February 12, 2021
Here are the top talents who always elevate the country's style game.
Designer Taniya Nayak says spaces don’t need to be overly designed—homeowners should let time dictate the best use of rooms.
Superstar designer Taniya Nayak has a simple reminder about elegance and our varied interior spaces. “How you begin your day—and how you end it—always starts with home,” says Boston-based Nayak, who has served as host and designer for a range of HGTV hits, including Designed to Sell, Billion Dollar Block and House Hunters on Vacation. “It’s so important to me to create an environment that relieves stress based on [a room’s] functionality and aesthetic. My influence is who I’m designing for. What are their goals for how they live, entertain, relax, work and play?” The India-born Nayak continues to wow clients and her legion of fans with an inimitable style that embodies light and texture while ensuring every room is, above all, livable.
A sleek reading nook
“Sometimes you don’t have to overdesign every single space,” she says. “Allow homeowners to live in it, breathe it and let time dictate the best use of certain areas that may not have a clear identity yet.” If the past year of quarantined clients has taught the designer anything, it’s a new focus on multifaceted zones that lend themselves to work, exercise, relaxation and entertaining. “I’m also seeing a lot more attention focused on outdoor spaces, utilizing garages for other purposes like at-home gyms,” she says. “Open kitchens are here to stay, and meditation rooms are taking over large closets.” Light, fresh color palettes and adding texture through dynamic accessories are trends Nayak actively embraces. She also espouses a doctrine that defines our times and our homes: “We’re all embracing what we have and making the most of it,” she says—often in the most beautifully creative ways every moment of the day.
Thinking ahead is part of a designer’s unlimited—and required—arsenal. For Dee Elms, it’s about looking beyond our sequestered days and nights. Her crystal ball says we’ll collectively be ready to host memorable soirees like no other. “People will be excited to entertain again,” the Boston designer says. “Even though we’re hunkered down now, I have clients who are thinking about guest rooms and spaces where they will host dinners, parties and company. Doesn’t that sound amazing?” Her abiding notion of design is to create gorgeous spaces that streamline and enhance the way we live. “I’m artistic, but I’m also pretty grounded.
Elms makes this gray-hued living room shine with pops of colors and textures.
Whether I’m creating a tranquil oasis or an entertaining vibe, every space reveals something about the client’s personality and style,” she says. “The aesthetic is always informed by my clients, and my job is to get to know what they value and what will excite them. From there, we start with space planning, collecting fabrics, sharing layouts and color schemes—the furnishings and details that will make it amazing.” For clients who might seek a formula for design, Elms is quick to point out there isn’t one. Instead, she approaches each project with an open mind and her creativity revved into overdrive. “Right now, I have two clients who love green—a color I’ve never been a fan of—but I’m finding ways to make it work and I’m having fun with it. I always have an opinion, but I try to stay curious. Every project teaches us something new.” And every room Elms touches becomes something to treasure.
The Atlanta-based designer
Melanie Turner believes that living a beautiful life starts by surrounding yourself with beauty. And the Atlanta-based design doyenne delivers that for her clients in spades, dreaming up sophisticated, unassuming spaces that are inspired by fashion and borrow their palette from nature. Raised in Florida by a “Pucci-wearing fashionista mom and a renaissance dad,” Turner says she adopted an appreciation for a wide range of styles and cultures from a young age. This worldview—combined with her passion for globe-trotting and antique hunting—allows her to masterfully blend traditional and modern into her interiors, resulting in rooms that are unexpected yet timeless.
An elegant dining room showcases Melanie Turner’s signature sophisticated style
“First and foremost, we are thoughtful designers,” says Turner of her 13-person team, which has won over 30 awards from the American Society of Interior Designers and whose work has graced the pages of magazines galore. “We have a fresh look that is personal and speaks to [our clients],” she adds. “We have an eye for art and curating accessories that sets us apart from other firms.” The designer has been recognized three times as Atlanta Decorative Arts Center’s Southeast residential designer of the year and has put her signature stamp on projects spanning North America—from Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, Auberge Resorts Collection in Cabo San Lucas to Yellowstone Club in Big Sky (where she also recently opened retail store Melanie Turner Home + Interiors). Next up, in March, Turner celebrates the launch of her first book, Inviting Interiors: A Fresh Take on Beautiful Rooms (Rizzoli), proving this creative powerhouse is just getting started.
