Traditional meets urban as Designbar’s Monika Nessbach teams with Richmond interior designer Gary Inman.
by Cathy Martin • photographs by Peter Taylor
You might not know Monika Nessbach by name, but chances are you’ve noticed her innovative design work at restaurants and other spaces across Charlotte. As founder and principal of Designbar, a commercial interior design firm, Nessbach’s roster of local clients includes Cantina 1511, Dilworth Tasting Room, Charlotte Motor Speedway and, recently, The Vintage Whiskey & Cigar Bar in Dilworth. Her designs are bold and contemporary, with a bit of an urban edge.
Interior designer Gary Inman’s aesthetic is rooted in tradition, with clients ranging from luxury hotels and resorts to historic landmarks to private homes and estates. Over the years, Inman’s hospitality clients have included The Washington Duke Inn in Durham, Pinehurst Resort, the Vanderbilt family’s Elm Court estate in Stockbridge, Mass., and, locally, the Dunhill Hotel in uptown Charlotte.
The designing duo might seem like unlikely partners, but a friendship that started more than a decade ago led to a mutual respect and admiration for one another’s work — and now, a collaboration. The designers are teaming up to offer their design services, including both commercial and high-end residential design, in Charlotte and beyond.
For Inman, who is based in Richmond, Va., and will spend the next year as designer in residence at High Point University, the partnership will take him back to his roots in residential design. While he has always maintained his personal practice during his 30-year career, Inman’s work with larger design and architecture firms frequently led to more commercial projects. He was designing boutique hotels as vice president of hospitality at Richmond-based Baskervill, one of the oldest U.S. architectural firms, when Covid hit, prompting Inman to focus more on his independent practice.
The designers met in High Point after Nessbach attended a lecture given by Inman on hospitality design. A small circle of designers formed a “High Point family,” Inman says, frequently gathering socially during the biannual market.
Nessbach, a native of Germany, moved to the U.S. in 1999, earned her MBA at Pfeiffer University and spent 14 years in the corporate world, with roles in account management and pricing and inventory management.
“Halfway through my career, I realized my passion was somewhere different,” Nessbach says. Over the course of six to seven years, she took night classes to learn commercial design, muddling through the dizzying array of restrictions and codes involved in the work. “Because I jumped in from the side, I definitely had a steep learning curve,” Nessbach says. She launched Designbar in 2009, leaping into the business full time in 2014. The firm now has clients in five states.
The new creative alliance will allow each of the designers to expand the scope of their work, with Inman returning to the residential projects he loves and Nessbach branching out into more residential design and, possibly, hotels, an industry where Inman has already begun to see an uptick going into the second half of 2021.
“My goal for this year was to get more into multifamily [design],” Nessbach says, “but my dream client would absolutely be a boutique hotel. I like to tell a story with the design that we do. I feel like a small boutique hotel has all the opportunities to tell a story.” Meanwhile, Nessbach’s team in Charlotte will support Inman with local residential projects.
While their aesthetics are quite different, the designers say they complement each other and share a similar tenacity and work ethic.
“We’re cut from the same fabric,” Inman says. “[Nessbach is] really a person who trusts her own instincts. It’s unexpected, it’s very experiential,” Inman says of her work. “I love her energy and her focus … if she sets her mind to something she’s going to make it happen.
“Together we make a stronger team.” SP