The Beauty of Korman Residential's Properties is Strictly by Design
Saturday, October 09, 2004 - The APTS
The first thing a visitor notices upon entering one of Korman Residential properties are the stunning visuals throughout the community. Creative, colorful landscaping permeate the immaculate and serene environment causing one to feel they are at a luxury vacation resort. The company has long been recognized for their aesthetic innovations and this year alone, seven of their sites won for Curb Appeal at the recent Apartment Association of Greater Philadelphia's "Best In Apartment Living Awards." One of the factors setting them apart is a desire to resist complacency and always search for new ways to make living at their communities a rewarding and memorable experience. To that end, Korman Residential is once again raising the bar by increasing capital improvements that will include not only exterior upgrades but also the model units that will provide high end luxury living at affordable prices. Though everything at the company is done through a cohesive team effort, the responsibilities for this ambitious program, combining both substance and style, reside with their Director of Design, Lisa Simmons.
Since joining the company in May of 2003, Lisa has been affecting virtually every visual aspect at all of the company's communities. From lighting, landscaping, signage and other exteriors to the refurbishing of the hallways and sample units, she has brought a new, fresh style to apartment living. "I think I have the same general approach to everything," she said on a recent morning. "I take a classic approach to contemporary comfortable living which translates into timeless designs. For Korman Residential, I try to achieve a lasting quality that is not easily dated. A lot of companies are using very trendy designs which do not stand the test of time. I am able to keep my designs current through the continuity of color and clean lines in restrained but elegant interiors."
Originally from Allentown, PA, her current position with Korman Residential ironically combines two facets of her family background. Her father, patriarch of one of the most prominent families in the Lehigh Valley, was a manufacturer of women's clothing and Lisa would follow him as he traveled to 7th Avenue in New York for business. It was during this period that influenced her to seek a career in fashion and she ultimately graduated from Philadelphia College of Textile with a degree in fashion merchandising. Interestingly, her father would also invest over the years in various apartment buildings in the area and with increasing success, it evolved into her brother forming what is now one of the most prestigious property management companies in Allentown. But it was Lisa's attraction for design that really was her focus, even at an early age.
"When I was little I had lots of massive dollhouses and they would take up the entire basement but instead of dressing up my dolls, I would rearrange the furniture," she laughed, amused at the memory. Working at various retail establishments such as Bloomingdale's during her academic years, she decided to embellish her education to include not only fashion but interior design, for which she received an associate's degree. Originally working for an interior design firm in Allentown, she gained an outstanding reputation and was encouraged to open her own company, using her unique and visually pleasing sense of style. Upon moving to Philadelphia a few years later and unfamiliar with the environment, she accepted a position with Meadowbank Designs, Inc on the Main Line, whose clientele were high end residential customers. "We designed interiors for many of the premier homes on the Main Line using a historical approach to contemporary living," she said.
"I have a very good friend who knows John Korman and he wanted to raise the bar on the company's properties and make them a little more high end," she said. "The main reason he hired me was that they wanted to be the best they could be, they wanted to continue to be the best in the business. So they wanted to bring in a high end residential person to make their furnished apartments have more presence and class. They wanted residents who stayed in those units to not just have a good experience but to have a memorable experience." From the beginning of her relationship with the company, it has been a rewarding experience for both.
"Lisa has been a wonderful addition to the Korman Residential team," said John P. Korman, CEO of Korman Residential Properties. "Her vision and design skills enable us to create living environments within which our residents can be proud. She brings her astute design sensibilities, which were developed through years of work on multi-million dollar homes, to our apartments and club facilities. Lisa is a gem."
Although her experience had been with high end residential homes, bringing her ideas to apartment living was not without some initial challenges. "When I was first hired, I was concerned because I was leaving a really good job," she said. "But, I really liked John and Jim and thought this could be something different, interesting and something of my own where I could create. In my former job, my creativity was not restrained by a tight budget whereas for Korman Residential I am continually challenged by the constraints of a budget. However, to my surprise, it has been a truly rewarding experience to know that I have created a finished product that looks as if I had a much larger budget than I actually had."
