10 under 40

Photographer: 
Erica George Dines
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1 ) Courtney Giles
Her work has been described as, at once, sophisticated and edgy. Indeed, it’s designer Courtney Giles’ keen eye for the unexpected that adds individuality to her rooms. “My signature style is probably best describes as transitional,” she says. “I love to mix antiques with contemporary art, creating a layered look.” Growing up in Alabama, Giles knew at an early age precisely what she wanted to do with her life. Because her father built houses for a living, there were always blueprints around and design seemed a natural fit. Armed with a degree in Interior Environments from Auburn University, she spent eight years working with Carter Kay Interiors, then further honed her design skills in New York City before launching her own residential design firm in 2008. Giles has worked on projects throughout the Southeast and as far afield as the Netherlands. But she’s quick to credit much of her success to her mentor, Carter Kay. “I can’t thank her enough for the knowledge she gave me—and  the confidence to start my business!
2 ) David VanArsdale
David VanArsdale founded the multidisciplinary design firm People of Resource in 2009. But his accomplishments date back much further. Prior to founding the business, VanArsdale taught Industrial Design at Georgia Tech (the same program from which he graduated) and was Creative Director and Co-Founder of thing farm. “I came to Georgia Tech planning to study physics, but soon found Industrial Design (Product Design) and never turned back,” he explains. “Apparently, though, I knew what was up in the 4th grade. My mom found an old autobiography assignment from when I was 9 years old, which held record of me declaring my plans to be an artist, an inventor, and have good birthdays.” There have been awards along the way, including a Downtown Design Excellence award from Central Atlanta Progress; VanArsdale was part of the team that designed the light fixtures at Luckie Food Lounge that open and close when they sense diners’ movements. But, he says, “the idea of ‘a greatest accomplishment’ doesn’t really matter to me. It’s the stories—of failure and success—that I cherish from past projects. Any chance to design, and feel the rush of solution, is the greatest accomplishment until the next. If I could do good work for the rest of my life, I would consider that a dream realized.”
3 ) Tug Helmer
A self-described “hard-charging, progressive-minded, eccentric-yet-polite and formal Southern man,” Tug Helmer came home to Atlanta to work for the Cartel Group after graduating from the London campus of American College, focusing on commercial real estate brokerage and development. After ten years at Cartel, Helmer left to join start-up ATL Commercial but—not one to sit still—soon found himself caught up in another business, too. “I am a licensed broker in North Carolina,” he says. Through real estate I came to meet a logger who introduced me to the concept of kiln-dried firewood and he encouraged me to do it here. Despite Atlanta being in a dense forest, I knew firewood was very underserved here, so I formed Sam’s Kiln-Dried Firewood with the idea of professionalizing this cottage industry.” What’s more, Helmer is currently restoring several old railroad repair buildings in Mechanicsville. “The Railyard is going to be train-smoke hot when it’s complete,” he says. “We are basically bringing these pre-Civil War buildings back to life, this time as a state-of-the-art kiln-dried firewood processing center—the largest in the Southeast.” Stay tuned; this visionary is sure to deliver innovation well into the future.
4 ) Lee Kleinhelter
She’s an unabashed “obsessive compulsive stylist,” taking on anything in sight—right down to her son’s toy box. “It’s an illness I’ve happened to parlay into a career,” laughs Lee Kleinhelter, owner of Pieces, the Buckhead hot spot known for clean-lined furnishings with a twist. “I’m just passionate about the visual; I really, really love good design.” This trailblazer was only in her 20’s when she realized her passion for styling and product. “I also love turning things into things, and pulling them all together into a specific look,” she says of her penchant to reimagine vintage finds. “Over the past six years it’s just evolved.  We’ve learned a lot of things the hard way, by trial and error, but mostly it’s been a smash hit and we’ve developed a following that I’m grateful for. I made the leap because I was young and naive enough to think I could do it. Thank goodness I did.”
5 ) Ryan Hughes
R Hughes, Ryan Hughes’ to-the-trade showroom in the Westside Design District has barely been open a year. But it’s already garnered much buzz in the industry. After graduating from the University of Georgia’s Terry College with a degree in Business Administration, Hughes followed his passion for interior design by accepting a position at Ainsworth-Noah Associates. After analyzing the industry for several years, he recognized a need for fresh and unique products in the Atlanta market. The result of his research—and tireless efforts—is the 4,000-square-foot R. Hughes showroom, filled with collections exclusive to the area. “The vision literally came to me in the middle of the night; there were so many great products not yet in Atlanta and I wanted to bring them here in an outside-the-box concept,” says Hughes. “I’ve always loved White Provisions and when I saw the space it just felt right to me. The lines that I carry aren’t those that would want to be in a traditional design center, so it was a happy marriage.” And he’s already thinking about the next big thing. “I’d like to take my concept to other cities,” he says, “like Holly Hunt or Jerry Pair.”
