Inside & Out!
Mutual admiration and a shared work ethic brought together a power pair of Houston design hotshots, creating a residential force to be reckoned with. By Holly Crawford, Photos by Jhane Hoang
Little did entrepreneur and interior designer Laura Umansky know that when she tapped Gina Brown to help renovate her Boulevard Oaks home in 2017, she selected someone who would also change the face of her business three years later.
And unbeknownst to Brown, an award-winning Newberry Architecture veteran, she would help transform more than Umansky’s historical house. Together, the designers turned the Laura U Interior Design firm into the newly monikered Laura U Design Collective, evolving the 14-year-old company into a holistic design experience — from conceptualizing a dirt slab to installing art and furnishings — by expanding its services to include an architectural component. “I love what I’ve created throughout my career, and I wanted to see if I could contribute to this industry in a new and unique way,” says Brown, a well-traveled UH grad who was raised in rural Refugio, Texas. “There aren’t a lot of firms doing what we’re trying to achieve.”
Focused exclusively on residential design, the collective is able to cover extensive ground — landscaping included! — for clients, whether they want to redesign an existing space
or build from scratch. “I had never thought of offering building-design in-house, but now I’m sad we waited this long,” laughs Umansky, known for her uniquely colorful taste. “We have a strong multi-disciplinary leadership team with a robust skill set. … It’s not just me making big decisions in a vacuum.”
That teamwork was never more obvious than when Umansky and Brown joined forces on the 10-month gut renovation of the historically protected Umansky family home — in the midst of Hurricane Harvey, no less. “It was such an easy fit with Gina,” says Umansky, who partnered with Brown on a few client projects over the years before inviting her into her own abode.
While even Umansky’s realtor had doubts about her home purchase, the designers never faltered. Their shared passion for salvaging the structure while doing due diligence to make necessary updates — Brown met frequently with historical societies to secure approval for certain changes — solidified their kindred-spirit connection. “Like her, I could see the vision of what the home could be,” says Brown, a mom of three.
Happily situated in the redesigned home with her husband, Michael, and their 8-year-old twin daughters since May 2018, Umansky said the “show house” is a source of pride and a living testament to what the new Laura U Design Collective can do. Official since February, the designer duo is growing the business “in a smart way.”
“We both feel honored to be invited into our clients’ homes, to have an impact on the way they live,” Umansky says. “That love of home guides everything that we do and is our new mantra at the studio.”
AT TOP: Gina Brown and Laura Umansky of the newly minted Laura U Design Collective