By Ann Duke with Jasmine Graham
oretta Crenshaw or “Lady Crenshaw” as her clients lovingly refer to her began her interior design career almost 30 years ago. Over the years she has worked with countless clients across metro Detroit. She makes every client feel special as she curates the finest furnishings, unique accessories and collectibles in an effort to reflect their personal tastes. Her attention to detail is unmatched and her clients rave about her passion and the words of wisdom she shares with them. Together with her team of design associates she transforms spaces into art-filled interiors fit for entertaining. She quotes the words of one of her design heroes, Mario Buatta, “To be a great designer, you need to be a mind reader, psychologist, marriage counselor and bill collector”. Crenshaw has mastered each skill.
In her early years Crenshaw had a natural love for presentation, not only in home decor but also in fashion. She was and still is a very visual person. As a child she regularly moved the furniture around in her bedroom. She would take everything off of her bed and dye it purple so she could have a purple room. It took time for Loretta to come to terms with the art of presentation being her natural talent. She enrolled at Wayne State University as a business major but after talking to a counselor about her goals was advised to switch to the school of Interior Design and she never looked back.
We sat down with Crenshaw to discuss her career and love for interior design.
BLAC: You’ve spent your career focusing on residential projects vs commercial design. What made you decide to focus in that area?
LC: I’ve done a few commercial projects but I love residential, it’s more personal. I have developed 10-15 year relationships with many of my clients. I like seeing the evolution of their homes over time.
BLAC: At one time you and a partner had a home decor shop in Indian Village, how did that help you grow your business?
LC: It was the late 90s and potential customers could come in and browse in a relaxed retail environment. The shop featured room vignettes that allowed customers to envision how the furnishings and accessories would look in their home.
BLAC: What is your process when you start to work with a new client?
LC: Each client is different. I start by going to their home and get to know them by asking lots of questions. I observe the way they live. Every project is different depending on their lifestyle. Sometimes I just sit in the house for hours and eventually the house will tell me what to do.
BLAC: When I look at your portfolio I see so much variety. You specialize in procuring fine furnishings and antiques. Are you willing to share any tips or tricks with our readers?
LC: There are a few antique dealers I have formed relationships with over the years. I especially like Marvin Nash at Marketplace Antiques, Scott Juzswik at Oddfellows Antiques, and Joe DelGiudice at DelGiudice Antiques. I have purchased many items from DuMouchelles Auction House throughout my career. The Michigan Design Center has also
been a great resource for furnishings, fabrics and accessories. You need more than one resource to make the house interesting.
BLAC: You also provide fine entertaining consulting. Tell us about how that got started?
LC: Many of my clients love to entertain and that is a passion of mine. How one entertains is a representation of who they are and if my clients are interested I help them elevate those skills. I want to see my clients using fine china, linens and glassware. I also love floral arranging and have taught that skill to some of my homeowners.
BLAC: You have participated in many Junior League Show houses. How does that differ from working one-on-one with clients?
LC: When working on a Show house you are your own client. I create a narrative for each room. In the last Show house that I participated in, I imagined a guest room created for Jackie Kennedy and her sister Lee Radziwill as if they were coming to the Fisher Mansion for a sleepover.
BLAC: Can you tell us about the team that helps you make the magic happen?
LC: They are a dream team! Oftentimes they have a better idea than me or they think of something I didn’t. The team consists of Connie Taylor, Michael Kennedy and Joel Baird. We collaborate on everything. Joel says it takes 3 brains to come up with one good idea!
BLAC: What’s your favorite design trend at the moment?
LC: I’m liking small spaces with dark paint. I love the drama that creates. I love that people are doing more entertaining at home. There was a time when if you wanted to promote your career and have a business deal go well, you met with clients in the intimate space of your home.
BLAC: How has the last year changed your interaction with your clients?
LC: Many people have focused on making their home warmer and more comfortable while creating livable outdoor spaces. During the
pandemic I was able to go, visit clients and sit outside.
BLAC: What advice do you give to young designers?
LC: Study what you do, visit antique shops, go to the market and learn everything you can about your craft. You won’t find a lawyer who doesn’t have law books or who doesn’t know the law. I have 200-300 art and design books in my library and every night I look through one for inspiration.
BLAC: What do you feel is your legacy?
LC: My legacy is my passion and how I can help my clients to elevate their personal style. If they express interest in a certain type of art or collectible I like helping them to curate a collection. Often I become good friends with my clients and they become like family.
Everton Swearing and Arthur White have been working with Ms. Crenshaw for the last 8 years. Swearing who is Sales Director for Vitesco Technologies and White, the Director of External Affairs at the Michigan Opera Theater, moved to Detroit from Chicago in 2010. While in Chicago they lived in
a 940 square foot apartment on Lake Michigan that they loved. When they moved to Detroit they settled in Palmer Park and were instantly tasked with decorating a large stately home. When the newcomers were asked to be a part of the traditional Palmer Woods Holiday Home Tour they agreed. Once they realized what they had gotten themselves into their neighbor advised them, “you must call Loretta!
BLAC: What was your experience first meeting Loretta?
AW: We only had a couple of months to get things together for the holiday show. Loretta would come to the house and she would sit for hours. It was interesting on the first day, but this went on for weeks.
ES: It registered as somewhat strange behavior. Why does this woman keep sitting in the room just looking around and doing nothing? Later she told us she was studying. She says, “the house will talk to you and tell you what to do. When we saw the finished product we were thrilled.
BLAC: What are some of your favorite items that Loretta sourced for your home?
ES: I love the Baker dining table. Many of the items that she chose were pieces I never would have considered. That’s the advantage of working
with a professional.
AW: Loretta immediately noticed that our home didn’t really reflect our extensive travels. We began to collect things. When we spent 3 years in Shanghai, we were able to bring back some great items.
BLAC: Was there ever a time the team made a recommendation that you weren’t sure of but eventually came to love?
ES: One thing we were at odds with was the chandelier in the music room that we loved. She thought that it was too big and too shiny and didn’t rise to the level of the house. I disagreed and so we would go back & forth. One day we were in an antique store together and when we found the perfect replacement it felt as if the planets aligned. I finally had to let go.
BLAC: What advice can you give someone seeking an interior designer?
AW: When you are searching for a designer and you find the right one, at some point you’re going to have to turn over the process and let them do their work.
ES: My advice is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’ve learned to stay in my lane through this process”. Friends of ours saw Loretta as she was leaving the house after our initial interview with her. When we told them she was our new interior decorator they said, “that little old black lady? oh hell no your house is going to look like grandma’s house.” Then after they saw our place they ended up hiring Loretta to design their homes. They apologized and expressed that they were not worthy. They dubbed her a new name,