15 under 40: Willem Stear

He’s only lived stateside for five years, but South African native Willem Stear, an interior designer and architectural consultant known for his eclectic mix of styles and distinct international flair, quickly earned a name for himself in Atlanta and beyond thanks to a background that includes managing projects from London to Dubai under the tutelage of notable South African designers. Named “one to watch” by ADAC in 2011, and nominated for Southeast Designer of the Year in 2013, his recent projects range from a residence in Sonoma, California, to restoring the Joseph Amisano-designed house (an important example of modern architecture) in which he lives and works. Up next: a small-batch line of furniture with South African influences.

When did you know this was your calling in life?I guess I’ve always known. I come from a family of builders and architects and some of my earliest memories are of running to construction sites with my grandfather. My first love is architecture but I prefer the intimacy of interior design. Turning a space into someone’s home while staying true to their personality, their wants and needs, and being successful at it—that’s the biggest high for me!

Do you have a design philosophy? Keep it simple! Don’t over think it! Often the simplest solution is the best. That’s sort of a broad philosophy. Also, every room needs something unexpected to create tension. This elevates a space and makes it interesting and gives it personality.

What do you think is next regarding color?There’s been a major shift from the soft, gray, modest and monochromatic color palette—that was a clear reflection of the economic mood—to a more bold, graphic, colorful and daring color palette. Grays and silvers have been replaced with chocolate browns, gold, copper and brass.

What kinds of materials do you enjoy working with?I guess being from South Africa I’ve always been a fan of organic materials. I love using reclaimed wooden items, whether it is dining table tops, side tables or stools. I’m also a fan of natural materials like thick Belgian linens, wonderful cottons and wools. I find creating a play on texture far more interesting than trying to match 20 different patterns and colors. I prefer the subtlety of it and it feels less contrived.

Tell us about your upcoming line of furniture. This is still very much in the conception phase but I’m hoping to launch this by the end of the year. I plan to draw inspiration from my South African roots. There is so much cultural diversity and influence from all over the world and so much happening in design and I want to share that with my American audience. I’m working with a Johannesburg based non-profit that teaches traditional crafts to men and women mostly affected by HIV/AIDS. I don’t want to give too much away, but imagine a gorgeous handcrafted wooden frame chair with really tight upholstery with a back done in traditional beading. Very simple and clean, but incorporating something unique and unexpected.

To view more of Stear’s work, visit tonic-designstudio.com. 

{This year’s 15 uner 40 class is presented by Matthews’ Furniture Galleries}