A few years ago, “House Beautiful” published a family tree tracing the roots of American design. Atlantans dominated its Southern branch—notably, Dan Carithers, John Oetgen, Nancy Braithwaite, Stan Topol, Bobby McAlpine, Suzanne Kasler, and Phoebe and Jim Howard. As the illustration shows, the tradition of young apprentices attaching themselves to respected design professionals seems especially strong here. Take, for example, local designer and antiques dealer Carol Klotz and her mentor, the late Edith Hills. Once the grande dame of Atlanta decorating, Hills worked alongside renowned architects from Philip Trammell Shutze to Henri Jova. When a young Klotz hired Hills to decorate her Shutze-designed home in the late 1960s, she found the experience so compelling that she asked the designer to teach her everything she knew about the design business.
“I was like a sieve when Edith imparted information,” says Klotz, who applied what she learned about furniture history to her own Buckhead gallery, Regalo Antiques. A fabric that Brunschwig & Fils named after Hills still hangs in Klotz’s foyer. And Klotz also remembers her mentor’s instruction on originality and taste: “Taste is born into you. You can educate and refine it, but it has to be innate.” Says Klotz, “Edith and my husband have been the two biggest influences in my life.”
Klotz’s reverence for Hills is characteristic of the deep respect that most protégés feel toward their mentors. When we asked a few local designers and architects to discuss the roles mentors played in shaping their careers, we noted an abundance of gratitude in their responses. Yet these feelings of admiration do not seem to be one-sided. When we turned to the mentors themselves, seeking a few sage words about design, we were struck by the great sense of pride they feel in their students’ success.
1. Mentor Norman Askins and protégé Yong Pak
Considered one of the country’s foremost classical architects, Norman Askins is coming off an exhilarating year that saw the publication of his much-anticipated monograph, “Inspired by Tradition: The Architecture of Norman Davenport Askins.” A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Askins founded his practice close to four decades ago in Atlanta, a city that has benefited from his elegant, classically minded houses. Over the years, Askins’s firm has employed a veritable who’s who of Atlanta architecture, spinning off 18 other firms with principals like Stan Dixon, Ross Piper, Jack Davis, and Yong Pak. After 10 years of working for Askins, Pak struck out on his own, eventually joining fellow Askins alum Charles Heydt to form Pak Heydt & Associates.
“I started working for Norman in 1987, right after I graduated from college. I was his third employee, and at that time, our office was in the basement of Norman’s house. As soon as I was hired, I started working on custom homes. It was trial by fire. Norman trusted me to help him produce a lot of great architecture. He gave me a lot of rope with which to hang myself, and that was very empowering. For the first time, I felt a mentorship, which I never had when I was at school.
Norman was both a mentor and a teacher to me. He taught me how to look at classical architecture critically and how to reinterpret it in a contemporary context. From him, I also learned that an important part of classicism involves understanding its history. For example, in certain historic periods, the size of windowpanes was more consistent than today because of limitations on glass manufacturing.
I based my practice on the way Norman ran his. When it comes to clients, I can still hear Norman saying, ‘Try never to say no.’ You always put your clients first. As architects, it is up to us to interpret what clients want. He trusted me to have that authority. He also instilled in me that it’s my job to do the clients’ homework for them.
2. Mentor Charles Gandy and protégés Barbara Westbrook and Amy Morris
Back in the ’80s and ’90s, few Atlanta design firms were as influential or as respected as Gandy/Peace Inc. Founded by Charles Gandy in 1979 (designer Bill Peace was made partner in 1985), Gandy/Peace made a name for itself with contemporary work—no small feat in a city where traditional decor had long dominated. Although he’s now retired, Gandy’s influence still looms large over the Atlanta design community, especially among those designers whose careers he helped foster. They include Barbara Westbrook, who established Westbrook Interiors after training under Gandy and later Nancy Braithwaite, and Amy Morris, whose early career included stints at both Gandy/Peace and Westbrook Interiors.
“Charles is such a natural teacher, and he was always gracious with knowledge and praise. He has this personality where he gives lots of credit.
It was great schooling for me to see Charles run his business like a professional. I appreciated the fact that Charles was at the office every morning at eight. There were no special privileges for him. He was super professional but always pleasant. He also didn’t expect one’s life to revolve around his business, and he taught me the importance of life outside of work.
He taught me so much about design. I learned how to take a big project and address all of the decisions in their proper order, down to the doorstops.
There needs to be something clean and simple in a room, and I learned that from Charles. It gives a relief to your eyes. I see a heavy influence of Gandy/Peace in my work. I have a need for simplicity mixed with one or two dramatic moments in order to make it more interesting. Charles was always so good at those dramatic moments in a room.
