LEARN ABOUT OUR TEAM
Benjamin Johnston and his talented team of professionals work to bring tremendous knowledge and experience to designing extraordinary spaces of all styles and scales. Learn more about each of them and how they bring their experience and diverse global perspectives to each and every project.
BENJAMIN JOHNSTON, Partner & Creative Director
Benjamin Johnston Design, LLC is the culmination of Ben Johnston’s international design practice and lifestyle brand. Ben has dedicated his life to the pursuit of artistic expression as a designer, artist, teacher, and tastemaker, all with the focus of bringing beauty to the world around him and enabling others to do the same.
Following his graduation from St. John’s School, Ben earned his Bachelors of Architecture from Texas A&M University and his Masters of Architecture from University of Texas at Austin. During that time, he studied design philosophy and classical painting in Italy and traveled extensively through Europe, Northern Africa, and Japan. Ben was honored to be the first American selected for a design residency with the prestigious firm, Cesar Pelli & Associates –Tokyo. Upon returning to Houston, he launched his first architecture, furniture, and graphic design business. Ben also served as a Professor of Interior Design at Houston Community College for six years, building its reputation as one of the most highly-regarded design programs in the city. Later, Ben launched a business exclusively focused on interior design, allowing him to follow his passion for bringing extraordinary design to life. He has won numerous design awards for this work and expanded his talented team. Ben shares his knowledge with the world through television appearances, international shelter magazines, and as an invited speaker.
ERICH PLOOG, Partner & Managing Director
Erich Ploog is responsible for the direction of all back office operations of Benjamin Johnston Design, LLC including accounting, procurement and human resources. He brings a wealth of business process, operational excellence and organizational change management experience to the team.
Erich is a native Iowan and moved to Texas for college where he obtained his Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) from the University of Houston and his Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Texas at Austin. He has had a long and successful career in management consulting for such firms as Accenture and IBM, where he advised numerous Fortune 100 companies during strategic and operational transformations.
Today, Erich runs his own private management consulting practice, Changement Partners LLC, as well as running operations for both Benjamin Johnston Design and Benjamin Johnston's Chairish store. As with everything Erich does, he strives to make the experience for clients efficient and enjoyable.
PAOLA NERI, Designer
Paola Neri is a designer who seeks to create beauty in the world, drawing inspiration from many different artistic pursuits and expressions. Growing up in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Paola originally trained to be a dancer, as it was her first love and earliest exposure to the arts. In later years, she branched out and began developing her skill in oil painting and design. These interests ultimately led her to pursue a Bachelors Degree of Architecture from the Universidad Privada Boliviana. After graduating, Paola began living and working in design and construction administration through several hospitality projects in her hometown. Realizing that this was her professional calling, Paola decided to move to Italy to pursue a Masters Degree in Interior Design at the Florence Institute of International Design, graduating in 2012.
Since moving to Houston in 2013, Paola acquired a deeper understanding about furniture design and how it can shape the way in which we live. In 2017, Paola has brought her passion for design and her detail oriented prowess to Benjamin Johnston Design, LLC, where she continues to assist clients in creating inspired spaces to call home. Se habla Español.
RAJANI ALVARADO, Designer
Since obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Design from Texas Tech University in 2014, Rajani’s experiences in the interior design industry have only increased her passion for creating designs that function equally to their beauty. Rajani grew up right here in Texas, but her rich cultural background both in Mexico and Texas have given her a great appreciation of history, textures, finishes, and colors across a broad spectrum of design styles. Her bilingual upbringing has allowed Rajani to connect with our Latin American clients and collaborators all over North America.
Rajani began as a Design Assistant at Benjamin Johnston Design, LLC in 2017 and quickly ascended to the role of Designer due to her passion and hard work. Rajani is the lead on numerous projects and oversees everything from extensive remodels to ground-up construction. Her desire to create meaningful beauty is only matched by her drive to ensure the complete satisfaction of her clients. Se habla Español.
CARMEN CASTILLO BECHTER, Designer
Carmen brings a strong background in creative leadership and project management to the team at Benjamin Johnston Design, LLC. Originally from Tampa, Carmen has extensive construction and remodeling experience from growing up in her family of custom home builders. With a prior career as a licensed lawyer in both Florida and Texas, Carmen’s understanding of the technical and detailed needs of her clients and collaborators is esstential to a creative projects’ successful outcome. Her expertise spans from creating and coordinating all facets of design to partnering with clients and architectural, construction, and development teams.
