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The Faces of Design

In honor of this magazine’s 10-year anniversary, we are shining a light on some of the people who have established Chicago as the design destination that it is. It may be our celebration, but the toasts belong to you! 

The trio of Lauren Buxbaum, Nate Berkus and Sasha Adler are the leading forces of Nate Berkus Associates, which is “fundamentally based here,” says Berkus. Both women started as interns and “grew up as designers with Nate,” says Buxbaum. 

TOM STRINGER 

EVA QUATEMAN 

HOLLY HUNT 

JESSICA LAGRANGE 

FRANK PONTERIO 

SOUCIE HORNER 

JULIA BUCKINGHAM 

KARA MANN 

NATE BERKUS ASSOCIATES
Nate Berkus may have found fame and fortune (being close friends with Oprah never hurts), but it’s the design cred of his firm based here that really impresses us. Co-design directors Lauren Buxbaum and Sasha Adler have been holding down the fort for the last 10-plus years, and judging by the quantity and quality of projects around the country it is managing, the firm Berkus started in his basement in Lincoln Park is as strong as ever. With a team of more than 20 in its West Town space, along with staff in New York and L.A., Berkus is still closely involved, even maintaining friendships with clients well after a project has wrapped. “The reality is, in today’s marketplace, there is no need to uproot everyone [from Chicago] because we work all over the country and meet where and when we need to,” says Berkus. Buxbaum credits the ease of their teamwork to the buttoned-up process they have: “The level of organization we have behind the scenes often surprises people,” explains Berkus. Creatively, their strength comes from a genuine love of design from an aesthetic standpoint. And, perhaps due to Berkus’ background in antiques, they care more about using their knowledge to advise clients on starting a collection rather than pushing furniture solutions for the short term. “I don’t come to Chicago that often,” says Berkus. “But when I do, I get so much from the buzz at the office. It’s a bunch of good people doing what they’re good at in a joyful, supportive environment. I’m lucky to be at the helm of it.” 

TOM STRINGER
As Tom Stringer explains in his first book, An Adventurous Life: Global Interiors by Tom Stringer, he was destined to be a designer from childhood due to his family’s pair of cottages on Mullett Lake. They were the gathering place, the anchor of experiences, the keeper of memories and photos, and where so much life happened. That, along with his love for travel, has informed his approach to design. He founded his firm, Tom Stringer Design Partners, over 20 years ago, and has been telling stories with his clients, creating spaces that are elegant but relaxed, inspiring and deeply personal ever since. Well known and beloved in Chicago, his name has meaning internationally as well. “I often travel with my clients to see the world together and translate their interests and passion into their home design,” says Stringer. His collaborations, such as with chef Grant Achatz on Alinea, Next and The Aviary, have resulted in many accolades, and he also has a product line available through TexStyle. Fifteen years ago, he made a decision with his husband to dedicate at least three months of every year to traveling and exploring different parts of the world. “That decision not only transformed my life in general but had a huge impact on my work as a designer as well,” says Stringer. “These explorations enrich and renew my creativity and open my eyes to the multitude of aesthetic possibilities.” 

EVA QUATEMAN
Small but mighty is an apt description of both Eva Quateman and her namesake firm, Eva Quateman Interiors. She credits her start in window display and as an accessories buyer for giving her an incredible eye for detail, and it’s the little things, according to Quateman, that make the biggest difference in a space. Her firm is a family-run business that works side by side with her husband’s construction company so that “every little detail is addressed from the beginning, which creates a seamless end product,” she explains. She has been a fashionable force on Chicago’s design scene for more than 24 years, and what impresses us most is her boundless energy and ability to stay at the top of her game—in regard to interiors, and shoes. Many of her interiors are primarily furnished with custom designs, and she has a collection with deAurora, Eva Quateman Essentials, that showcases the impeccably timeless side of her taste. She is often surprised at the number of young, single clients she has, compared to when she first started, which makes us commend the next generation. Says Quateman on how she’s evolved: “I’m braver now and more likely to take a visual risk. I’m not afraid to push clients out of their comfort zone.” 

HOLLY HUNT
With 10 branded showrooms between the U.S. and London, along with her product being sold through luxury showrooms in Canada, Taiwan and Moscow, Holly Hunt is literally known around the world. The tour de force got her start as a buyer, her entry into interior design came when she purchased a small space on the 17th floor of the Merchandise Mart in 1983 to focus on having the best product and customer service for interior designers. Today, the company has grown exponentially, and was bought by Knoll in 2014 (Hunt remains CEO and oversees all creative departments). The company’s headquarters are still located in Chicago, and the vast majority of the furnishings and lighting under the HOLLY HUNT brand are produced here as well. Hunt’s own outdoor furniture collection that launched this spring, Moray, has received tremendous accolades from designers, customers and the press alike. She also recently acquired the iconic collection of the late Vladimir Kagan (the two were close personal friends). She is an unstoppable force and has expanded her reach in designing for properties such as Aspen’s The Little Nell five-star hotel and L’Atelier, one of Miami Beach’s most prestigious residences. She is an arbiter of great taste, establishing the high standards Chicago’s designers adhere and aspire to. 

