A new wave of designers has come of age, but don't even try to pin them down. Classicists? Modernists? Hardly. Their hallmark is the ease with which they span cultures and continents, high art and low, eras and styles and traditions—often softening modernism's rigor with color or pattern, always disciplining eclecticism with traditional line and form. Some learned the profession under the wing of a master; others have slid sideways into the business from academia or entertainment. But perhaps what most characterizes them—and what lifts them above their colleagues—is the way they've put comfort and even humor at the center of a distinctly American style.
There's one building in the world David Mann would love to live in: the Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe's 1946 Chicago landmark. At the same time he knows that the rigor of "less is more" suits one client in a million. So while like many modernist architects he labors to perfect a building's shell, Mann then parts company with his brethren to free furnishings from the straitjacket that is the legacy of Mies's Barcelona Pavilion. He not only gets the best out of steel and glass and wood but he also has a way with leather and silk and Lucite, which gives his interiors both dimension and surprise. His penchant for experimentation has led to exquisite retail work for Takashimaya, J. Mendel, and Dior, and he has left his mark on everything from a Montana ranch to New York spas and Parisian shops. Mann is currently building himself a house inspired by the Mies legacy—if Mies had received a Palm Springs commission.
PALETTE Generally all black or all white, but Mann can unleash the Kodachrome dervish within. Favorite paint companies: Farrow & Ball and Ralph Lauren.
MATERIALS Natural woods (teak, cypress, birch, Douglas fir), industrial elements (steel, aluminum, cinder block), synthetics (Lucite, Ultrasuede, vinyl). Carpeting from A.M. Collections (212-207-8746). Hardware from Nanz (212-367-7000).
CLIENTS Darcy Miller (editor, Martha Stewart Weddings) and her husband, lawyer Andrew Nussbaum; developer Michael Fuchs.
SECRET SOURCE Metalworks by Soraya (Clinton Corners, NY; 845-868-7578).
MR Architecture & Décor, 150 W. 28th St., Ste. 1102, New York; 212-989-9300
Steven Gambrel has the two qualities necessary to pull off tailored interiors with panache: knowledge and confidence. Educated in architecture at the University of Virginia, Gambrel will turn out a room with detailed moldings and perfect proportions, then layer on the colors and pattern. From Belgium come heavily framed mirrors, the purest linen, and chairs and tables with shapely legs of dark wood offset by pale upholstery; from New York's Garment District come topstitched belts transformed into handles for desk drawers. Solids (a sofa done in cocoa-colored silk velvet, a fauteuil upholstered in lime-green leather) play against patterns (a carpet in a David Hicks honeycomb motif, a curtain of Indian batik, cushions in stripes and paisleys). The scrumptious, unexpected colors are always balanced by traditional lines, placing Gambrel's work squarely in the 21st century.
PALETTE Blues ranging from ice to turquoise to lapis; pink; neutrals like linen and straw with accents of red, orange, yellow, and green. Paint colors: Benjamin Moore's Iceberg and Bittersweet, and Farrow & Ball's Parma gray and Ballroom blue.
MATERIALS Great hardware, ash, glossy paint. Belgian linen from Corragio Textiles (www.corragio.com). Wools from Holland & Sherry (44-20/7437-0404). Patterned fabrics from Osborne & Little (44-20/7352-1456).
CLIENTS Liz Lange, Lisa and Michael Schultz (he's CEO of the Lulu Guinness and Cath Kidston companies), Lillian von Stauffenberg, and "young families with busy lifestyles," in Gambrel's words.
SECRET SOURCES Newport Nautical Supply (Newport, RI; 888-847-9241) for polished chrome portholes, which Gambrel installs in service doors. Ball and Ball Antique Hardware Reproductions (Exton, PA; 800-257-3711; www.ballandball-us.com) for period box locks, which he often dresses in nickel or silver plate. Phelps Company (Brattleboro, VT; 802-257-4314; www.phelpscompany.com) for oil-rubbed bronze window-sash locks and chains.