“Growing up in Atlanta at a time when most decor was traditional, I didn’t think that I would develop an appreciation for contemporary design. Until interning for Charles, I had never been around such contemporary, clean spaces before, and I quickly realized that I loved them. It was easy for me to see that Gandy/Peace’s work was the best of the best.
I was taught the basic design principles in school, but it was Charles who taught me how to apply them. He was always so right on in the way he approached scale, balance, and proportion, and he applied the same design principles to both contemporary and traditional rooms. I layer my rooms way more than Charles did, but, like Charles, I know that even if I’m working on a traditional space, I have to start by giving the room ‘clean bones.’
One lesson that I learned from Charles is that you have to continue to educate yourself, which was something that he was always doing. He also showed me the importance of being funny and nice. He always approached a situation with humor. After all, it’s decorating, not heart surgery.
3. Mentor Margaret Bosbyshell and protégé Clary Bosbyshell Froeba
For Margaret Bosbyshell and daughter Clary Bosbyshell Froeba, a passion for design runs in the family. As a teenager, Bosbyshell worked part time at her father’s furniture showroom at the Atlanta Merchandise Mart. After taking a post-college detour into computer equipment sales, she returned to her design roots, working first at ADAC and later opening her own interiors firm, Margaux Interiors Limited, in 1982. Like her mother, Froeba spent her formative years being schooled in fabrics and fine furnishings, an experience that led Froeba to join her mother’s design business in 2009.
Clary Bosbyshell Froeba
“My mother and I both knew that I would eventually do something fashion- or design-oriented. When I was a child, my mother took me to ADAC, antiques shops, and even job sites, so I learned about the design business at a young age. Because I grew up around textiles, furniture, and beautiful objects, I have always noticed these things more than the average person. At high school and college parties, I was usually most interested in the decor of the host’s house.
Because my mother can be adventuresome with her decorating, I have been exposed to a range of different styles. Eventually, I want to be known for my own unique look. If I were to describe my style today, I would say that it’s layered and organic—with texture, lots of solids, a pop or two of color, and great art mixed in.
My mom has taught me a lot about quality. As she always says, “Quality over quantity.” One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from her, though, is the importance of decorating with antiques. Thanks to her, I know a lot about antiques, and we try to incorporate them in most of our projects. She has learned from me, too. I have helped her adapt to new technology and become more technologically savvy.
I think that we are able to be more honest with each other than most people working together, and that benefits us and makes our projects more successful. We often see things differently, which makes our working relationship a true collaboration. I might need to go off on my own someday in order to be all that I can be, but my mother will always be my mentor.
4. Mentor Dan Carithers and protégés Heather Dewberry and Will Huff
Despite having closed his interior design practice in 2010, legendary decorator Dan Carithers is still considered to be an elder statesman of American design. Once the design director of home furnishings at Rich’s department store, Carithers went on to open his own highly successful firm, where a long list of now-notable designers got their starts. Two such designers are Heather Dewberry and Will Huff, who met while working for Carithers during the 1990s and founded their own firm, Huff-Dewberry, in 2001. Coincidentally, the two designers now work out of the very same office that once housed Carithers’s firm.
“Back in the mid-1990s, the design business in Atlanta was much smaller, and there were fewer nationally known decorators here. When I landed a job with Dan, I had to pinch myself. He was so legendary that working for him was a big deal.
One of the great things about working for Dan is that he had worked for Rich’s and consulted with Baker Furniture, so he knew that design-wise, anything was possible. There were very few dead ends when working for Dan. He taught us not to take ‘no’ at face value, which was an invaluable lesson. Dan also gave us nerves of steel. Very little shakes us now, because we know how to handle it.
The nice thing about Dan’s work was that there was always something unexpected to it. He pushed us to take our work up a notch. Dan made sure that we went beyond coordinates by adding an unusual fabric or antique. He liked his rooms to be inviting and fluid, and as a result, his rooms were really used. Our clients say the same of our rooms today.
Life was an adventure for Dan. He never had an ordinary day, because he could find extraordinary things every day.
“When I decided to get into the design business, my father, who is also a decorator, wasn’t going to let me work for just anybody. Dan not only took a fresh approach to traditional design, but he also knew how to run a business. Seeing how he ran his business was an education on top of learning about design. Dan could make anything happen.
Although our style is not Dan’s, it does reflect his influence. Like Dan, we make sure there is a level of comfort and functionality in our work. However, we use stronger colors than he did, and art and rugs are more important to us. Also, we are asked by clients to decorate in a wider range of styles than Dan typically did. It’s a different time today, because the Internet exposes people to a variety of looks. Dan would have enjoyed that too, because he could do both very traditional and very contemporary rooms.
If Dan’s client wanted something that wasn’t going to work, he could say no in a very humorous way. He used humor to deal with these issues. He was also a master at stories. We realized that you learn more from a story than from being told what to do.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Altanta Magazine’s HOME.