"The first thing I did was I started using paint colors on the walls, as previously they were simply white and monotone. That was one of the things when I was hired they wanted to change, they wanted color, ‘Give us some color', they said. I think what I have brought to the models is that when you first walk in they are very fresh, crisp and clean-looking. They are timeless and classic. You would never think that we were using rental furniture (which is entirely provided by American Furniture Rentals) but that is exactly what we have used."
From years of experience in design, Lisa has been able to transform the units at affordable prices. "Luckily I worked for a high end firm so I have a lot of sources for everything. That is another thing I have brought to Korman. I go wholesale for everything and have lots of resources from doing residential design. I am in essence a residential designer for multi family housing."
But, can the principles used in high end design be applied practically in apartment living? "Absolutely," she said, "When you are doing rental properties you want someone who walks into a Korman Residential furnished model apartment to see a fresh, cheerful and comfortable space. I try to create the feeling of ‘a breath of fresh air' when you enter a model apartment."
"My vision is much more clean and I have always been good with color and balance in my designs," she continued. Lisa defines balance as "The arrangement of objects to achieve a pleasing result. My vision for Korman is comfortable, functional and timeless interiors. I tend to not use a lot of accessories as there is usually a greater impact with less clutter, in essence, less is more if you know where to put the ‘oomph'."
Her first assignment was the model units at The Chalets at International City. After a complete redesign of the units, both the residents and the staff were impressed. "The feedback from the property manager was fantastic," she said excitedly. "I wanted to give it a classic look, clean lines on the furniture, nothing too curvy. The fabrics I use in the apartments are solids and plaids, I do not use any florals because it does not appeal to everyone. I no longer use muted colors at all. I use clear colors, ones that are not at all muddy. The apartments are warm but I wanted them to feel crisp. Where the residents are actually living I want them to feel very clean without being sterile." Whether by coincidence or not, occupancy increased at the site.
Recently, the refurbishing of the clubhouse at Meadowbrook Apartments was completed and it has been transformed into a warm and comfortable yet highly functional area that houses the new leasing office as well as many amenities for the residents. "We want people to have a place to hang out, have a cup of coffee, read the paper. My goal was to make it warm and inviting."
Korman Residential has been well known for providing outstanding furnished apartments and in fact won for Best Corporate Housing Marketing Package at the AAGP awards. "What is wonderful about renting at Korman Suites instead of a hotel is that, of course, it is a lot less expensive. But you can also have that same luxurious bedding, and the same pretty lamps and accessories on the tables. We want them to feel they are in a lovely room. You've got a beautiful luxurious suite, an alarm clock , a phone and a fax, a hook-up for a computer. It's supposed to feel like home and it does. Our slogans are "Welcome Home" and "Simple Pleasures". Part of that is the luxurious, fluffy bedding, having candles and feeling calm within your apartment, feeling like you are at home."
"One of the other things we have instituted since I have been here is in each apartment we now we give you shampoos, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, all in a little package and it's done really nice. It all says Korman Residential Properties and we put it in a really pretty bag with a big bow that says Korman."
Though interior design has been her forte, Lisa has become heavily involved in all visual aspects of the properties. She has used her ability to continue her theme of balance and color but has drawn heavily on the practical expertise of others in the company, most notably Korman Vice President, Abby DeFruscio. "I have learned so much from Abby and luckily for me he is truly amazing with an incredibly clear vision," she said admiringly. "I am able to see things visually but because of his many years in the business he is able to apply and combine that with the feasibility of its impact on site. We work extremely well together!" Said Abby, who has been with Korman for decades and is an icon in the industry, "The myriad of work Lisa has completed in just a short time has been truly exceptional. With her background and ability, it will keep our company far above all other apartment communities."
When meeting Lisa for the first time, it becomes immediately obvious by her presence that she is a woman of style, impeccably dressed, and able to express her ideas confidently in a sophisticated, soft voice. But it is her body of work thus far that provides the substance of her determination in helping Korman Residential maintain their standing as one of the best and most innovative property management companies in the region. Their combination, and the results, have truly been a thing of beauty.