Whether creating architectural masterpieces, designing inimitable interiors, or purveying exquisite sterling silver, John Portman, Dan Carithers and Beverly Bremer leave an unmistakable mark on Atlanta’s civic, residential and retail landscape
Fondly referred to as “Dapper Dan,” Dan Carithers was renowned for entertaining, and his layered, elegant interiors remain relevant today. “Dan wanted everything to be pretty, so his designs were classic and timeless,” says interior designer Judy Bentley, Carithers’ colleague for more than a decade.
After starting his career at venerable Rich’s Department Store, Carithers became known for his ability to educate clients about interior design, antiques and decorative arts while making the process accessible. “Dan loved to shop; it didn’t matter for what or where he was, he could pick out something fabulous and he made the process fun,” says Bentley.
Carithers was as astute at design and business as he was charming and gregarious. He traveled extensively, and his roving eye never failed to discover the most unusual and interesting objects that could transform an interior from attractive to showstopping. As a businessman, Carithers developed relationships with Baker and Sherrill long before interior designers began to focus on branding and licensing.
Unlike most designers who carefully guard both clients and sources, Carithers launched the next generation of many successful designers. Heather Dewberry, Will Huff, Lee Boren Kleinhelter, Betty Burgess, Margaret Kirkland and Caroline Willis are just a few of Atlanta’s current tastemakers who developed under the tutelage of Carithers. “Dan had confidence in himself, in his clients and in his designs, so he never felt in competition with his employees,” says Bentley. Instead, Carithers happily groomed them to assume their places in creating interiors for their contemporaries.
Simply put, Carithers had a passion for decorating, and only used “pretty things.” He enjoyed creating beautiful spaces for his clients as much as he relished doing it for his wife, Nancy, and their family. Creamware, brown-and-white checks, taupe-and-white stripes, upholstered headboards, skirted tables and white flowers were synonymous with Carithers Design. And, like the man himself, these elements remain high on a pedestal among the great classics.
From his open atrium concepts to his convictions on equality, John C. Portman, Jr. shattered conventional architectural concepts as he put the needs of residents first.
As a young architect starting out in the 1950s, Portman worked on commercial projects; however, it was his prior experience working at Davison’s department store that gave him great insight into merchandising. From that perspective, Portman understood that the way customers interacted was critical to their investment in the products and services sold within a space.
In a sequence of projects that would put Atlanta on the map as a destination for architecture and design, he developed the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center (ADAC) and AmericasMart Atlanta. “When he finished the Mart, he said that ‘Atlanta will be the next great international city,’” says Mickey Steinberg, one of the original architects and executives who remains a senior advisor to Portman Holdings.
Both the skyline and business changed when Portman developed Atlanta’s Peachtree Center. A multiuse complex comprised of office towers and the Hyatt, Westin, and Marriott hotels, Peachtree Center anchored downtown Atlanta. However, Portman’s reach was expansive and included significant developments such as the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, the Marriott Marquis at Times Square and the Shanghai and Beijing Centres.
As vastly impactful as Portman’s developments were, so too were his efforts in ensuring that they were accessible to everyone. “John always said that he was designing for the people; not for critics,” says Steinberg. In negotiating the Hyatt, Portman placed a condition on the property that it be integrated. When he learned that Jewish Atlantans had few options for large-scale entertaining, Portman built a kosher kitchen in the Westin Hotel. “When someone asked him why he was going to such lengths, John replied, ‘because it’s the right thing to do,’” says Steinberg.
With a commitment to the people who would use his projects, Portman changed cities around the globe. “John said that we should never impose a solution, but rather we should understand a problem and expose an answer,” says Steinberg. In doing so, John Portman remained dedicated to architecture, to Atlanta and to the people of the city he loved.
Beverly Bremer was as resilient and strong as the sterling silver she sold from her eponymous shop on Peachtree Road. As a single mother of three children with no child support or alimony, Bremer was horrified when a pawnshop owner offered to melt down her sterling silver flatware in exchange for cash. She realized that selling her flatware to someone who would use it was a far more palatable idea. In that stroke of genius, Beverly Bremer became the nation’s most renowned dealer of sterling silver flatware, hollowware and gifts.
After selling three days every week at a Buckhead market, Beverly generated enough business to open a retail shop in Buckhead. She had gleaned valuable business skills while previously working at Rich’s Department Store, where Dick Rich taught her that the customer is always right; to find niche markets; and to stay in touch with her clients. “Beverly was enormously astute in recognizing the needs of her clientele, and she was tenacious in delivering the best pieces and the best service to them,” says Mimi Bremer, Beverly’s daughter and the president of the company.
As brilliant as Bremer was at communicating with her existing clients in Atlanta, she was incredibly savvy at creating new customers. Her 2-inch square ad in the back of The New Yorker magazine proclaiming “Missing a Piece of Your Pattern” launched her business to a national clientele. “She built this business one client at a time with incredible attention to each person,” says Mimi.
Forty years later and in the same location, Beverly Bremer Silver Shop is a testimony to Beverly’s shrewd business skills and commitment to quality. “We promote everyday elegance with sterling silver, and we want people to enjoy and use their sterling pieces,” says Mimi. Additional evidence of the strength of the company is in the longevity of the employees; most have been with the company for more than 20 years. “I’m very grateful to be part of this amazing business that my mother started with her beautiful sterling silver,” says Mimi.