What is Southern Style? It’s commonly described as something rooted in the traditional ­— think lattice work, inviting verandas and monograms — and, we’d like to think, given an interesting or modern twist. Style is after all a very individual thing. While their talents easily translate to any geographical location, we’re confident this year’s nine Design Masters are great examples of Southern — and more specifically New Orleans — style. A genre (and subgenre) that is indefinable, indefatigable and always inspirational — much like our 2022
Design Masters. 

Design Masters

Master of Renovation / Preservation

Rachel Hall Taravella – Taravella Design-Build

Tell us about your work.

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I’m mostly known for my clean and minimal approach to design. I believe good design is when you reduce a product as much as possible, while maintaining its unique, core quality. There is this line between special and simple, current and timeless, that is what I’m most interested in. 

Why and how did you become an architect? I originally enrolled into college as a fine arts major, and subsequently bounced around majors. Being a creative, as well as 17 years old, I had so many interests and wanted to be everything. I ultimately dropped out of school and backpacked across Europe to “find myself.” While in Italy I took several art classes, one of which was an architecture sketch class. I fell in love and it changed my life. I enrolled into architecture immediately and the rest was history.

It’s in my blood. My father is an architect and we moved to New Orleans when I was little because he took a teaching position at the School of Architecture at Tulane. Full circle moment, I taught architecture at Tulane 30 years later.

Who are your mentors and what are your influences, inspirations? John Pawson, Vincent Van Duysen, Athena Calderone, any and all Japanese architecture. 

Tell us about one of your favorite or most important projects. My lifechanging project was the Washington Avenue house that won [New Orleans Homes’] “Renovation of the year 2015”. It was my first major project [after] leaving Trahan Architects, where I’d worked since college. However, my style has evolved and matured since then, and with every new project it becomes my favorite. I’m really excited about my current projects, both personal: my residence Uptown and my new children’s store, Monomini on Magazine Street. [A spinoff of nearby Monomin, also on Magazine.]

What has your work taught you? Don’t sweat the small stuff. Design is comprehensive and doesn’t just end at install or build, it continues forever, and these are things we think about as designers. You give your all into everything you do and open yourself up to criticism along the way. 

Design Masters

Master of Lighting

Jeremy Friloux – Élan Studio Lighting

Tell us about your work. [Élan Studio Lighting is] a locally owned and operated residential lighting showroom. We offer lighting design services, home décor, mirrors, fans and artwork. I help customers select lighting for their homes, troubleshoot problems with fixtures and design spaces with lighting to accentuate your home or space. We have an extensive vendor list to fill any style and price point.  

Why and how did you become a lighting showroom manager? I have a history of retail sales, customer service and management. Years ago, I was asked by a friend to help run a lighting showroom in St. Charles Parish and have been in the lighting industry ever since.

Who are your mentors and what are your influences, inspirations? My mentors include lighting reps with WKA lighting, BAS Sales and Bell & McCoy. I lean on them to help answer any questions, keep me updated on current product and advise me when we get a unique project.

Tell us about one of your favorite or most important projects. Eye Wares, a new eyeglass boutique on Magazine Street, was one of the most unique retail projects we’ve worked on recently. With the help from JL Studio, we created a space, that in my opinion, is one of the coolest retail spaces on Magazine Street. The other project we recently wrapped up was [New Orleans Saints player] Alvin Kamara’s house. My sales associate and I worked alongside Craftman Builders and Alvin to select decorative lighting that would add to the contemporary design of the home. We included over 1,000 feet of tape light throughout the house and specifically chose clean, modern fixtures that would allow the artwork and collectibles to be the pops of color in the interior. With the placement of the lighting and the floor to ceiling windows located throughout the house, the light fixtures become a focal point from the outside looking in.

What has being a lighting showroom manager taught you? My work has taught me patience, especially over the last few years. The supply chain has been a major challenge. We used to be able to order product and know exactly when to expect it to arrive, but right now shipping dates are very unreliable.

Design Masters

Master of Interior Design

Samantha Johnson – NANO Architecture | Interiors

Tell us about your work. I work with NANO Architecture | Interiors as a senior interior designer and design studio manager. My career has focused on commercial projects, including historic renovations, tenant fit-outs, retail and hospitality, and large-scale multi-use facilities. I take pride in my communication skills and attention to detail, which catapulted my career into project management of multimillion-dollar interior and architectural projects. 

Why and how did you become an interior designer? My teacher in a middle school woodshop class noticed my technical ability and encouraged me to explore architecture and interior design. In high school, I studied the effects that light and shadow have on three-dimensional space. I later pursued a degree at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York where I further developed my passion for the artistry and awareness of scale when designing interiors. 

Who are your mentors and what are your influences, inspirations? I am heavily influenced by research on the human condition, especially how physical space affects us more than we realize. My mentors include my middle school drafting teacher, Mr. Stephenson, my first boss after college, Chandler Pierce, and Terri Dreyer, owner of NANO, who always reminds me that nothing is out of reach. 