6 ) Mali Azima
It was an 11th-grade photography class that got Mali Azima thinking about making the art her profession. Along the way, though, she got sidetracked by fashion design and picked up a degree in that major instead. Her intent was to create not couture but functional pieces. “But it wasn’t as stimulating as I’d envisioned,” she recalls. So, she was off to her next creative venture, this time working for Dallas interior designer Paul Garzotto, where she was exposed to the world of high-end design. And that’s when fate stepped in. “He had hired a photographer take shots of merchandise in his store but I didn’t think they were all that good. My boyfriend at the time encouraged me to take some shots and, before long, we were designing his advertising. Soon, other boutiques were asking us to design their advertising and our business grew.” Today, Azima counts Neiman Marcus and Knoll among her clients. But she’s equally lauded for her amazing shots of interiors, published in books and magazines that run the gamut from House Beautiful to our own Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles. “I try to capture energy in my photos,” she explains. “I want people to feel like they’re in the room, to feel the tension created by the objects within. It’s important to move people.” 
7 ) Brian Patrick Flynn
He’s the man behind the wildly popular Décor Demon blog (decordemon.com). And his star isn’t merely burning bright; it’s skyrocketing through space. “I’m a television producer-turned- professional decorator,” says Brian Patrick Flynn of his circuitous path to the design world. “I have absolutely zero formal training in design but, when I was in college, I got an amazing internship which turned into a paid job producing prime-time news. Months later, I took a job behind the scenes assisting designers on a home makeover show. Now I produce broadcast and online design shows during the day [Movie & a Makeover on TBS], and take on my own clients nights and weekends. Basically, I’m a bonafide decorating addict.” What’s more, Flynn—with his unapologetic, cinematic and playful sense of style—now writes editorial and blog posts on design for hgtv.com, where he also has his own series of web episodes, Fast Fixes. “Ten years ago, my dream was to have a career. Eight years ago, my dream was to have a career in television. Six years ago, my dream was to dabble in interior design. Five years ago, my dream was to own a mid-century modern home. Two years ago, my dream was to be a respected designer. Today, I juggle two successful careers in TV and design, own a mid-century modern home and, as being part of this group suggests, may actually be that respected designer and not just some guy who plays one on TV.”
8 ) Dawn M. Bennett
After graduating cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts from Clemson University and obtaining her Master of Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis, Dawn Bennett worked her way up to associate at TVS before joining Harrison Design Associates as a project architect. And she hasn’t looked back. Today, in addition to running her own architectural practice—and being one of the few female architects practicing in Atlanta—she’s a principal at Splice Design, a firm with offices in Atlanta and New York City that offers a complete range of services including architecture, communication, research, strategy and urban design. Personally, Bennett considers herself a modernist but “I do a little bit of everything,” she says. “Working at Harrison taught me about traditional style and proportion. Some of the best examples of modern architecture are successful because the architect understood the rules of traditional architecture and chose to manipulate or break them in a certain way.  A base understanding of what you are manipulating, or breaking, always makes the result more successful.” So what does she consider her greatest professional accomplishment to date? “I hope it’s yet to come; the next thing is always the best thing,” Bennett says. “The bottom line is I just want to make good architecture that pleases people. That’s as good as it gets.”
9 ) Niki Papadopoulos
Niki Papadopoulos had every intention of following in the footsteps of San Francisco fashion designer Azadeh Riaz. “Before I came to Atlanta I worked for her, and wanted to be just like her. She taught me so much about business and being passionate about your work,” Papadopoulos recalls. “But there is less of a market for custom clothing in Atlanta so I woke up one day and decided to change my major. It was completely impulsive. I walked into the Interior Design Department office and thought, ‘I might like this.’ I changed my major in about 30 minutes and immediately began taking interior design courses. Scott Laslie and Mark Williams gave me an opportunity to intern at Laslie-Williams Inc. and I just never left. The experience of working with them—and learning from them—has been and continues to be invaluable.” Her work has been described as “bold, brilliant and inspired,” for which she gives much credit to her father. “I know that my creativity and work ethic are derived directly from him. It has been just the two of us since I was 10 and he always told me to do what makes me happy.” Professionally speaking, that includes a career she loves and a blog—yummyscrumptious.blogspot.com—where she regularly shares insight on her world of design.
10) Amy D. Morris
Amy Morris’ résumé reads like a “Who’s Who of Interior Design in Atlanta.” While studying at the Art Institute of Atlanta, Morris interned with the renowned firm Gandy-Peace, which piqued her interest in contemporary work. Then, after receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design, Morris worked with Barbara Westbrook for five years and acquired an appreciation of both traditional and French modern design. That experience paved the way for Morris’ own firm, Amy D. Morris Interiors—which she opened in 2005—where this purveyor of style specializes in transitional design, classic rooms with a fresh, sophisticated spin. Since being named as a 2009 Atlanta Homes & Styles Bath of the Year contest winner (and featured on the cover of the July 2009 issue), “things just keep getting better,” says Morris. “But everything that’s happening right now is so great, I can’t imagine it getting any better!” 

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