Overnight success is rare in the design industry. Most famous interior designers have spent years working with clients, developing product lines, and building their brands. Becoming a household name requires hustle—and lots and lots of media savvy. Today’s best-known designers took a variety of roads to the top, but now can often be spotted gracing the covers of magazines with buzzy commissions and clients, or landing regular gigs on TV. Once they made it, they figured out how to capitalize on their success and expand their reach worldwide. While they each have specific specialties and styles, these designers and architects have certainly left their mark on the industry, and continue to influence the way people live and decorate. Read on for AD PRO’s roundup of the most famous interior designers working today.
In just six years, Joanna Gaines—with help from her contractor husband, Chip—has created a design empire. Since Fixer Upper premiered on HGTV in 2013, the designer and TV star has launched collaborations with mega brands like Target and Anthropologie, started a magazine, published books, and made shiplap and farmhouse-style design ubiquitous. The couple has also turned the town of Waco, Texas, into a tourist destination with the Magnolia Market at the Silos, a 4.9-acre shopping and dining complex that draws an estimated 30,000 people per week. While Fixer Upper ended its run in 2018, the Gaineses are continuing their path to design domination. Next up is a hotel in downtown Waco and their own cable television network.
In 2002, Nate Berkus made his debut on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and he quickly became one of America’s favorite design talents, landing TV shows, book deals, and collaborations galore. His eponymous firm, which he founded in 1995 at the age of 24, attracts an array of high-profile clients, including Ricky Martin, and Berkus has partnered on product lines with Target, Kravet, the Shade Store, and Framebridge. He and husband Jeremiah Brent star in TLC’s Nate & Jeremiah by Design and the couple recently unveiled their latest collection for Living Spaces.
In 2009, The New Yorker declared Kelly Wearstler “the presiding grande dame of West Coast interior design,” and since then her reach and influence have grown far beyond California. The trendsetter has shaped the hospitality industry with her designs for the Viceroy Hotels and Residences, Four Seasons Anguilla, and, most recently, Proper Hotels in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Austin. On the residential side, her client list includes Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, and Gwen Stefani, and she’s designed lines for Ann Sacks, Lee Jofa, the Rug Company, Georg Jensen, and Visual Comfort, as well as her own collection of furniture and accessories.
There are celebrity interior designers, and then there’s Martyn Lawrence Bullard, the go-to decorator for superstars like Elton John, Cher, Kylie Jenner, and Khloé and Kourtney Kardashian. He’s also a favorite collaborator for brands and has designed a dozen licensed lines that include tile for Ann Sacks, mattresses for Custom Comfort, and silver crowns for Christofle. When he’s not designing for the stars, Bullard is making his mark on the hospitality scene with interiors for Casa Laguna in Laguna Beach and the upcoming The Prospect in Los Angeles.
The past two years have been beyond big for Missouri native Bobby Berk. In 2018, he debuted as Queer Eye’s design expert and quickly became a fan favorite for his impactful home makeovers. The industry veteran launched his retail business back in 2006 and his eponymous design firm in 2015, but Queer Eye has brought his modern, livable style to a massive audience (as his 2.6 million Instagram followers attest). In October, Berk launched a furniture collection with A.R.T. Furniture at High Point Market featuring 44 pieces, several of which quickly sold out.
Fashion’s favorite architect is Peter Marino. The design legend, who founded his firm in 1978 after working for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; George Nelson; and I.M. Pei/Cossutta & Ponte, has designed stores for a who’s who of luxury fashion and jewelry brands including Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Bulgari, Hublot, Dior, Fendi, and Graff. His boutiques, like his residential projects, are known for their luxe materials and impressive art displays. He recently released a new textile line for Rubelli and unveiled Louis Vuitton stores in London and Seoul.
L.A. designer Justina Blakeney turned her eclectic, plant-filled style into a hot trend and a booming business with 1.2 million Instagram followers. She started her design blog, Jungalow, in 2009, and since then she’s written a New York Times bestseller, The New Bohemians; launched an online store; and embarked on a number of collaborations with brands such as Anthropologie, Band-Aid, Target, and Loloi Rugs. Her latest endeavor is a limited-edition, size-inclusive line of apparel, We Wild by Justina Blakeney, and she plans on opening a brick-and-mortar outpost in the near future.
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Designer Emily Henderson made America up its styling game and helped transform bookshelves, cocktail tables, and mantels across the country. Her big break was winning season five of HGTV Design Star, and her subsequent show on the network, Secrets From a Stylist, ran for two seasons. She shares design know-how with dedicated fans on her popular blog and her Instagram feed, where she has more than 835,000 followers. Her 2015 book, Styled: Secrets for Arranging Rooms, From Tabletops to Bookshelves, was a New York Times bestseller. In addition to running her interior design practice and content operation, Henderson serves as Target’s home style expert.
Ever since his cheeky pottery debuted at Barneys in 1993, Jonathan Adler has been infusing homes with color and humor. He quickly expanded his business beyond ceramics, designing everything from pillows and furnishings to lighting and rugs. Adler’s design studio has created the interiors of the Parker Palm Springs and Eau Palm Beach, as well as private residences and model apartments. He has licensed lines galore, including his Now House brand on Amazon; a collection with cannabis lifestyle company Higher Standards; and partnerships with Kravet, H&M Home, and the Shade Store.