Tell us about one of your favorite or most important projects. I always seek out challenge and The Dead Rabbit, an Irish restaurant set to open in the French Quarter, has been one of the most challenging projects I have managed, but, because of this, also one of the most rewarding. Every aspect has required intensive research and attention to detail. I have worked to navigate the historic restoration, life safety codes, and the massive feat of squeezing a full-size kitchen and two bars into less than 5,000 square feet. 

What has your work taught you? Working as an interior designer in an architectural, male-dominated industry, has taught me that with even a little bit of persistence and determination, you can achieve anything you set out to, regardless of what your degree or job title happens to be. 

Design Masters

Master of Decorative Finishes

Sylvia Thompson-Dias – Sylvia T. Designs

Tell us about your work. Sylvia T. Designs is a full-service decorative arts firm in business for over 25 years. We specialize in decorative and functional plaster finishes, murals, custom and classic stencils, gilding, cabinetry and furniture refinishing, custom signage and more. We seek to #HonorTraditionandProgress on every job we do — commercial or residential, historic or new construction, large or small. We make your space a work of art.

Why and how did you become a decorative artist? I have a degree in architecture from LSU but decided to pursue my love of art. I have been a gallery artist in the past, but pursuing the decorative arts has allowed me to combine my education and artistry in the perfect fashion.

Who are your mentors and what are your influences, inspirations? I draw inspiration from various sources — plaster finishes and other decorative arts disciplines and artisans from times past as well as the present. My father, who was in construction, was also a major influence on me, taking me along when he worked. He taught me, among many other things, about the value of being able to work with and respect everyone on a job site. We are always proud to say we work in the trades. 

Tell us about one of your favorite or most important projects. There are so many, and they all matter to us greatly, including many historic and hospitality spaces. One highlight is we had the honor of doing the finishes in the “organ room” of the Historic New Orleans Collection’s expansion in the Seignouret-Brulatour House on Royal Street in the French Quarter. It is the only space in the museum that was returned to the home’s original finishes.

What has being a decorative artist taught you? Our artisan team is all-female. This is a point of pride and has taught me the importance of building careers for women in the decorative arts. Also, importantly, our work involves us delivering our artistry to achieve our clients’ visions in their spaces. We take that trust very seriously and it is always a pleasure and privilege, of which we remind ourselves every day.

Design Masters

Master of Architecture – Brian Gille

Tell us about your work. Architecture has taken me from San Francisco to New York, but New Orleans is where I decided to set down roots. Since graduating from Tulane, my practice has been focused on mostly upscale, residential projects with a few commercial commissions along the way. While we continue to do lots of our work in Louisiana, we have been fortunate enough to do projects across the Southeast, Texas and Canada.

Why did you become an architect? I took a beginner’s drafting class as a sophomore in high school and I was hooked. I became intrigued by the notion I could draw something on a piece of paper and a company or individual could then make it into something wonderful ­— whether the cog for a machine tool I was sketching back then or the buildings we work on today.

Who are your mentors and what are your influences, inspirations? During my time in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to study under Charles Moore and Donlyn Lyndon. We also were able to visit Nathaniel Owings at his home in Big Sur. They talked of things such as a ‘sense of place’ and that architecture should be perceived by all the senses not just the eyes. That spoke to me. 

Tell us about your favorite projects. We have worked on several second homes and cottages for clients in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Canada. Commissions for second homes are always fun, yet challenging, as these are the places where most go to find relaxation. Particular focus then goes into making these escapes have that sense of place for our clients. Currently we are also restoring a lovely historic house along St. Charles Avenue and building a beautiful new family home across from City Park.

What has practicing architecture taught you? Respect. I have always felt that New Orleans had a large percentage of very talented architects compared to the number of projects here in our small city. For my firm to have received the commissions we have has been a humbling experience.

Design Masters

Master of Furniture Restoration

Haseeb Mustafa – Mustafa Antiques & French Polish

Tell us about your work. Mustafa Antiques & French Polish provides fine antique repair and refinishing services. We are a family-owned business that has been in the fine antique restoration business for 66 years. Most of the repair and refinishing work we complete is on antique pieces that hold both sentimental and monetary value to individuals, fine antique retailers, antique auctions, as well as hospitality businesses. 

Why and how did you become a furniture restorer? I became a fine antique refinisher after learning and developing the repair and refinishing skill sets passed to me by my beloved father, Mustafa. My father was in the fine antique restoration business for 66 years. While growing up in New Orleans with my father, I decided to shadow him, learn the skill set needed, and engage myself in the antique furniture restoration business. 

Who are your mentors and what are your influences, inspirations? My beloved father, Mustafa, was my first mentor and will always remain my mentor and influence. He taught me the professional and interpersonal skills that have helped me accomplish my personal goals and excel at my craft. The skills acquired from Father did not only help me complete any job, but to complete it with absolute perfection. 

