5 Atlanta designers to know

Atlanta is home to many exceptional creatives, but it’s a truism familiar to many locals that you can be Atlanta famous and unknown beyond the city limits.

Social media, and especially Instagram, is starting to change that. As more home brands, magazines and design-centered television shows seek out new, diverse voices, many Atlanta-based interior designers are becoming stars both at home and outside the city.

Those designers range from long-established names in the high-end interior design realm like Suzanne Kasler to talented, meteorically rising millennial design teams like Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters, who bring a sophisticated, youthful approach and a refreshing diversity to the industry.

Here are five Atlanta designers who are making a name for themselves well beyond Georgia, while also bringing the world’s eyes to Atlanta as a hotbed of creative talent. These designers are changing the national design conversation, raising the prominence of Black and Asian voices and establishing the South as a unique creative hub.

The seasoned design veteran with the long view

Few interior designers have enjoyed the national name recognition of Suzanne Kasler, whose Peachtree Hills headquarters is a nexus of her multi-faceted brand.

A graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning, Kasler says that architecture is the foundation of her work. “I try to bring in some architectural elements in every space I do because I feel like then you can do less decorating,” she said.

Kasler moved to Atlanta from Indianapolis 25 years ago, transitioning from commercial design to high-end residential work where she could indulge her love of antiques and art.

For Kasler the design landscape has changed dramatically in the past 10 years due to social media and television design shows. (She is personally a fan of HGTV’s “Love It or List It.”) The increased prominence of design has made a lot more people eager to engage with designers, she thinks.

“I’ve found that clients are just so excited and interested in design,” she noted. The downside is, it has made people think that good design can happen quickly and easily.

Kasler has grown to appreciate the Southern approach to design. “It’s a unique place,” she said. “The South has a love of homes different than anywhere I’ve seen.”

Kasler lives in an enviably grand Regency home in Buckhead and has a raft of books to her name — her latest is “Suzanne Kasler: Edited Style” (Rizzoli, $60). A kind of Ina Garten of the interior design scene, Kasler is a devout Francophile with an Eiffel Tower collection who draws design inspiration from Paris.

Though she’s known for her classic style, Kasler is also a seer who designed a Barbie-pink La Cornue range back in 2016 long before the Barbiecore marketing blitz began and continues to create collections for high-profile brands including Lee Jofa fabrics, Hickory Chair and Ballard Designs.

In the end, it’s the love of what she does that motivates Kasler. “I dream of houses,” she confided.

Design tip: “Art, pillows and lampshades can make a huge difference,” said Kasler. “They have a big impact on even an existing room.”

A set design sensibility made for TV

Born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Brian Patrick Flynn first worked in television news in his home state. A self-taught designer, he studied video production at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and got his big design break working behind the scenes on the Discovery Channel’s “Surprise By Design” show before making his debut in front of the camera as a design expert on the TBS show “Movie & a Makeover.”

In 2011, he launched his own design company, Flynnside Out Productions, where he continues to display his unique blend of showbiz razzle-dazzle and solid design chops, while cementing his reputation as a brand-friendly talent in collaborations with Sherwin-Williams and Norwalk Furniture.

One of Flynn’s biggest ongoing collaborations is with HGTV; he designs the annual HGTV Urban Oasis and HGTV Dream Home giveaways. In 2021 he launched the design show “Mind for Design” (streaming on Max) shot entirely in Atlanta with the Magnolia Network’s “Fixer Upper” design team Chip and Joanna Gaines.

Credit: Robert Peterson / Rustic White I

Credit: Robert Peterson / Rustic White I

Flynn’s work is all about bold color and gestures, fun and a pop culture-savvy attitude. His rooms tend to be infused with personality and are very design-forward. He describes his signature style as “focusing heavily on natural light, a use of original art with tons of personality, a mix of classic lines and silhouettes from the 1960s and playing with preppy tones like forest green, deep navy and gold.”

Flynn works out of a midcentury modern ranch with black exterior in Buckhead alongside his husband Hollis, a film costumer. A turning point in his career came in June 2018 when his 750-square-foot pied-á-terre in Reykjavík, Iceland, landed on the cover of House Beautiful.

Scandinavia has remained a constant source of inspiration, says Flynn, who also has a mountain home in Ellijay. “Each trip I take, I find more inspiration from the architecture, healthy lifestyle, endless outdoor activities and the quality of life,” he said. “Anytime I explore the Nordic countries, I find myself totally re-energized as a designer and person.”

Design tip: “Performance fabrics. Get ‘em. The price difference you’re looking at may hurt a little right now, but not having to wipe a kid’s spilled juice off your sofa or muddy paw prints off the bottom of your custom drapery panels? Worth every penny for decades to come.”

The next generation changing the face of design

Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters first met when Forbes was brought on to a commercial project Masters had been hired to oversee. Masters was naturally miffed, and her obvious displeasure with the situation ended with her being taken off the project.

But those tense beginnings led to a unique and successful partnership beginning in 2015 that has landed the millennial team national recognition on “The Drew Barrymore Show,” a new collaboration with CB2 and celebrity clients like Kandi Burruss of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and “The Chi.” The pair currently operates out of a Midtown studio with an adjacent boutique as they juggle projects across the country.