Based in San Francisco and New York, Ken Fulk has become the designer of choice for innovators such as Sean Parker, Veronica Beard, Kevin Systrom, and Pharrell Williams, all of whom appreciate his vibrant, cinematic style. (The Bay Area home he designed for tech couple Michael and Xochi Birch is currently on the market for a potentially record-setting $35 million.) Fulk is also responsible for the designs of some of the country’s buzziest (and most Instagrammable) hot spots, including Leo’s Oyster Bar, Felix Roasting Co., and Saint Joseph’s Arts Society—Fulk’s members’ club and cultural center set in a restored Catholic church. Up next is the renovation of San Francisco’s three Michelin–star restaurant Saison and the design for the rooftop eatery at The Newbury Boston hotel.
Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch transitioned from production design to interior design, bringing some of Hollywood’s biggest stars—including Ben Stiller, Kate Hudson, and Gwyneth Paltrow—along as clients. The innovative designers behind Roman and Williams are responsible for some of the buzziest restaurant and hotel designs of the century so far, such as the Ace Hotel New York, the Chicago Athletic Association, and Le Coucou. In December 2017, the duo opened Roman and Williams Guild, a retail concept that includes a café, La Mercerie, and an outpost of Emily Thompson Flowers. Standefer and Alesch recently released a collection for e-commerce site Mr. Porter, and their redesign of the British galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is set to be unveiled this year.
Described by The New Yorker as a “virtuoso of color” and “a possessor of perfect chromatic pitch,” architect and designer India Mahdavi has become renowned for her wondrous, saturated spaces, from her whimsical designs for Ladurée outposts in Los Angeles, Japan, and Geneva to her perfectly pink interior for London’s The Gallery at Sketch—the most Instagrammed restaurant in the world. Mahdavi opened her design studio in 1999, debuted her furniture collection and showroom a few years later, and opened her Petits Objets store, which features vivid ceramics, lighting, and accessories, in 2011. She’s collaborated with brands from Bisazza to Louis Vuiton to Nespresso, and is highly sought-after by private residential clients.
Chicago-based designer Tiffany Brooks started her career in high-end residential property management and staging, but went all in on interior design in 2007. In 2013, she won season eight of HGTV Design Star, and she has been a fixture on the network ever since. She was named to the Black Interior Designers Network’s African American Top 20 Interior Designers list, and when she’s not designing network-affiliated projects like the HGTV 2019 Smart Home, she’s working with her own slew of high-profile clients.
Belgian designer and dealer Axel Vervoordt took on his first design project, the restoration of 11 medieval houses in Antwerp, 50 years ago, and since then he’s become known for his minimalist interiors and expert eye for art and antiques. His timeless yet modern style has attracted a number of famous clients, including Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, Robert De Niro, and Calvin Klein. His company’s Antwerp headquarters and gallery is in a former distillery and malting complex on the Albert Canal, which was also developed to include apartments, gardens, and a restaurant. A Hong Kong gallery opened in 2014. The designer recently completed the interiors of the Purs hotel in Germany and published his fifth book, Portraits of Interiors, with Rizzoli.
British-born Kathryn M. Ireland started out as an actress, a fashion designer, and a filmmaker. But her most successful role by far has been that of interior and fabric designer. Her globally inspired fabrics are found in showrooms around the world, and her client list includes Steve Martin, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and David Mamet. The Los Angeles–based designer has also penned six books and appeared on Bravo’s Million Dollar Decorators. In 2018, she launched The Perfect Room, an online design platform featuring shoppable rooms by Ireland and other top designers, such as Martyn Lawrence Bullard, Suzanne Kasler, and Jeffrey Bilhuber.
Thom Filicia became a household name as the design expert on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy in the aughts. Since then he’s continued to bring his polished style to the masses through his books; collaborations with brands such as Delta Airlines, American Express, and Radio City Music Hall; and his latest Bravo TV show costarring Carson Kressley, Get a Room with Carson & Thom. The designer, who cut his teeth at Parish-Hadley and other top firms, has worked with clients such as Tina Fey and Jennifer Lopez. He also has his own line of furnishings, fabrics, and accessories, which can be found at Sedgwick & Brattle, his to-the-trade showroom in the New York Design Center.
Distinguished French interior designer Jacques Grange has been crafting memorable spaces since the 1970s. Throughout the years he has designed for a powerful cross-section of influencers including Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Princess Caroline of Monaco, and François Pinault. On the the commercial side, he’s crafted the elegant interiors of hotels such as the Mark in New York, Francis Ford Coppola’s Palazzo Margherita in southern Italy, Hotel Mamá in Majorca, and, most recently, Cheval Blanc in St. Barts.
When he founded his design studio and store, Aero, in 1992, Thomas O’Brien helped bring warmth to the stark modern style of the day. His shop, which moved from its longtime home in SoHo to the New York Design Center in 2016, is a favorite of tasteful shoppers, including fellow designers. In 2005, he debuted his Vintage Modern line for Target, which brought his name and classic style to a massive audience. The author of three books, O’Brien is a prolific product designer with collections at Century Furniture, Waterworks, Visual Comfort, Patterson Flynn Martin, Reed and Barton, and Groundworks.
After spending 20 years shaping the aesthetic of Soho House, designer Vicky Charles struck out on her own in 2016, founding Charles & Co. with partner Julia Corden. In just three years, the firm has already developed a client list of power couples from both sides of the Atlantic, including David and Victoria Beckham, George and Amal Clooney, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, and Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys.
Michael S. Smith’s sophisticated projects have been gracing the covers of design magazines for nearly three decades. With a client list that includes power players in every realm, from politics (the Obamas) to media (Rupert Murdoch) to entertainment (Shonda Rhimes), the California native and author of five books blends classic and modern in his interiors and product lines. His Jasper collection, which is featured in showrooms around the world, includes wallpaper, fabrics, furniture, and lighting. The designer’s own Jasper showroom in West Hollywood is a mainstay in the L.A. design scene, with a curated collection of more than 30 vendors.