Nancy Rankin is a long-time Louisville designer and wildly successful businesswoman. While her name and her companies — Essential Details, Blooms Boutique, Huber Décor and Idea Source — are well-known and show the breadth of her skills, talent and expertise, it’s the work she’s accomplished via the latter two businesses that you’ve likely enjoyed without realizing it — both in Louisville and beyond.
Nancy’s teams at Huber Décor and Idea Source are the creative masterminds behind the fabulous designs of some of the region’s most popular restaurants, including Chicken Salad Chick, Another Broken Egg Cafe, Bad Daddy Burgers, and more! We caught up with Nancy and her art director, Gretchen Burcham, to learn more about their recent projects, upcoming work, biggest challenges and the secret to their success.
StyleBlueprint: What was your main focus when you first started Huber Décor?
Nancy Rankin: We started primarily doing artwork and artificial plants for restaurants. KFC was our first big customer when I started in 1990, and through the years we’ve expanded our services.
SB: You later created Idea Source. What’s the difference between these two businesses and the work provided by each?
NR: About 10 years ago, we started Idea Source, a company that provides full-service interior design, project management and procurement for a variety of industries.
Our original company, Huber Décor, provides things like artwork, artificial plants, artifacts, and branded signage. The dividing line between the two is one is service-based, while the other is product-based.
SB: One of your clients is SuperChef’s, an eatery by award-winning chef Darnell Ferguson. He recently opened a new location in Tuscumbia with your help. Tell us about that project.
NR: The SuperChef’s in Tuscumbia went into a 100-year-old building, so we have the amazing brick walls, high ceilings, a courtyard and all the great things you would find in a historic building. We created an interesting new bar with diagonal wood patterns utilizing both gloss and matte paint to create a unique design. We added industrial lighting, and we created in-house one-of-a-kind artwork. We applied specially formulated graphics directly to the brick wall using a heat process that picks up the undulation of the brick to give the impression of it being painted on the wall.
Gretchen Burcham: We did a lot of superhero-type artwork to align with their brand. We did some deconstructed faces of superheroes on plexiglass and mounted them over each booth. There are two sides to this restaurant. The restaurant side is superhero-themed, while the bar side focuses on villains and is called the ‘Villain Bar.’ The artwork focus of the bar is a huge mural that incorporates Darnell’s favorite villains and also important landmarks and icons from Tuscumbia and surrounding areas.
SB: So Chicken Salad Chick is expanding, and you are a part of that expansion. Tell us about that.
NR: Chicken Salad Chick is really near and dear to our hearts. We actually work directly with the founder, Stacy Brown. Early on in their history, Stacy did all the décor herself, and as Chicken Salad Chick grew and was expanding, she really was not sure how she was going to be able to handle decor along with all of the other responsibilities. Through a coincidental meeting with Stacy, we were able to share how we could be of service. Our team lays out all of their décor in AutoCAD for approval by their corporate office.
They use landmark photos in each of the restaurants, which are iconic black and white photos of the area they’re going into to give it that localized feeling. Sometimes the franchisees provide their own photographer to take their photos, and sometimes we handle that for them. We also do all of the custom framing for them.
There are multiple branding items that go in every location like a 5-foot diameter Chicken Salad Chick logo. There’s a life-size, full body of the chick pointing to a 5-foot framed piece that tells the story of how the business started in Stacy’s kitchen. We also provide their custom tablecloths and additional decor items.
SB: You also recently helped Another Broken Egg rebrand, that must have been fun!. What are some of your details from that project?
NR: We have worked with them for about 10 years. We are both their décor provider and interior designers. So for their new prototype, the first of which were built in Sugarland, Texas, and in Auburn, Alabama, we specified all of the finishes — the flooring, the wallpaper, the bar finish, all of the furniture … chairs, tables, booth fabrics, decor, etc. The new prototype has received accolades from Another Broken Egg guests and throughout the industry.
SB: So is it easier to start fresh or to retrofit an existing restaurant?
NR: It really kind of depends. Sometimes, because the real estate market is so tight these days, a lot of people are going into buildings that might not be their first choice, but they’re trying to get the real estate at a price they can afford. Sometimes it’s getting your seat count the way it needs to be or making sure your kitchen is what it needs to be. Obviously, most of that initial work is architectural. A lot of times we will help a client with the architect. For instance, with SuperChef’s, they had us go look at a (different) building in Alabama before they ever got really serious about whether or not they were going to pursue purchasing it or not.
SB: Describe one of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered in your restaurant work. How did you overcome that?
NR: Timing is always a challenge for projects that we install. Because we are one of the last trades in before turnover, it is right down to the wire and coordination can be tough. We have to have the assurance that walls will be painted, woodwork sealed (and) flooring is able to be walked on. Because of the volume of work we do — booking travel, juggling other projects and a thousand other details — it can get a little crazy. Fortunately, we have great communication among our team, do a lot of cross-training and remain as flexible as possible when circumstances change. The workload in the design studio can also be challenging when projects overlap, scopes change, and deadlines are tight. Again, we communicate a lot and have multiple designers working on each project so that we can adjust as needed, and our team is fantastic about jumping in and helping each other. I just can’t say enough about the amazing people who share their time, talents, and great attitudes to make our company what it is.
SB: Any exciting projects coming up?
NR: Yes! In addition to an already busy fall and winter, we have two complete redesign concepts we will begin work on soon. Both are in the casual/quick category and both offer high-quality, chef-created menus with unique food in a casual, comfortable setting. These projects are especially exciting because we have worked with the management teams of both in different capacities over the years. They are innovative and place high importance on the design of the restaurant to build their new brands and convey the right message to their guests. Our whole team is anxious to get rolling with the process.
SB: Which project are you most proud of?
NR: I honestly can’t choose just one. I would say I am most proud of the overall body of work we have done in my 29 years with our companies. There are lots of awesome projects out there, but to consistently deliver great products and quality design over the years is a matter of pride with our company. Building relationships with clients and having them come back time and again for products and service and also “take up with them” when they move to new companies is a testament to our work. It also makes me proud that as a group we are constantly evolving, learning, and growing as a company and as individuals. This keeps us fresh and relevant.
This article is sponsored by Blooms Boutique.