UNDER NEW OWNERSHIP, A LONGSTANDING BRIELLE DESIGN FIRM HAS BIG AMBITIONS FOR THE FUTURE
BY ERIK SCHONING • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
Interior design is rooted in details: thoughtful touches that make up a greater whole. It’s this ethos that’s stoked Lawrence Mayer Interiors’ success over four decades, the Brielle firm amassing a vast rolodex of loyal clients over the years. With new owner Marisa Tanner and a veteran design team at the helm, the firm looks forward to the next chapter in its story, all while celebrating the legacy that carried it where it is today.
Original owner Alice Lawrence launched the firm as an independent designer 40 years ago, gradually building her team of top-tier designers (most are still with the firm today). In July 2019, Lawrence’s neighbor, Tanner, entered the picture. “I’m an entrepreneur and business owner; I’m not an interior designer,” noted Tanner. “I owned a building behind Lawrence Mayer. Alice and I spoke for years about me acquiring the building. Eventually she decided to sell the business and retire. So I wound up buying the business as well as the building.”
As the new owner, Tanner understood that Lawrence Mayer’s success hinged on its people, on the quintet of head designers Lawrence herself put together during her years at the helm: Mary-Jo Mantz, Marjorie Warga, Meghan Dobish, Jennifer Karwan, and Sandie Gershenfeld. The core of the business was, and still is, these five visionaries working in tandem with one another. “Each designer has their own niche, their own look,” Tanner said. “Ultimately, we let the client lead us to what they want, but you can definitely see a pattern or trend with each designer. We have all these personalities; we’re not just beach modern or boho chic, for example. We can do everything.”
Approximately three quarters of Lawrence Mayer’s business is garnered through longstanding repeat clients and referrals. With such a loyal base, relationships are everything, noted the owner. Every project is a unique challenge, and having a stable of bright minds at the ready to tackle any problem has been a prominent factor in the firm’s longevity.
In that spirit of collaboration, Tanner knew she wanted to bring her own business experience to the table. An entrepreneur since the age of 18, the tenacious business owner and restaurateur looked for ways to navigate the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and, more importantly, to bring a storied, deeply rooted firm into the 21st century. When Tanner took over, Lawrence Mayer’s online presence was minimal; the firm was truly brick and mortar, relying on its showroom and reputation to build a client base. In the past three years, Tanner has looked to revamp the company’s website, adapting its reach in an age where more customers than ever before are starting their design journey at their computer, not on a showroom floor.
Other changes have leaned more functional; Tanner is looking to expand the design team while cutting back on on-site warehousing of furniture, for example, which allows the firm to be more flexible with inventory and better respond to trends. The Lawrence Mayer office itself is due for an overhaul, and who better to design it?
“We want to enhance the look of the building,”Tanner said. “We’re going to shrink our footprint and bring in some additional businesses to rent the spaces next to us, ones that complement Lawrence Mayer. We want to create a one-stop shop, whether that’s flooring, lighting, etc. We’ll have multiple resources in the building. And we’ve just started hitting the ground with that.”
Through the rise of social media, many people today tout themselves amateur interior designers, pulling ideas from Pinterest or blogs. Customers are able to order their own fixtures and furniture. But what a seasoned, trained designer brings to the table is vision, and that’s why Tanner knows design firms aren’t going anywhere. That ability to take a client’s interests and tastes and translate them into functional, beautiful spaces is something a person will never be able to order online.
“With five designers, there is no shortage of innovation and sharing of our networks and resources,” head designer Meghan Dobish said. “Recently, several of us were experiencing issues with new LED lighting affecting the color rendering of paint and fabrics in our clients’ homes. We reached out to a lighting expert I had met years ago on a job site, who then visited us at the showroom, gave a great seminar, and got us on the cutting edge of technology and lighting. One of us always has a resource; I can’t tell you how valuable that information sharing is, and it’s something that sets our company apart.”
Today, Lawrence Mayer is a synthesis of Tanner’s forward-thinking business vision and the robust relationships the designers share with their clients and each other. Good design language can hold many meanings, but at Lawrence Mayer, it will always center on the details. Or, as head designer Marjorie Warga put it, “Our designs are always crafted with a sense of renewed style, keeping in mind functionality and the aesthetics of the end user. That is the hallmark of good design.”