Michel Smith Boyd
Based in Atlanta, “where music resides,” interior designer Michel Smith Boyd says his firm counts multiple chart-topping artists as clients
Call it the “Michel touch”—everything interior designer Michel Smith Boyd does seems to turn to gold. The fashion-forward founder and creative director of Atlanta-based SmithBoyd Interiors has made a name for himself on hit Bravo series Buying It Blind and by regularly landing a spot on the Black Interior Designers Network’s list of top 20 African American designers in the country. Sumptuous, masculine-meets-feminine style and a soulful vibe are signatures of his design ethos, as well as a commitment to creating spaces his clients will delight in calling home (just ask Atlanta hip-hop stars Usher, Rick Ross, Ne-Yo and Jeezy, all of whom have worked with Boyd).
A bedroom decked out in luxurious fabrics and rich tones reveals Boyd’s lavish approach to design.
“Our goal is always to deliver modern classics,” Boyd says of his eight-person boutique firm, which he started as a one-man operation in 2006. “I’ll always be a student of design history as much as on the cusp of what’s next.” In addition to his “unapologetically luxurious” residential and commercial projects, he has also expanded his portfolio to include bespoke collections of rugs, artisan case goods, bold paintings and, most recently, home fragrances. Now, with the launch of his fourth rug collection with Z Gallerie and the star t of filming a new television project (both slated for this spring), Boyd continues to work his magic—and we can’t wait to see what will spark his creativity next.
Oliver M. Furth
Oliver M. Furth at the Hollywood Hills home of actor Clark Duke
Upon meeting L.A. native Oliver M. Furth, you’re at once struck by his warm demeanor and his tailored-with-a-twist aesthetic. Yes, he’s wearing a perfectly ironed button-down that would be at home at the most formal business lunch, but the cut of the cardigan or the silhouette of the sneaker is somehow surprising and interesting. Furth applies that same sensibility to his designs. “There’s a modernity to our work, even when the vibe is more layered or rooted in traditionalism,” he says. “Most of our projects these days are in California, but no matter where I work, it often falls into a new California look—a level of confidence and ease with lifestyle being at the forefront.” Furth started his career at age 16 interning for Marc Appleton before eventually working for a variety of designers, including Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Trip Haenisch and Michael Smith.
Yakira Rona artwork, an Armani/Casa sofa and Milo Baughman chairs mingle at a Bird Streets residence designed by Furth.
He started his own firm in 2005. “While I had a decade of professional experience at the time, I still had a lot of growing up to do,” Furth says. “My work has really matured, as have I.” Even so, his layered interiors—always sophisticated, balanced and confident—possess a playful touch here and there, in the form of a colorful Ettore Sottsass bookshelf or a jaunty surfboard propped against the wall. “In many ways, my work is akin to conducting an orchestra,” says the designer, who is currently working on projects nationwide and his first monograph that will be published by Rizzoli in 2022. “I get to collaborate with artists and makers, talented builders and craftspeople all working toward the same common goal: a beautiful home for a family to enjoy.”
Appreciating beauty—regardless of medium—has been a constant for San Francisco-based Nicole Hollis. “I’ve always gravitated toward art and design,” explains the designer, who studied interior design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology at night while working at an architecture firm by day. “Real-life experience was the best education,” she says. Known for her quietly elegant interiors, Hollis looks to a variety of things for design inspiration. “I see patterns and forms in nature that can inspire a color palette,” she says. “Visiting museums and art galleries as well as historical buildings, houses and gardens always inspires my projects. The [Guggenheim’s] curved gallery and the way the light and shadows from the atrium skylight would change throughout the day profoundly reinforced the idea that a white room is never just white,” says the designer, who released NICOLEHOLLIS: Curated Interiors (Rizzoli) last fall.
A dining room in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood stars a Bec Brittain pendant light, Hans Wegner chairs and a custom dining table by Hollis.
