Designing The Future

Meet the next generation of Southwest Florida design talent.

BY January 24, 2020
From left: Renée Gaddis, Chad Jensen, Brandt Henning, Michaela Reiterer Henning, Leili Fatemi, Carrie Brigham; Photography by Brian Tietz

In terms of residential design, there is where we are, and where we’re headed. Contemporary conformity is fast becoming a thing of the past. The name of the game is bespoke, as custom pieces predominate, commissioned art is emergent, textures are mixed in brand-new ways and exteriors move toward individualized modes of modernism. As savvy and exacting clients become increasingly game for the type of statement homes not typically seen in the region, these five design studios are pushing boundaries and conjuring the unexpected.

Art Effects: Method & Concept

Instead of  working with clients who view the artwork as the last step in a project, Chad Jensen—artist, furniture maker, designer and founding director of Method &
Concept, a Thomas Riley Company—follows the atelier model. “We love working with clients who are either starting to build collections, or who already have collections,” he explains. A recent project illustrates the process. When clients wanted to reimagine their master suite, furnishings followed art. “We started this whole room palette based on a custom-commissioned piece of artwork that we proposed. Once we figured out what that art was going to be, we built the room to support it.” And because the clients had a preference for the traditional, Jensen tapped classically trained painter Carmelo Blandino. “Commissioned art is a leap of faith,” Jensen says, both for the atelier, which counts on the artist to deliver, and for the clients, who put their trust in Jensen. In the end, Jensen’s clients find their faith well-placed. –Drew Limsky


Rising Star: Carrie Brigham Design

“I look for inspiration on the Internet on a daily basis, but then when I start the design, I don’t look at anything,” says Carrie Brigham, a bright new light in the local design
community. Born and raised in Naples, she earned her BA in interior design at Florida State, and founded her firm in 2017. If Brigham has an ethos, she says “it’s all about using material and finishes in an unexpected way, in a way that’s unique to the project.” For example, in the kitchen featured on her website’s landing page, rustic meets polished as a wooden hood is surrounded by waterjet mosaic tiles. What accounts for such a bold contrast? “I’m obsessed with every building material known to man,” she says. But her favorite material is marble: “We live in a world where everyone wants everything to be durable, understandably, from manmade quartz to porcelain tile, but the natural beauty of marble is unparalleled, surpassing any material created to emulate it.” For a designer relatively new to the industry, Brigham exudes certainty. –DL


Fashion Forward: Renée Gaddis Interiors

Renée Gaddis’s design arsenal often borrows from runways, glossy mags and maybe even a chic client’s closet. The Naples-based interior designer, and owner of Renée Gaddis Interiors, draws from her degree in apparel merchandising, design and production from Iowa State University when she tackles any project. In one room, she framed a vintage Hermés scarf with buttery golden hues that amplified the warm wood floors and metallic light fixtures in the space. Gaddis compares home design to picking out an outfit, with accents and lighting acting as jewelry or a blazer. You start with the staple pieces and add complementary details that can easily be changed with the fads or seasons. Her affinity for trends and bold pieces fits particularly well with her roster of seasonal clients who are more open to experimentation when designing their second or third homes. “When a client comes to me with a unique design concept,” Gaddis says, “it really gets my creative juices flowing.” –Jaynie Tice


Mind Meld: HLevel

Husband-and-wife team Brandt Henning and Michaela Reiterer Henning met cute—at an AIA lecture. Michaela had founded her Naples-based architectural and interior design company in 2010, while Brandt was working with another firm. “I was helping to organize the lecture and Michaela was an attendee,” Brandt recalls. “Indiana and Italy were joined by design.” He became a partner in HLevel in 2013 and the firm emerged as a meeting of their modernist minds. “We were tired of seeing what was happening in South Florida, cookie-cutter homes,” Michaela says. When the two realized that the area hadn’t yet picked up on the tropical modernism and sustainable elements that were starting to blossom in Miami, they saw their opportunity. “What clients like about our design is that it’s clean but also warm and livable,” Brandt says. “It’s not a cold, stark, harsh modernism—we celebrate natural materials.” Brandt says that one of their projects in progress—a 3,000-square-foot house located on a “magical, beautiful site” on the Estero River—illustrates their values. Their goal is to have the home LEED-certified. “It’s somewhat of a camouflage-type of home where the lines between the built environment and the riverside setting will be blurred,” Brandt explains. “The house will tread very lightly on the land.” –DL


Full Service: Leili Design Studio

Juggling clients is not for Leili Fatemi, principal of Leili Design Studio in Fort Myers. “I don’t know how other designers approach their projects,” she says, “but what I hear from my clients is they like that I take total responsibility from start to finish. I’m a boutique-type business—I’m not accepting five or 10 projects at once.” Fatemi regards each project as an utterly unique creation informed by a client’s needs. “I was working on a bachelor pad project and my client said, ‘Give me something that no one else has in Southwest Florida,’” she remembers. “So I came up with a lounge for what I call the Bobcat project: at one end is a TV set within a stone wall, and on the other end I designed a full bar anchored by a stacked column, illuminated in blue.” Soon after completion, she met one of her idols, designer Thom Filicia, at a Kravet event. When he heard about the project, the star of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” asked to see some photos, and in no time Bobcat was published. Naturally, that one-of-a-kind column was prominently featured. “I enjoy doing custom work,” she says. “I like to create from scratch.” –DL  

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