Rene’ J. L Fransen is the founder and senior designer of Fransen Mills. He graduated in 1977 with a degree in Landscape Architecture from Louisiana State University, and is an expert horticulturist. He has over forty years in the field of landscape architecture, and holds a fellowship with the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Rene’ has been active in the preservation of arts and culture in New Orleans for many years. He’s served as a board member and President of Save Our Cemeteries, President and board member of Longue Vue House and Gardens, board member of French Quarter Citizens, board member and Vice President of Membership for Friends of the Cabildo, site committee member for the Louisiana Nature and Science Center, steering committee member for Summer Lyric Theater, Trustee of the New Orleans Botanical Garden Foundation, President of the Board of Trustees for the Louisiana Landmarks Society, member of the Livability Committee of the French Quarter Management District, member of the State of Louisiana Landscape Architectural Selection Board, and an advisor to the Robert S. Reich School of Landscape Architecture at LSU.
Rene’s interest in horticulture began in his early childhood, when he lived on Gentilly Boulevard near Dillard University. He shadowed his neighbor in the garden, and frequently visited E. A Farley, the Gentilly Boulevard florist. E. A Farley was one of the largest florists in the South, famous for their orchid nursery and Christmas display and show. Rene’ visited frequently, and when he was five years old, Rene’ was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He responded, “a horticulturist”! By the time he was ten, he expanded his interest to the architecture and design of Louisiana plantation houses, sketching their floor plans in his spare time.
He planned to study architecture at Louisiana State University, and at that time, the architecture and landscape architecture shared their introductory design class, and by the time he had completed the first year, he had found a way to combine his two loves; architectural design and horticulture blended into a love for landscape architecture. In college, he worked as a teaching assistant to the founder of LSU’s landscape architecture department, Dr. Robert S. Reich. He also worked for Dr. Reich’s firm during his senior year at LSU. Because of Rene’s extensive knowledge of plant material, he also served as Dr. Neil Odenwald’s teaching assistant. He taught a section of plant identification to graduate students even thought he was just earning his Bachelor of Landscape Architecture. This course required them to learn the Latin and common names of two hundred plants that they identified by sight. After graduating from college in 1977, Rene’ worked for Cashio Cochran, the largest landscape architectural firm in Louisiana, for two and a half years. While there, he worked on public projects such as the Audubon Zoo and Louis Armstrong Park in the City of New Orleans. In June of 1980, he started his own firm and ran it for forty years.
Rene’s work is distinctive; those who are familiar with his portfolio instantly see his signature on any design he creates. His designs are welcoming and practical, complementing the architecture of the house seamlessly. They are also whimsical and fantastic, incorporating garden rooms and hidden nooks to maximize space and create a flow that incorporates the client’s lifestyle into the design of their outdoor areas.
Rene’s true passion is residential design, from large estates to small French Quarter courtyards. He has also provided design for hotel and event spaces to office buildings. He even created the landscape plan for the expansion of Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera when he was thirty. This required him to learn the Mediterranean plant palette and the effects of the mistral winds on the environment. Rene’ now has projects spanning from Wisconsin to the Bahamas, from Florida to the Texas Hill Country. He has served as a guest lecturer for the Longue Vue Symposium, the Texas chapter of the Garden Clubs of America, the Brazos Forum and many other organizations. He was the first landscape architect selected by the National Pool and Spa Institute to judge its design competition in 2003. Rene’ also garnered the ASLA Honor Award for the design of the grounds of a Richardsonian Romanesque mansion on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans and for a 2000-acre estate in Mississippi where 10 acres were intensively developed adjacent to the residence. HGTV featured an 1850’s Gothic Revival villa and its grounds, landscaped by Fransen’s team, in its Homes Across America series. The firm’s work is also frequently featured on garden tours in the New Orleans area, as is René’s own courtyard, which was also featured in Secret Gardens of the Vieux Carré.
In the fall of 2005, René was inducted as a fellow of the American Association of Landscape Architects for the body of his works. In July 2009, his work was once again featured in Architectural Digest. The firm’s work has also been featured in numerous publications beginning in 1981 and continuing to the present time.