S. R. Gambrel, 270 Lafayette St., Ste. 805, New York; 212-925-3380
JANE HALLWORTH & LISA STRONG
Together Jane Hallworth and Lisa Strong have three actual practices. They work on their own individual projects then team up on about half their commissions—a free-flowing arrangement that allows them to exploit their strengths and express their unique styles. They share a certain aesthetic: A Hallworth and Strong interior is rich yet simple, positively modern yet anything but cold. And above all, it exudes strength. The two prefer to use a few things of the best quality for maximum effect. A phenomenal piece of furniture—perhaps a Gio Ponti table from Blackman Cruz, one of Hallworth's favorite sources—may set the tone for an entire room. The pair hardly confine themselves to the steady masters of architecture and design; they are just as excited by the vagaries of contemporary art and fashion. (Strong cites in the same breath Coach's seminal designer, Bonnie Cashin, and surrealist painter Mark Tansey.) Together or separately, they are always out and about, looking for new sources and fresh stimulation, observing the world firsthand. A picture just won't do.
PALETTE Paints from Schreuder and Pratt & Lambert for the high-quality pigments that allow colors to shift with the light. A favorite: Pratt & Lambert's Appaloosa.
MATERIALS Farm-raised tropical woods in dark shades, glass laminated with rice paper or photographic gels, metal.
CLIENTS Their talents—and absolute discretion—have earned them the loyalty of the cream of the young Hollywood crop.
SECRET SOURCES Buddy Kuhn, fabricator at IronOr (818-767-0378; www.ironor.net). Pegaso International (Los Angeles; 310-659-8159) for 20th-century furniture.
Jane Hallworth and Lisa Strong, 8380 Melrose Ave., Ste. 206, L.A.; 323-655-2267; www.studiocollaborative.com
If Miles Redd were a dancer, he'd be Fred Astaire in Top Hat; if a song, Cole Porter's "Night and Day." But Redd is a decorator, and he fashions interiors so full of sparkle that all those lucky enough to enter one can't help but swan through like an F. Scott Fitzgerald character. He excels not so much at picking out the perfect ice bucket as at setting the scene, in which the tinkle of ice and the hum of conversation are as essential as any wall treatment. Redd deftly juggles the extravagant (exposed hardware shined up with silver-plating), the economical (could that be a table from Ikea?), and the in-between (a bathroom lined with sheets of black glass), and there's nothing he likes better than doing a high-low dance: dressing up a generic sofa in silk velvet, then dressing down a Louis XVI chair in plain linen.
PALETTE Black and white, pink, emerald green, pale blue.
MATERIALS Ebony and pickled or stripped raw oak or pine, and mercury-glass mirrors. Plaster decoration from Architectural Sculpture (212-431-5873). Sheets of black, white, and celadon glass from Manhattan Shade & Glass (212-288-5616). Linen from Rogers & Goffigon (212-888-3242). Silk velvet from Prelle (212-683-2081).
CLIENTS Restaurateur Allison Sarofim, architect Gilbert P. Schafer; all his clients "share a good sense of humor," Redd says.
SECRET SOURCE Libra Leather (259 W. 30th St., New York; 212-695-3114; www.libraleather.com) for leather in dreamy colors, such as the polished calfskin in baby blue that he used to upholster side chairs.
Miles Redd, 77 Bleecker St., C111, New York; 212-674-0902
SCHUYLER SAMPERTON & ANNA HACKATHORN
Everything about the work of Schuyler Samperton and Anna Hackathorn is sunny and refreshing, a reflection of the pair's open attitude and easygoing manner. But while the designers are deeply marked by California—look at the indoor-outdoor connections, the light, the emphasis on comfort—they are intensely curious about the world, and it shows in sophisticated ways. Textiles and wallpapers with exotic motifs and intense colors reference Morocco, India, and Asia. Yes, window treatments are minimal—better to let sun, shadow, and views contribute to a room. When curtains are used, they are lovely, rendered in unexpected fabrics. In these designers' canon, nothing gives a room more individuality than art, whether a contemporary photograph or an heirloom portrait. And nothing finishes off a space better than a ceiling-skimming palm or ficus. "Plants add a crucial dimension," Samperton says. "They bring rooms to life."
PALETTE Soft neutrals for walls, such as Pratt & Lambert's Silver Blonde and Benjamin Moore's Silver Cloud.