Tell us about one of your favorite or most important projects. One of my most important projects included the restoration and refinishing of approximately 30 fine antique furniture pieces for the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Canal Street in 2013. 

What has being a furniture restorer taught you? Working on fine and precious antiques has taught me multiple things over the years. Not all jobs are simple and depending on the job, some antique furniture might require additional work and creativity to ensure the final product exceeds our client’s expectations. And so, work has taught me to be patient, disciplined and apply my most powerful skill set to every project.

Design Masters

Master of Window Treatments / Draperies

Leila Cabrera – Draperies by Leila

Tell us about your work. Draperies by Leila has been in business since 1978 in the greater New Orleans area. We are an end-to-end custom design and manufacturing facility for all interior needs. In 1999 my husband, Gus Cabrera, and I built a 3,000-square-foot workroom and office in River Ridge. Here we can manufacture, design or upholster almost anything imaginable. 

Why and how did you become an interior decorator and drapery manufacturer? In 1976 I wanted to start my own business, so my husband introduced me to a design course at a local college. The course had me totally hooked on interior decorating and the manufacturing process. After studying for two years I was awarded an associate degree in drapery making. The best part was that I discovered I love helping clients and bringing their ideas to life.

Who are your mentors and what are your influences, inspirations? Growing up in the foothills of Honduras, I watched my loving mother make and sew her own patterns for clothing which inspired me to be the person I am today. 

Tell us about one of your favorite or most important projects. From servicing the film industry to decorating hotels or working with the many talented decorators locally and nationally, I have been blessed to have worked with so many interesting people from all walks of life. One of my proudest moments was bringing to life historic hotels across the country such as The Driskill in Austin, Le Pavillon in New Orleans, Mountain View Grand Resort in New Hampshire and Chatham Bars Inn Resort in Cape Cod to name a few. And one of my exciting projects was building and upholstering coffins for the TV series ‘Interview with a Vampire.’ 

What has being an interior decorator and drapery manufacturer taught you? If you want to live a long and happy life never stop working as long as you are passionate at what you do.

Design Masters

Master of Landscape Architecture

Brad Casey – Vista Landscaping

Tell us about your work. [Vista Landscaping is] a full-service landscape company specializing in outdoor entertainment areas which include swimming pools, outdoor kitchens, landscape design and construction.

Why and how did you become a landscape architect?  I studied landscape architecture at LSU. I entered into the curriculum because of my love for the outdoors and the environment.

Who are your mentors and what are your influences, inspirations? I am often inspired by taking a concept and bringing it from the design to the construction stages. I enjoy seeing the end results and how happy it makes my clients. 

Tell us about one of your favorite or most important projects. One of my favorite projects was the reconstruction of St. Anthony’s Garden behind the St. Louis Cathedral on Royal Street in the French Quarter. The garden was re-designed by French Landscape Architect Louis Benech after it received extensive damage by hurricane Katrina. This project allowed me to be involved in not only the reconstruction of the site but also allowed my team the opportunity to work closely with Benech’s team from France that traveled to New Orleans to consult with us daily on the project.

What has being a landscape architect taught you? My work has taught me to always take a step back, listen and analyze the big picture before jumping into things. 

Design Masters

Master of Furniture Design

Matthew Holdren – Matthew Holdren Design

Tell us about your work. I design and build custom furniture and interiors and work in both wood and metal, through sketches and image boards. I work primarily on my own with a helper, maintaining a small business that allows me to personally create my work. My furniture is primarily built with reclaimed sinker cypress and can be seen at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Why and how did you become a furniture designer and maker? Ever since I can remember I’ve been making things — treehouses, wooden race cars, art, music. When I moved to New Orleans 16 years ago, I got a job restoring old houses and I salvaged materials and started building pieces for my apartment. I was influenced by New England/Shaker and simple straightforward design and let the materials add some beauty. I was eventually able to make a living at it. 

Who are your mentors and what are your influences, inspirations? My parents have always been my biggest influence; both of them are creative and hardworking and have an eye for design. My mom was a graphic designer and my dad has restored cars, built houses and has a natural ability to sketch and build anything. They gave me the idea that you can figure it out and do whatever you want. I’ve had to hustle and scrape by, but it’s that entrepreneur, blue collar family history that has gotten me to this point.

Tell us about your favorite projects. I’ve been doing a lot of commercial buildouts lately. And I have clients who trust in my vision and work. I got to create Morrow’s and Treehouse, and now I’m working on a new bar for the same client. All three Toast restaurants. The Franklin and Galaxie. And sometimes working with architects and designers on projects like The Elysian Bar and Ayu Bakehouse.

What has making furniture taught you? Anything is possible. That you can actually do what you love as a job but it’s not going to be easy.  It’s very hard work, it can take a toll mentally and definitely physically. But it’s so gratifying to take raw materials or a roughed-out space, transform it, and watch people enjoy it.