps us on our toes because we are doing so much. If we aren’t doing client work, then we are doing retail work for one of the stores.”
Joann is still learning new things. “Just because I’ve been doing this forever doesn’t mean I know everything. I get excited every time I see something new or find something that we can bring to our clients and our design.” She travels to trade shows regularly. “I am always looking for what is the new trend or new inspirations that I can bring back with my design.”
Even the depressed economy has not dampened her enthusiasm. But she has noticed designers going out of business. “We have definitely have seen a change in business, but we are so grateful to be in the position we are in right now. We are thankful to have our beloved clients who keep coming back to our stores.” As for her thriving interior design business, Joann says, “We are in La Verne to stay; we aren’t going anywhere.”
Joann’s Favorite Design Tips
1. Don’t be afraid to color a room.
2. Step away from the white and beige and into some color. Texture in a room is very important. Make sure you mix smooth textures with rough textures.
3. Your powder room is the smallest room in your home but should be the most interesting because that is where your guests always go. If you want the “wow” factor, then go for it.
4. You might have the most beautiful furniture in a room, but the room is not finished until you have the right accessories to add to it.
5. Make sure you and your guests are comfortable.