Ones to Watch: 15 Under 40

Atlanta’s rising design talents haven't just paid their dues—they’ve created platforms, introduced products and adopted philosophies that are changing the way we live today.


Missy Madden, Bellwether Landscape Architects
Brookhaven-bred Missy Madden gleaned her earliest inspirations from her aunt, Mary Jo Means, a florist who designed bouquets for the 1996 Olympics. After a strong start at HGOR and seven years at Planters—with projects from rooftop terraces for Peachtree Road penthouses to Old Edwards Inn—Madden founded Bellwether Landscape Architects with former colleague Todd Yeager in 2011. “Focusing on design and project management allows us to stay nimble,” explains Madden, who helps clients bid on budget-friendly subcontractors while collaborating with industry heavyweights like Robert Brown and Linda MacArthur. On the pro-bono circuit, she’s helped restore an Edith Henderson garden and serves on the building grounds committee for Skyland Trail, a local mental health nonprofit. Madden shies away from the overly textured garden, opting instead for perennials like Lenten roses and autumn ferns. “I think we’ve struck a chord with our contemporaries because we know how they live,” she says. “I love helping families build their dream homes.”  –Kate Abney

Iesia King, Kirkland & King Design Associates
Although undergrad pointed her toward law school, Iesia King can testify that pursuing her interior design degree was the best ruling she ever made. While completing her decorating coursework at Gwinnett Technical College, King accepted an internship at Bryan Alan Kirkland Designs. A mere week later, he offered her a job. Thanks to her proactive temperament and impeccable taste, the ambitious 30-year-old designer made partner at the firm, now Kirkland & King Design Associates, in 2015. Her classic, modern style has become her signature in projects ranging from residences in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to the 2015 Atlanta Symphony Show House, where she and Kirkland designed a guest room called the “Golden Bordeaux Boudoir,” inspired by the Pantone color of the year, marsala. “The room reflects the marriage between Bryan’s bold style and my simplistic, clean-lined approach,” she says. The jury is back—Iesia King is a designer to watch.  –Jeanne Lyons Davis

David Kowalski, Brick+Mortar
Originally hailing from Hickory Flat, Georgia, David C. Kowalski forged a complex career path that included teaching in China, assisting author Marcus Buckingham and working in marketing at Turner Broadcasting before he stumbled into furniture sales. He started small in 2012, selling alongside two friends at Paris on Ponce. But when came calling, his hobby quickly transformed into a full-blown business: Brick+Mortar. Today, Kowalski’s hand-picked pieces sell on sites like One Kings Lane, Gilt and Chairish, in addition to his longtime Westside Provisions pop-up shop—though eagle-eyed Atlantans may have spied them in boutiques such as Tweeds and Billy Reid, as well as eateries such as Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall, The Pinewood and Bell Street Burritos. Although Kowalski sources as far afield as Iceland, Budapest and Paris, his excursions center on the Southeast, uncovering mostly late-20th-century Americana relics like antique maps, desks and well-worn rugs. “There’s more charm in the patina,” he says.  –Kate Abney

Clay Mclaurin, Clay Mclaurin Studios
A screen-printing course at the University of Georgia illuminated a light bulb inside Clay McLaurin’s head. “I fell in love with printing on fabric—that immediacy of creating something beautiful you can touch and manipulate,” McLaurin says. “From that moment, I knew I wanted to design textiles.” The designer completed his BFA in fabric design from UGA and his master’s degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, and then worked in the New York fabric industry before returning to UGA to revamp its textile program. But in 2013, he officially ignited his dream of designing a fabric line and opened Clay McLaurin Studio in Atlanta with partner Todd Piercy. The hand-drawn fabric collection features fresh, brushstroke-inspired designs from McLaurin’s own sketches. The duo debuted their collection at Ainsworth-Noah in Atlanta, and they have since expanded to Studio Four NYC and Nicky Rising Ltd. in West Hollywood. Their exclusive line of “ready-to-wear” fabrics for Westside design dame Bungalow Classic continues to be a success, with new patterns launching this spring. And if that wasn’t enough to be excited about, the studio launched its first collection of hand-painted wallpaper in May.  –Jeanne Lyons Davis

Andrew Thomas Lee, Andrew Thomas Lee Photography
“I was supposed to be a musician,” says Atlanta photographer Andrew Thomas Lee—whose résumé includes work for a slew of publications (including Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles), as well businesses and restaurants (Ford Fry’s The Optimist and Kevin Gillespie’s Gunshow) across the region. Last year, Lee held his first-ever gallery show at Inman Park’s One Twelve Gallery, and the year prior, he partnered with close friends (chef Ryan Smith and designer Alvin Diec) to produce Brother, a single-subject magazine centered around the production and integrity of food. Lee says he first found an affinity for photography when he bought a professional camera to document his band’s European tour. A few subsequent assisting jobs, including one with wedding photographer and mentor Scott Chester, convinced him to pursue a career behind the lens, and he found his niche in food photography after shooting for Decatur’s no. 246. “I had an epiphany that I enjoyed doing it,” Lee says. “I felt like I began to learn and grow and that photography was something that I wanted to do. It was just a natural fit.” –Claire Ruhlin