After graduating from University of Florida with a Finance degree and South Texas College Law with a Juris Doctorate, Carmen furthered her studies at Rice University by concentrating on her passions for art, architecture, design and green building practices. Carmen’s passion for beautiful and functional design has taken her to work on internationally published projects as far away as Tel Aviv, Israel. Carmen believes that beautiful and well-designed interiors have the ability to positively change and enhance the lives of the people that inhabit them.
Se habla Español.
MADELON DEVANEY, Design Assistant
Infused with the spirit of the American West and a design aesthetic that blends beauty and purpose, Madelon is the newest addition to the firm. She graduated with a Bachelors in Interior Design from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama as well as a Masters in Production Design from the Savannah College of Art and Design. The combination of interior design and production design has crafted a unique perspective on the practice of both: namely that design has the power to impact the ambiance and emotions that one feels when experiencing a space in a number of ways.
Originally from Boise, Idaho, Madelon’s passion for beautiful design has taken her to five continents and worked on projects in cities such Hong Kong and Tena, Ecuador. She has a passion for solving design issues by transforming the space to communicates a well thought out narrative. She is new to Houston but has realized the amazing potential the city holds and is excited to explore the truly international city.
PAYTON BURGOS, Design Assistant
Motivated by an innate calling to make a difference in the world, Payton Burgos chose interior design to bring inspired beauty into the lives of those with whom she works. Recognizing that beauty can be a catalyst for positive personal and collective transformation, Payton utilizes her passion for world travel and the education from which those experiences have helped her to hone her keen design aesthetic. She implements a nuanced stimulation of color, light, texture, and architectural elements in her projects to create an environment that is stylish while remaining relevant and functional for the space's intended use.
As an accredited interior designer and graduate from the prestigious architectural and design college at the University of Nebraska, Payton furthered her studies of interior design in London and New York before returning to her hometown of Houston.
CLAIRE HORRIGAN, Purchasing Agent
Claire Horrigan ensures that all client orders are placed correctly with our vendors and managed closely while they are being manufactured, transported, received and inspected. Claire is managing hundreds of orders from across the world for our projects to ensure that our client expectations are not only met, but exceeded.
Prior to joining our team, this Denver-native moved to Boston to attend Boston College, where she graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Economics. While at school, Claire had the opportunity to study and live in Spain at the Catholic University of Cordoba, allowing her to become fluent in Spanish. Se habla Español.
SYDNEY SHAW, Purchasing Agent
Alongside Claire, Sydney Shaw ensures that all client orders are placed correctly with our vendors and managed closely while they are being manufactured, transported, received and inspected.
A native of Winston-Salem, Claire grew up in the interior design industry in North Carolina. After attending the University of N.C. at Chapel Hill, Sydney began working for another design firm before finding her way to us! We are so excited to have her expertise and passion for design.
CHRIS JOHNSTON, Accounting Manager
Chris Johnston is responsible for all day-to-day accounting activities for the firm including accounts payable, accounts receivable and financial reporting. He ensures that all financial transactions between the firm and our clients and vendors are handled with the utmost care and professionalism. He is in no way related to Benjamin Johnston, but Ben says that he definitely wouldn't mind if he were!
A native Bostonian, Chris went to the University of Rhode Island and graduated in 2017 with an Economics Degree. He immediately began working for a private wealth management firm, before finding his way to Designer Advantage. Shortly thereafter, Chris has risen up the ranks to become an Account Manager, at which point he began working with Benjamin Johnston Design. We are thrilled to have his expertise guiding us forward!
JAMES ULLMANN, Purchasing Manager
James Ullman oversees all purchasing efforts for the firm, working with our worldwide network of vendors to bring the most unique assortment of products to our clients.
Originally from Connecticut, James moved to Boston in 2013 and has been working in this specialized capacity within the design industry ever since. Always a team player, this former college football player graduated from University of Connecticut. James leads our fantastic team of purchasing agents: Claire Horrigan and Sydney Shaw.