Similarly, Hollis’ projects also leave an impression, including her own Pacific Heights home—formerly owned by architect Julia Morgan—which received plenty of attention for its dramatic all-black exterior. But drama for Hollis is the opposite of excess. It instead relies on her less-is-more approach. Regardless, she’s open to trying new things. “My design is focused on a modern lifestyle, but every once in a while a client comes to me asking for a ‘Moroccaninspired house’ and I go into the deep dive!” Currently, she’s at work on Kona Village, A Rosewood Resort. “Drawing from the natural elements of Hawaii, the cultural history of its people and the holistic approach to hospitality is exciting,” she says. “Creating something that people can see and experience for themselves is very rewarding.”
She may be a native of Rome, but after 30-plus years in the Windy City, interior designer Alessandra Branca is as Chicago as they get—and the city’s design aficionados are fiercely proud to call her their own. You can hardly blame them: With her riotously colorful, whimsical yet utterly classic aesthetic, Branca is one of those rare talents whose work never fails to surprise and delight.
Interiors by Alessandra Branca grace the private residences at The Dunmore resort on Harbour Island in the Bahamas.
“Hard work and sticktoitiveness” are the secrets to her success, she says, and those traits are on vivid display with her always-overflowing slate of projects, including elegant home designs all over the world, personally overseen from her offices in Chicago, L.A. and, now, Palm Beach; high-profile collabs with powerhouse brands like de Gournay, Sferra and The Rug Company; and her latest undertaking, Casa Branca, a recently debuted line of prints, wovens, wallpapers, porcelain, accessories and more—all with Branca’s signature colorful style. Coming up for Branca this year is the February release of the line’s second collection, Into the Woods; work on a follow-up book to her now-iconic New Classic Interiors; and a full slate of home projects near and far (including a home and penthouse in Palm Beach), with a focus on what she’s trend-forecasting as the “revival and transformation of dining spaces in the home.” What does this design star enjoy most about what she does? Simply put, says Branca, “No two days are alike, and—thankfully—no two projects are alike.”
Founder and President Tom Stringer
For some, travel is an escape. For Chicago design impresario Tom Stringer, it’s at the very core of his work. From childhood trips to Jamaica to more recent jaunts to far-flung destinations like Marrakech, Kenya, Polynesia and Myanmar (all stunningly documented in his 2017 monograph, An Adventurous Life: Global Interiors by Tom Stringer), the designer’s lifelong wanderlust has provided endless inspiration for residential and commercial projects as varied as contemporary lakeside estates, world-renowned restaurant Alinea and his own showpiece Chicago home with partner Scott—all in his signature style of “curated eclecticism.”
The greens of Lincoln Park and blues of Lake Michigan inspired the fresh color palette of this Chicago co-op by Tom Stringer Design Partners
“I enjoy working with clients who have an aesthetic point of view that I can use as a basis for the direction of my work for them,” notes Stringer, “and I feel my best work refines, amplifies and reflects that in a way that keeps clients saying, ‘Yes, this feels right and feels like my best me.’” That strategy translates to highly personal, meaningful spaces and have led to 17 design excellence awards from the American Society of Interior Designers, among numerous other laurels. In 2021, Stringer sees clients gearing up to improve and expand their current spaces (“I think it will be the year of the home office,” he predicts), and he’s excited about getting back to travel, hoping to fit in a monthlong trip to India. In the meantime, you can be certain he’ll be working to create memorable, magical spaces like one of his favorite recent projects: “We finished a new beach house in the Santa Barbara area last year that I really adore. It’s charming and a bit quirky, and it fits my clients, who are in the entertainment industry, just perfectly. I’d be happy to move right in if they asked.”
Interior designer Nate Berkus
“Obviously we’ve had to close our offices, and at first I was really concerned about how that was going to impact business,” says interior designer Nate Berkus of the past year’s challenges. “But,” he adds, “we’ve been busier than ever, with both returning clients and new ones. It took a beat to figure out how to work remotely and how to keep projects moving forward, but I have such a dedicated design team, and along with my longtime partner, Lauren Buxbaum Gordon, it’s been really great to see how adaptable we are as a company,” he says. “There are a lot of Zoom meetings and check-ins—it’s been a very creative period and an intense period of design research for my firm.” Indeed, Berkus and his talented team are busier than ever, including his recently debuted collections with The Shade Store and Kravet, and celebrating 25 years of his firm, which boasts offices in Chicago, Manhattan and L.A. With his beautiful brood and equally dashing designer husband, Jeremiah Brent, the tastemaking twosome make quite the pair : They’ll launch their spring collection of upholstery pieces and case goods for Nate + Jeremiah for Living Spaces this month and premiere Season 2 of HGTV’s Rock the Block in March. Showing no signs of slowing his prolific pace, Berkus is beloved for his timeless elegance. “Trends are designed to make us feel bad about what we don’t have,” he says. “Eighty percent of the furniture and lighting we specify is vintage or antique, and I will always be enamored by things that are made by hand, like ceramic plates from Rebekah Miles and handblown glassware from Giberto.”