Jessica Bradley, Jessica Bradley Interiors
Interior designer Jessica Bradley could be the poster child for the fresh face of traditional design. Her recent projects, ranging from a new-build in Brookhaven to a Buckhead renovation with residential designer William T. Baker, reveal the Jackye Lanham protégé’s penchant for creating fresh but functional, character-rich but comfortable interiors that shine in their gracious subtleties. Look no further, in fact, than the interior designer’s Galleries of Peachtree Hills office, for the ultimate personification of her polished-to-perfection taste. A University of Georgia grad who married her high-school sweetheart (it’s her dream that at least one of their two daughters will join the family business), Bradley maintains that cultivating client relationships is one of the most valuable lessons learned during her tenure with Lanham. Equally as adept in the commercial arena—Bradley will redesign the main bar and two dining rooms at Druid Hills Golf Club later this year—the interior designer says she is drawn to traditional clubs in the South that embrace a “homey” feel. –Elizabeth Ralls

Brandon Ingram, C. Brandon Ingram Design
Architect Brandon Ingram may not have grown up among estates designed by renowned architect Philip Trammell Shutze, but the Southwest Georgia native says it’s the gracious, honest and humble homes of his youth—the ones “designed in a traditional vein but in an approachable manner”—that ultimately influenced his path to traditional architecture. (Though Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture, where Ingram connected with professor and classicist Betty Dowling, also helped solidify his calling.) An internship with architect Stephen Fuller translated into nearly a decade at the firm, where he served project manager, lead illustrator and senior designer. In 2012, he founded his own firm, and to date, those “perfectly imperfect” homes from his childhood stay top of mind, whether he’s renovating a South Georgia plantation or sketching a concept for a British Colonial beach house. “So much art and pride goes into designing a house. That’s something we can’t take lightly,” he says. –Elizabeth Ralls

Karen Ferguson, Harrison Design
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree for interior designer Karen Ferguson. “My dad worked in commercial architecture when I was growing up, and I always watched him draw in the evenings,” Ferguson says. She thought she’d follow in his footsteps until she interned for Atlanta-based interior designer Jill VanTosh, where she realized her future was in residential design. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a degree in furnishings and interiors, Ferguson began her career at Harrison Design. “When I started, I worked directly under architect Gregory Palmer and gained a great understanding and appreciation for good architecture, which is necessary for good interior design,” she says. In 2000, this collaboration developed into the firm’s first in-house interior design studio, which was—and still is—run by Ferguson. Clients request the studio’s services for exterior and interior selections, including window treatments, furniture and even the books that line the shelves. Ferguson’s impressive portfolio might as well be a Pinterest board, including enviable English manors, seaside estates, mountain cabins and luxury high-rises. When Ferguson isn’t decorating dream homes and projects, she’s spending time with her family, which includes two boys who “have an amazing way of keeping me checked into reality,” she says.  –Jeanne Lyons Davis

Stacey Osiecki, Parlore
In design school, Stacey Osiecki interned with John Henson, a mechanical engineer-turned-furniture designer. “He taught me about construction, the importance of being hands-on, and that details matter” she says. “Watching him build his business inspired me to become an entrepreneur.” Osiecki used her experience at WelbornHenson, her passion working in interior design and her involvement in tech incubators to build a creative solution—the app Parlore—to help designers streamline management of projects, simplify the product procurement process and increase profitability. The new free iPad app enables designers to manage projects, collaborate with clients, manufacturers and others, and shop an exclusive to-the-trade marketplace. By helping designers, manufacturers and clients build meaningful relationships, Parlore seeks to streamline all aspects of the creative process. Bringing Parlore to market also required Osiecki, its co-founder, to surround herself with knowledgeable people who embrace individuality, creativity and innovation while receiving feedback from more than 100 designers. Having recently introduced the project at High Point Market, she adds: “Now I get to be creative in a different way.”  –Lori Johnston

Skylar Morgan, Skylar Morgan Furniture + Design
After spending more than a decade in Atlanta, Skylar Morgan continues to carve a name for himself as the premier furniture craftsman in the South. The Montana native founded Skylar Morgan Furniture + Design—a custom furniture studio specializing in commercial and residential spaces—in 2002. Since then, Morgan’s work has been installed in hip haunts around town, including Serpas True Food and West Egg Cafe, as well as commercial spaces such as Perkins + Will’s office renovation. Doc., his handmade furniture line that incorporates rare and recycled woods, may now be viewed in SMFD’s new Westside showroom (214 Permalume Place). In the not-so-distant future, we look forward to new works of art (to add to our wish lists) from Morgan, who aims to add 10 to 15 new pieces to the doc. collection this year.  –Jeanne Lyons Davis