Masters was born in Los Angeles, grew up in Houston and received her degree in interior design from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. Forbes’ roots are in Jamaica, though she grew up in New York and studied business at Stony Brook University. She was already working with Masters long distance when she relocated to Atlanta following her mother’s move here.

“We really try not to take ourselves too seriously and have fun with design,” said Forbes when describing their style. “We’ve done everything from shabby chic to contemporary to Parisian, Victorian. We’ve done it all. We love the exercise of exploring different design styles and mixing different design styles.”

A three-page spread in Essence magazine featuring tennis great Serena Williams on the cover was a professional milestone for the design team, said Masters, but both agree the day they had three employees in the office and one announced that she was taking her lunch hour was a career-defining moment, too.

“We just looked at each other, and we’re like, ‘We take lunches now,’” said Masters.

“We just didn’t wake up and work until it was time to go to sleep, but this is a company,” said Forbes.

Design tip: “Start building your own collection of things that you love,” said Masters. For Forbes, “picking up art when you’re traveling is one of the most inexpensive ways to add something personal (to your home). And every time you look at that piece of art, you’re going to remember where you were when you got it.”

Credit: Michel Smith Boyd

Credit: Michel Smith Boyd

The luxury icon with an unbeatable brand

Graced with movie star looks and personal style to burn, Michel Smith Boyd was raised in the small Louisiana town of Thibodaux but has parlayed humble beginnings into an interior design brand synonymous with sophisticated luxury.

Boyd originally worked in fashion and dabbled in acting in New York City before relocating to Atlanta where he honed his design chops at the Art Institute of Atlanta. Since establishing his eponymous design firm in 2006, Boyd has made a name creating spaces for his clients that are sleek, sexy, filled with curvy furniture, slick surfaces and gold, black and white accents. His spaces often feel like contemporary versions of the art deco penthouses in classic Hollywood films from the 1930s and ‘40s.

Influenced by fashion, photography and painting, Boyd tends to spend his leisure time in the art world and often creates his own artwork.

“I’ve been kind of acting like a student. I’ve been going to a lot more panel discussions and art exhibits,” he said, citing recent visits to the “Black American Portraits” show at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art and photographer Ellen von Unwerth’s solo exhibition at SCAD Fash + Film.

Profiled in Ebony and Black Enterprise, Boyd was named one of the country’s top African American designers by House Beautiful. The designer has appeared on Bravo’s “Buying it Blind,” HGTV’s “Rock the Block” and “Luxe for Less” (streaming on Max) with friend and collaborator Anthony Elle, winner of “Project Runway: All Stars.” Boyd and Elle’s easygoing camaraderie has made the pair social media favorites.

“Always luxury. Always thoughtful and super layered,” said Boyd of his signature design style, which tends to feature luxe touches like wallpaper, brushed gold, marble, fur throws and leather. Boyd recently added an $80 black-and-gold MSB signature candle to his luxury repertoire available at his e-commerce site, where fans can pick up products from his partnerships with Crate & Barrel and Z Gallerie.

Boyd’s Old Fourth Ward home is his design laboratory and “always evolving … It’s never ever, complete,” said Boyd. “Literally, for the last two years, I’ve been using my guest bathroom because I can’t decide what to do with my own.”

Traditionally Boyd has leaned toward being a maximalist, but recently he’s started to play with a more pared-back, minimalist approach.

“I learned that I can tell the stories that I want to and create narratives with less stuff.”

Design tip: “Hide everything utilitarian: remote control, toasters, blenders, you know, wires, all that. Your house becomes that much less cluttered, a little bit more minimal and a little bit (easier) to digest.”

A globally inspired aesthetic mastermind

Born in Australia and raised in Hong Kong by a Chinese mother and a Texan father, Davis had sophisticated parents who were big collectors.

“I always grew up with this sort of interesting mix of midcentury modern furniture, Chinese antiques and modern art,” she said. “I think that’s always been kind of ingrained in me; the appreciation of art and artistry and craft.”

Davis studied art history at Princeton, and after a formative turn working as a producer on the “Home Again with Bob Vila” TV show, her career took a turn.

“I really wanted to be more involved in the actual design process. That’s when I went back to school for interior design.”

The designer of the uber-hip Reynoldstown restaurant Muchacho, Davis’ residential and commercial spaces are infused with personality.

Credit: David Duncan Livingston

Credit: David Duncan Livingston

Her design style is “intensely personal,” she said. “Every space that I design, I try to make it a reflection of who the client is and kind of how they want to be. I like to design for people’s ideal image of how they want to live their lives and be in their space.”

She often likes to incorporate local artists into her projects and has featured Shanequa Gay and Esteban Patino in her interior designs.

Davis has had multiple projects featured in Elle Decor’s A-List, Veranda, Better Homes and Gardens, Apartment Therapy and Wallpaper, and her own Buckhead home was featured in The New York Times.

And in 2021, she founded the Asian American Pacific Islander Design Alliance as a way to counter the predominant Euro-centric design industry with something more global and inclusive.

Design tip: “Listen to your gut and (don’t) be afraid of color. I think that everything has been so gray-washed recently … really listen to what you personally like. Because in the end, spaces are about you and your personality.”

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