Like a movie star first spotted on the street in plainclothes, East Hampton-based interior designer Debra Geller was discovered. While working in retail in Boston more than two decades ago, Geller was making some extra bucks as an artist on the side. She was presenting her work at a trade show at the Bayside Expo Center (Boston’s equivalent of the Jacob Javits Center) when the man in the booth next door came over to say he loved her work. He ran a hand painted wall covering company and said she simply must come to New York and be his head designer.
Not long after, she picked up her art supplies and relocated to New York to work in the hand painted wall covering/fabric, and furniture business, designing for the likes of Kravet, Carousel, and Donna Karan, and traveling to Hungary to study different forms of substrate. (For us non-experts, that’s the type of paper wall covering is designed on.) The rest is history, as they say. Geller now heads her own interior design firm which specializes in interior and construction design for everything from luxury private homes to spec houses and commercial spaces. She works on projects from the ground up, starting with infrastructure with draftsmen and architects, and brings them all the way through the landscaping to the furnishings and minute details inside.
Included in her recent work is the exterior of the Water Mill Building Supply, along with its showroom. And though she’s based here in the Hamptons, Geller takes jobs all over the country and is currently designing a house in Florida and another in Utah. “Anywhere there’s a good project, I will go,” Geller says.
What defines a good project for Geller? It’s anything that challenges her to bring out a new level of creativity, for both her and her clients. “I like to have a project where I can push my client’s comfort level, where they step out of their box and they say, ‘you know what? I’m going to try this,’” she notes. “When people step outside their comfort zone and they do something a little daring, it makes them feel accomplished.”
If this doesn’t keep her busy enough, Geller also finds time to travel to trade shows around the world to collect ideas for her work. She’s also on the board for the Hamptons Holiday House, an annual event showcasing interior designers to raise money for breast cancer research. But despite all this exposure, Geller says her true inspiration is her clients. “When I sit and talk to my clients, I ask them questions about their travels, their work, their children or family, their home, and I look around and get inspired by them, something they’ve done or something they love in their home,” she explains.
Similarly, her favorite part of her job is the end of a project when she watches the looks on her clients’ faces, even builders of spec houses, when they see what she created for them. For example, she has a client who loves wine, so she masterminded an intricate wine cellar and then she followed it up with a crystal wine decanter as a holiday gift. However, this particular client is not a huge fan of the sun, so the project also called for a shaded porch outfitted with a TV, LED lights, speakers and other tech, which could all be operated from a single remote control.
“Being an interior designer is a very intimate job,” she says. “I’m very much connected to my clients on a personal level and I make sure their home is everything they wanted it to be.”
It’s a complicated profession too, between the organization that goes into working with various contractors and dealing with town permits and restrictions. But figuring out how to work around the regulations to give her clients what they asked for is just another fun challenge for Geller.
“And then of course living in the Hamptons, I’m always inspired by the light and the beauty and the nature that surrounds me,” — she’s an artist at heart, after all. Geller has found that the magnificence of the Hamptons is famous the world over. It’s one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world, so its sales market draws from both domestic and international buyers, adding to the area’s romantic feel.
“When I travel anywhere people are like, ‘oh my god, you live in the Hamptons?’” she says. “People think it’s magical here and it is — the beaches, topography, wineries, horses. It’s a dreamland.”