Lyndsy Woods, L. Kae Interiors
A Cape Cod native and SCAD Savannah grad, Lyndsy Woods was born to a talented finish carpenter father—exposure that stoked an early passion for her future field. “I was the 10-year-old girl playing with chisels in the garage while others were picking out dresses,” says the interior designer, whose portfolio includes everything from the Fleet Feet boutique to homey residences by the Chattahoochee. Beginning her career at Hedgewood Homes honed her skills for curb appeal as much as interior atmosphere—architectural details that remain, to this day, hallmarks of her eponymous firm, L.Kae Interiors. You may also know her work from local show houses, Junior League kitchen tours and her ASID Design Excellence Award–winning project with friend Kerry Howard. These days, the ASID programs director-at-large is ensconced in a new office next to Noland, Atlanta, conveniently located just steps away from her favorite high-end home fixtures.  –Kate Abney

Sally King Benedict, Artist
“Making art is like having my own personal genie bottle,” says artist Sally King Benedict, whose vibrant, abstract paintings have raked in critical acclaim and held a place in galleries and solo shows across the country. “I paint or create where I want to be or what I want to do. If I can’t live in the Stanley Dixon house down the street, I’m going to draw a version of it for myself,” she notes with a laugh. Originally from Atlanta, Benedict earned her art degree at the College of Charleston, where encouragement from mentors such as interior designer Kathleen Rivers and jewelry designer Janet Gregg helped her establish a full-time art career immediately upon graduation in 2007. In 2012, she and her husband relocated to Atlanta, where she continues to grow her business. In addition to an art show with contemporary artist Kate Long Stevenson at the Hidell Brooks Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina, she’s bringing several collaborative projects to the market this summer, including a line of letterpress note cards for Charleston-based fine paper purveyor mac & murphy. –Claire Juhlin

Chris Appleton, Wonderroot
Chris Appleton created WonderRoot in 2004 with the belief that if Atlanta artists have support and resources, they can address civic challenges through arts-based service work. “We were interested in the intersection of art and progressive social change,” says Appleton, the nonprofit’s co-founder and executive director. The mission remains the same, even as WonderRoot grows in both the number of artists it assists and support from community organizations and companies. This year, a $3.5 million renovation of a historic Reynoldstown school will create the new WonderRoot Center for Arts & Social Change, a 54,000-square-foot facility, and provide affordable private artists studios (it already has 300 applications for 45 studios). And folks are taking notice: in 2014, Appleton received a National Emerging Leader Award from Americans for the Arts. WonderRoot has paired his passion for the arts and social change with his affection for Atlanta—a dynamic combination.  –Lori Johnston

Joshua Charles, Flags of Origin
A trailblazer of Atlanta’s shifting aesthetic, Flags of Origin founder Joshua Charles is as passionate about building brand identities as he is about creating environments—which explains his departure from Gensler, one of the world’s most prestigious architecture outfits, in search of more multidisciplinary avenues. Decamping from New York City to Atlanta, he landed his loftiest project to date: a Coca-Cola install for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Enviable posts at E. & J. Gallo Winery and Tesser followed before he teamed up with the inimitable Smith Hanes with designs for The Optimist and Watershed on Peachtree in 2012. Parting ways with Hanes a year later, Charles put his stamp on eateries like Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall and Bocado Burger, with prospective projects like Oakleaf & Acorn’s Ponce City Market boutique, King of Pops’ Charleston outpost and a French-style restaurant and café with a former Star Provisions chef on the horizon. Keep watch for his launch of “adventurous” lighting and furniture at Dixon Rye this fall.  –Kate Abney

Christy Petterson, Indie Craft Experience
When Christy Petterson and Shannon Mulkey founded Indie Craft Experience (ICE) in 2005, they had fingers crossed that their first summer market would draw in 100 visitors. A total of 800 attendees exceeded their expectations and reaffirmed their mission: to provide Atlanta with an outlet specifically where crafters could sell their handmade work. “We definitely felt like it was a success and that we were providing something people were interested in,” Petterson says. Following their inaugural show’s success, Petterson and Mulkey, both crafters themselves, expanded ICE—which now hosts vendors from across the country—to include holiday and vintage markets, summer camps, pop-up shops and, this year, the first-ever Craft Escape, a weekend retreat of creative workshops held April 30–May 3 and taught by local creatives. “We like to think that we’ve helped launch hundreds of businesses over the years,” Petterson notes. “It’s been awesome to watch a lot of them grow and develop their careers.” –Claire Ruhlin