MATERIALS Tiles from Urban Archaeology (212-431-4646). "Orchid" wallpaper by Cole & Son (44-20/8442-8844). Fabrics from John Robshaw (212-594-6006). Claremont Fabrics (44-1457/866-927) for intricate designs and "amazing colors."
CLIENTS Actors, directors, and producers.
SECRET SOURCE Alison Berger Glassworks, to the trade only. For showrooms, contact Plug (Los Angeles; 323-653-5635) and Holly Hunt (Chicago; 312-329-5999).
Samperton & Hackathorn, 134 N. Sweetzer Ave., Los Angeles; 323-655-6603; www.sampertonhackathorn.com
A swinger of the first order, David Netto flips between Los Angeles and New York, between dapper man about town and devoted dad, between traditional and mod. Fashionably unshaven with his shirttail loose, Netto may give the impression he's been up all night at a club. But he's more likely to have spent the late hours at his design studio, surrounded by sources for ideas: auction catalogues, books on McMillen and Parish-Hadley, a Cy Twombly monograph, a photograph of author Cornel West rapping, another of a grand old house in Maine. Netto's projects have always been as diverse as his interests: He's done up classic twenties Candela apartments with hand-blocked Zuber wallpaper; he's transformed free-form loft spaces with superglossy white walls, reminiscent of sets from Woody Allen's Sleeper. Recently he has concentrated on a line of stylish modern baby furniture. A fellow emeritus of the Institute for Classical Architecture and a connoisseur of changing tables, Netto is at ease in many guises.
PALETTE Light gray, sunflower yellow, Benjamin Moore's White Dove. "Navy blue is the new black," Netto says. "Caramel and sky blue next to each other are the best."
MATERIALS Those that designer Jean-Michel Frank made so noble (plain white oak, unfilled travertine, natural leather), flashier metals such as polished nickel, white lacquer just about anywhere.
CLIENTS Mark and Renee Rockefeller, Allison Sarofim, Jessica and Jerry Seinfeld, Alex and Eliza Reed Bolen—"a clientele drawn from New York's social elite," Netto says.
SECRET SOURCES E. R. Butler & Co. hardware (New York; 212-525-3565) "for metalwork no one else can make." Jean Carrau (New Rochelle, NY; 914-633-0527) for great faux finishes. Atelier Viollet (Brooklyn; 718-782-1727) for gorgeous Moderne furniture and interior architecture.
David Netto Design, 270 Lafayette St., Ste. 806, New York; 212-343-7415; www.davidnettodesign.com
A ROOM OF THEIR OWN: DESIGNERS' STORES
Like a three-dimensional portfolio, a designer's own shop gives you the chance to dip into his or her style without making a major commitment. Five shops, recently opened by exceptionally inventive minds, are well worth seeking out.
Finding Los Angeles designer Ruthie Sommers's shop along La Cienega Boulevard is like discovering an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor in a strip mall. The geranium-bedecked cottage serves up scoops of fresh, delicious furnishings (many of them flea-market finds transformed by glossy white paint), along with Sommers's equally fresh and informative advice. Among the mirrors and paintings are Chinese Chippendale dining pieces, Lucite tables, and chairs upholstered in kelly green. At 517 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, CA; 310-659-8062; www.chapmanradcliff.com.
Clarke knew his store and design studio had an excellent pedigree; the 1937 three-story building in West Hollywood was designed by architect Rudolf Schindler. Only later did Clarke discover that the first occupant was a lamp shop. The store once again carries lamps, both vintage and new, in addition to Persian rugs, books, photographs, and Clarke's own line of furniture. Twice a year the main space is turned over to exhibitions. Next up: a show in mid-November of hanging swings in metal and wood by two London artists. At 8760 Holloway Dr., West Hollywood, CA; 310-659-1950.
In Federico de Vera's store on a quiet backstreet along SoHo's southern edge, treasures emerge one by one from the vast, dark space like secrets from a magician's black box. The many cabinets hold curiosities and delights—weighty handblown and hand-carved glass by Australian artists Edols and Elliott, Filipino santos, and exquisite jewelry that is antique or new or a combination of the two. With his equal-opportunity eye, De Vera collects both the precious and the profane, so long as each piece shows impeccable character. At 1 Crosby St., New York, 212-625-0838, and 29 Maiden Ln., San Francisco; 415-788-0828; www.deveraobjects.com.
