Seeing Spaces

For internationally-renowned designer Kenneth Brown, the advantages of working with a community bank pay dividends at every turn

When Kenneth Brown was a kid growing up in Baton Rouge, his family didn’t have a lot of money. But he was fascinated with the homes of those who did. “When I was really young, I would beg my mom to take me to open houses up and down Highland Road,” he says. When they would get back to the car, Brown would sketch out the home’s floor plan from memory: a feat that his mother—keenly aware of her son’s struggles with dyslexia and dysgraphia—found hard to understand. “She would say ‘There’s no way that’s right,’ ” Brown recalls. “But then she’d go back in and it was right. I could walk through a house and remember a floor plan, and draw it out for you. I thought, ‘Doesn’t everybody do that?’ ”

Of course, everyone does not—can not—walk into a space and instinctively understand how to make it whole. These days Kenneth Brown’s peculiar talent puts him in a rarified class of designers who create homes for wealthy and sometimes famous clients all over the country. Graduating from LSU in 1995 with a degree in interior design, Brown moved to Los Angeles, where he built a reputation for creating exquisite, livable spaces that reflect the personalities of the people who call them “home.” He designed homes for stars including Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, and Kristen Bell, and hosted TV shows including the HGTV hit reDesign, which helped millions to recognize that good design was not something that was only available to the wealthy and exclusive.

Designer Kenneth Brown at his Baton Rouge studio
Designer Kenneth Brown at his Baton Rouge studio

While working in L.A. Brown discovered that his signature flair for blending warm Southern hospitality with clean, Southern California lines has currency in other places, too. So in 2011, ready to be closer to family and community, Brown moved back to Baton Rouge with his partner and two young children to slow down a bit. Ten years later, and on the back side of a global pandemic that inspired people everywhere to think differently about their homes and workspaces, Kenneth Brown Design has never been busier. From a light-filled office space in Baton Rouge’s Studio Park, Brown and his team of eight preside over residential and commercial projects taking shape all over the country—from Los Angeles, to Naples, FL, Highlands, NC, and Greenwich, CT. Closer to home—and closer to his heart, perhaps—are a series of bespoke residential projects taking shape along DuBois Drive in Baton Rouge’s University Acres neighborhood, including one recently completed for LSU women’s basketball coach, Kim Mulkey. For financing these and other Louisiana-based projects, Brown works with Bank of St. Francisville’s Douglas Dupont, Baton Rouge market president. Why? “Because Doug understands my value,” Brown says. “Doug is who I go to for my clients when they are trying to finance a project. This is a niche market where the price per square foot is …it’s not Baton Rouge. Doug works to create a product for construction loans that fits the projects. I tell him all the time, ‘My design’s only as good as you can finance it.’ “   

Building Inheritable Homes

In the rarified world of high-end design, it will come as no surprise to learn that a Kenneth Brown project does not come cheap. His clients, whether in Louisiana, North Carolina or Los Angeles, come to him because they want something unique—and permanent. While home and permanence are familiar concepts for most Louisianans, the relatively low price of land here can make a high value design project harder to justify. In the end, Brown notes, price per square foot still matters, no matter how much money you have. When building a home in Los Angeles, he explains, it wouldn’t be unusual for him work with a budget of $3,000/sq ft, because the high land value in a neighborhood like Beverly Hills means an owner is likely to recoup their investment when they sell. “But in Baton Rouge, the price per square foot: it’s hard to move that needle because there’s just too much land available,” he says. “Your land value never goes up because people can always go get more land. People want to say (and I blame HGTV for this so I may be part of the problem), ‘If I’m building a house, and I’m going to spend $500/sq ft to build it. Then I add in my land and my pool and my landscaping and I’m at $650, I want to be able to turn around and sell the day I’m done.’ Here, that’s not going to work! But that’s the mentality we’ve adopted. The truth is we want to build an inheritable home. You’ve got to think you’re going to sell that $650/sq ft home in 40 to 50 years, when your children are grown, and you may have passed away. You can’t be thinking, ‘I have to be able to immediately get my money out of it,’ because then what happens is, you compromise everything on your list to fit into a resale dollar… but then you don’t stay in that house that long because you compromised. So, when I hear people say, ‘Oh, I’m only going to spend so much per square foot,’ then I say ‘well, then I’m not the right person.’ I’m about really creating something unique, that you’re not going to want to sell. Because this is a house that has legs … that has importance to it.”

Value and Service
Douglas Dupont

Brown says that his choice to bank with Bank of St. Francisville comes down to two factors: value and service. “I go to Doug for construction loans every time because he understands my value,” Brown says. BSF’s Douglas Dupont agrees, explaining that sometimes, recognizing the intrinsic value of a complex project requires looking beyond traditional indicators like real estate comps and cost-per-square-foot. “Kenneth’s projects are complicated,” Dupont says. “Sometimes it can be hard to see the big picture, so we dig deep to find out what the needs are. When financing Kenneth’s projects we’re willing to extend credit, even if that means financing a larger portion of the total cost, because there’s trust there, and we’re very familiar with the quality of his product.”

Then there’s the service. “I like community banks,” Brown says. “I lived in L.A. and I’ve had the big, institutional banks and I hate punching in a number to talk to someone. But here, if I need to wire money to the U.K. for something that I found online and need to get right away, and I’m traveling and at the airport, I can call one person and say, ‘You know my account ending in XYZ…,’ and it’s done. That might sound small, but the efficiency of not having to go through this whole, complicated system, is huge to me. That relationship helps my business grow more efficiently. It’s a lesson learned about moving home that makes you say, ‘Wow, you don’t get this in the big city.’ ”

To learn more about how your bank can help finance a home construction or remodeling project, contact us to make an appointment

Further Reading