Interior designer Joseph Fava
Throughout South Florida and up the northeast coast, Joseph Fava is known as a design visionary. From his personal style to his many commercial and home interiors projects, he is inspired by art, travel, color and, of course, fashion. “I love the transformative process, both aesthetically and the way design changes the lives of our clients,” he says. “My favorite projects are renovations because I love taking something old and transforming it into something magnificent.” Now entering his 17th year at the helm of Fava Design Group, the interior designer began his firm with a dream of entrepreneurship—something that was passed down to him through his family.
Fava Design Group created a custom upholstered headboard wall in this master bedroom.
Before launching his firm, Fava was the fourth generation to work at his family’s produce business in Baltimore (at one time, one of the largest produce companies on the East Coast). And after decades in the interior design industry, Fava still finds time to give back. “It has been quite the ride and I have no regrets, but I am most proud of the charity work we have done for at-risk children at KidSanctuary in Florida and St. Vincent’s Villa in Maryland,” says Fava. “I know for a fact that lives can be changed when people are surrounded by beauty, and I love the fact that through my business we have used our talents to help children in need.” What’s on the horizon for Fava? “My business is thriving and I believe it will continue that trajectory, so I am thankful. What I am most hopeful for is that I meet my soulmate this year,” he says “And the most important thing is that I hope my family and friends remain healthy.”
Interior designer Sasha Bikoff
“It has always been my goal to bring life, happiness, love, fun and whimsy into everything I do,” says NYC-based interior designer Sasha Bikoff. This means more residential projects and second homes outside major cities as her clients relocated during the pandemic. “I am seeing that people are really interested in investing in their nest and creating a unique experience and ambiance that are more driven by emotion, color and pattern.” In fact, Bikoff enjoys that her clients are more educated than ever in terms of the history of design, iconic interiors and furnishings. “I think this is due to social media and the fact that people have more time on their hands to be inspired. It’s an exciting time in design because people are opting to spend more money on the home now,” she muses. Known for her mashups that blend design styles from 18th century French rococo to 1980s Italian Memphis Milano, the millennial maven debuted two magical collections: lighting with Currey & Company and fabrics and wallpaper for Vervain. “My collection of fabrics and wallpapers was developed because I couldn’t find this juxtaposition of both luxury and fun,” Bikoff says. Picture 18th century pastoral picnic scenes reimagined as playful vignettes like Brigitte Bardot on the French Riviera, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin dancing in a nightclub, and Audrey Hepburn walking down Fifth Avenue. Recently, Bikoff has been mixing old English and French floral fabrics from iconic houses with bold, bright colors of lacquered paints or plasters. “For me, I think a truly decorated home means creating exciting combinations of design—mixing styles and periods,” she says.
It’s not every day you receive a call to help outfit the emir of Kuwait’s private aircraft. But that is precisely what happened to Texas-based ceramicist Paul Schneider as he first sank his teeth into the world of design in 2013. “The project gave me the confidence to rent my first stand-alone studio and go to my first trade show, the Architectural Digest Design Show in NYC,” says Schneider. This is merely the beginning of the coveted artist’s road to sought-after success. As principal of his namesake company, Schneider is the purveyor of exquisitely crafted lamps and home accessories, which can be spotted in some of the most prominent homes, luxury hotels and storefronts nationwide. Melding his passion for the scientific component of the process with a keen eye for design, his talent shines through each piece. From a magical mixture of textiles to vibrant swaths of color, Schneider is constantly thinking outside the box—and he does so beautifully.