Partners Stephen Sills and James Huniford bring their high style to the streets—sort of, as the designers' store is on the second floor of a townhouse. Come up to peek into the aesthetic of this exclusive interiors business. The store's Web site is open all the time, and while it doesn't capture everything in the store—least of all prices—the site definitely gives you the idea that some very sharp eyes are at work. At 30 E. 67th St., 2nd floor, New York; 212-717-5753; www.dwellingshome.com.
Leave it to Jordan, a designer who showed tradition-minded Easterners wanting to learn how to speak bespoke Park Avenue chic, to lead Angelenos back to the style of Hollywood regency. This Melrose Place shop demonstrates that the style's glamour—with a capital G—suits L.A. to a T. Behind the ivy-covered façade (alongside neighbors Marc Jacobs, Bastide, and Santa Maria Novella), Jordan displays his wares in easy-to-slip-into roomlike settings. Framed by walls dressed up in Florentine plaster with scored mirrors are arrangements of rugs from Mansour and Jordan's own furniture line, scented candles, and heavenly scarves, throws, and baby blankets of shaved Scottish cashmere. At 8450 Melrose Pl., Los Angeles; 323-653-0526, and 504 E. 74th St., 4th floor, New York; 212-570-4470; www.gregjordan.com.
THE NEXT NEXT
Just established or just out of the gate, these designers are kindling excitement.
Enrico Bonetti and Dominic Kozerski Embodying an evolved minimalism, these partners put the more ephemeral qualities of texture and light on par with architecture. Bonetti/Kozerski Studio, 270 Lafayette St., Ste. 906, New York; 212-343-9898; www.bonettikozerski.com.
Douglas Callaway and Brown Cranna The duo's brand of modernism is luxe, with opulent materials, a subtle palette, and, first and foremost, the establishment of good bones. Studio Luxe, 115 W. 27th St., Ste. 1001A, New York; 212-366-9136; www.studioluxe.com.
Peter Dunham The exotic meets the prosaic in Dunham's layered and lively interiors. His own line of informal fabrics reflects the world's sunny locales, from France's St.-Tropez, to India's Rajasthan. 909 N. Orlando Ave., Los Angeles; 323-848-9900; www.peterdunham.com.
Jay Jeffers Jeffers's graphic fabrics, vibrant colors, and plays on pattern recall Dorothy Draper's seminal 1939 book, Decorating Is Fun—in spirit if not in style. Jeffers Design Group, 550 15th St., Ste. 39, San Francisco, 415-934-8088, and 11601 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 500, Los Angeles; 310-235-1423; www.jeffersdesigngroup.com.
Marco Pasanella With his well-schooled eye, Pasanella infuses interiors with both beauty and wit. The Polenta Group, 115 South St., New York; 212-566-2352; www.pasanella.com.
Markham Roberts Roberts electrifies classic decorating moves (gleaned at the elbow of Mark Hampton) with contrasting of patterns and colors—a luxurious yet youthful and livable mix. 1020 Lexington Ave., 2nd fl., New York; 212-288-6090; www.markhamroberts.com.
Eve Robinson Robinson adeptly mixes European Art Deco and Moderne furniture with comfortable seating and family-friendly finishes and fabrics. Eve Robinson Associates, 2112 Broadway, Ste. 403, New York; 212-595-0661.
Shamir Shah This designer's spaces come in many shades of modern, as clean and refreshing as a cool glass of water. Shamir Shah Design, 10 Greene St., New York; 212-274-7476; www.shamirshahdesign.com.
Ghislaine Viñas The energetic home designer's colorful, globally inspired, completely contemporary interiors are—to put it simply—simply happy. GV Interior Design, 67 Vestry St., 8B, New York; 212-219-7678; www.gvinteriors.com.
Timothy Whealon The designs may be sophisticated and the work of a connoisseur, but they are filtered through an American sensibility (hello, Sister Parish!). There's always more than meets the eye. 23 E. 69th St., 2; New York; 212-249-2153; www.timothywhealon.com.