JESSICA LAGRANGE
Coming from the interior architecture program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and earning her chops at SOM, the vivacious Jessica Lagrange has spent more than 20 years honing her process—which surprisingly often includes rooting through her clients’ cabinets and closets to see what they have and how they live. However she does it, it’s a system that works, and countless elite residences—many of them along tony Lake Shore Drive—and a healthy dose of press throughout the years are the proof. Not only that, but this year she will be inducted into the 2017 Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame. “I don’t believe interior designers should have a signature style, and neither does anyone else on my team,” Lagrange says. Instead, they pride themselves on taking design cues from their clients’ visions, wants and needs. “Here’s my big takeaway after 30 years in this business,” says Lagrange. “Don’t strive for perfection. Strive for character, comfort and function. It’s not about how impeccable a place looks; it’s how it makes the people who use it feel. Good design is timeless.” 

FRANK PONTERIO
An alum of the Harrington College of Design, Frank Ponterio was originally known for his work restoring iconic architecture, in particular his own award-winning David Adler home in Lake Forest, and the restoration and redesign of the Kersey Coates Reed house (the firm is still tasked with its care 15 years later). Now he is becoming associated with his hugely successful product lines for brands such as Lee Jofa and Avrett—and there are more in the works. He’s been at the helm of his namesake firm, Frank Ponterio Interior Design, since establishing it in 1994 and has been featured in the top shelter publications numerous times. In regards to his residential projects, Ponterio is “in the field on projects all the time,” as the designer says, maintaining a hands-on approach. “I like immersing myself in my clients’ projects from beginning to end; working with architects, artisans and landscape designers to layer our talents and create truly one-of-a-kind environments. There is nothing like working on world-class projects with world-class professionals—you learn something new at every turn,” Ponterio says. “My passion for design is what drives me each and every day. Ultimately, I love what I do.” 

SOUCIE HORNER
Shea Soucie and Martin Horner met in design school—they both attended École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—and soon after became business partners and established Soucie Horner Ltd. in Horner’s basement. Today, the firm has a staff of 25 in a five-story building in River North and is comprised of three distinct business divisions. Soucie Horner Interiors is the luxury residential design division, with projects spanning from Chicago to New York to Aspen to London; SH Studio works with developers and property builders to create holistic living environments, such as the Lakeside Village of Byron in Indiana; and Soucie Horner Collections is the arm of product design, which includes a line of rugs (SHIIR), custom lighting and furniture. With a high value placed on craftsmanship and quality of materials, their work is known for graciousness, sophistication and timeless elegance. Their approach is clientcentric, reflecting what they call the “psychology of design”—that a space is a “unique expression of each client’s lifestyle, whether it be the lifestyle they live today or the one they aspire to live tomorrow,” says Soucie. “We evolve as the expectations of our clients evolve.” 

JULIA BUCKINGHAM
Bright and bubbly Julia Buckingham, founder of her eponymous firm, Buckingham Interiors, is an early adopter: Cases in point being her quick mastery of social media, and she was one of the first designers to lead the movement west on Grand Avenue—the area west of Ashland Avenue that is gaining ground as the unofficial second design district. She is undeniably a master at branding, translating her signature style of mixing high and low, modern and antique into a trademarked term, Modernique, which is also the title of her first book. She is a known presence on the design-show circuit and makes a point of taking her team to “see and feel for [themselves] the furnishings [they] share with their clients,” says Buckingham and her own furniture collection for Global Views was an undeniable success. Despite all of that, it’s her portfolio of interiors that proves her talent. Modernique may be one term to describe her style, but she clearly has a wide range and connects with her clients to express their style. “It isn’t always just about the design,” says Buckingham. “It is always about mutual admiration, appreciation and inspiration. Life is too short not to work collaboratively or with harmony.” 

KARA MANN
Despite going to art school before studying design at Harrington College of Design, Kara Mann swears she is not an artist. With buzzing offices in Chicago and New York, and splitting her time between both, she is clearly a savvy businesswoman but design is where her passion lies. She had an early entry into product design when she was asked to create an anniversary collection for Jean de Merry, has a leather collection with Moore & Giles and, last year, developed the collection that introduced Baker Furniture’s Milling Road as a standalone brand. Her firm maintains a balanced mix of residential and commercial work with notable jobs such as New York’s historic Hotel Chelsea, Goop’s Chicago pop-up, the Talbott Hotel and many more. Regardless of the project, her heart lies in an organic approach that doesn’t force a vision on anything, and she genuinely loves every step along the way. “I like to think of a project holistically, from the shell of the house down to every last detail,” says Mann.

“All of those little touches are so important.” Despite her success, she remains humble, and in turn widely loved and respected. “There is such depth to design,” she says, “and I only know a small part of it.” We beg to differ.