Paul Schneider Ceramic’s signature dappled lamps
“My designs are constantly evolving as I learn more about ceramics and design,” the artist shares. “A lot of what I do is troubleshooting or problem-solving—this goes back to the small-business concept—be it issues with a glaze not turning out as desired or a kiln not firing correctly. The drip glaze was actually the result of an error,” he admits. “I enjoy when error gives way to good design. At night, we talk with our daughter about her ‘favorite mistake’ of the day. I guess I hope for the same.” When asked about what’s next, this design mind says he’s “trying to expand the home selections. I’ve always been interested in tabletop. Maybe 2021 will bring more dinner parties and therefore more need for PSC tablewares.”
Elizabeth Baird Brown
Elizabeth Baird Brown
“During this time, home has taken on greater significance with more and more people spending inordinate amounts of time there, working, living and quarantining,” says architect Elizabeth Baird Brown. “As a result, residential design has also come into hyperfocus, with more emphasis than ever on flexible spaces that make a home superfunctional, in addition to making it a calming refuge. Connecting homes to the outdoors, (something I’ve always been a proponent of) is equally important as it makes indoor spaces feel more expansive and allows for natural ventilation.” Brown, who founded her boutique architecture and design firm in 2015, works mainly on large-scale residential projects, but also has her sights on small multifamily projects and boutique hotels. In fact, there is nothing this design darling shies away from.
Elizabeth Baird Architecture & Design spearheaded this refresh and addition to a 1930s bungalow for a bachelor with eclectic and creative taste.
Having just completed a contemporary courtyardinspired house influenced by her recent honeymoon in Bali and Thai dessert shop Gati, which recently wrapped construction in East Austin, Brown’s work can be seen throughout her home base in the Texas capital and beyond. “Within the scope of Austin, it has been exciting to have the opportunity to grow my practice within a rapidly developing city,” she says. “No matter what kind of project we are working on, we strive to incorporate the character and exuberance of the city in some way.”
Krista Watterworth Alterman
Alterman at her storefront
Television personality Krista Watterworth Alterman isn’t just famous for her recurring roles on multiple HGTV shows, she’s also known for pioneering an interior design movement called “the new Palm Beach.” Connecticut born and New York trained, the Palm Beach-based designer has built a renowned reputation for herself and the young up-and-coming designers who work under her. And now she’s expanding her Krista + Home empire into the product side of the business.
For a new build in Parkland, Fla., Krista Watterworth Alterman designed a spa bathroom covered in floor-to-ceiling marble with a Kohler tub and vanities.
“We’ve found that many people want custom pieces, and that’s because with the pandemic, people are truly realizing that our homes are our sanctuaries,” says the actress-turned-interior design guru (many people don’t realize she worked in film and television in her 20s before starting her firm in 2003). “We want our homes to be unique, beautiful, comfortable and livable.” Despite the challenges of the last year, the entrepreneur has seen her company flourish. “I am grateful because it made me really look at how we work as a company and how I work as a creative director. I want to work on projects that inspire me, grow our brand and the company, and train great designers to go out into the world and leave their mark,” says Alterman. “Working really hard introspectively has brought me to this place where I’m seeing the fruits of my labor, and every day I am thankful.”
Going bold—pushing the limits with color, pattern and texture—is part of Jennifer Barron’s mantra. The Houston-based interior designer credits her constant drive and determination to those who surround her. “I am inspired every day by the girls who are part of the JBI team,” she shares. “I find that the best ideas are those we create together.” With projects all over the U.S., she seldom slows down, even in light of a chaotic year filled with uncharted waters.
For this project in Houston, Jennifer Barron Design made a custom banquette bench to look like a piece of furniture to fit the space. The pops of green and pillows tie in with the kitchen window treatments and the glass table allowed for the space to feel bigger.
“Adapting to a new way of operating and thinking during this time was a result of drive and passion to keep this small business alive. Under such odd circumstances (especially in a world of seeing and feeling!), our firm was forced to quickly pivot and develop ways to deliver our vision to a client without coming into contact with them,” says Barron. “Adaptation proved to be the key to success. Through remote design development, we have now successfully installed several projects that were designed during COVID—without laying eyes on the home or the client until install day,” she notes. “These successes have left us motivated and inspired for future projects—no matter what the circumstances may look like!” With her pedal-to-the-metal attitude, this designer is determined to help bring her clients’ homes to life. After all, regardless of the obstacles that may unfold, she is here to boldly charge forward.