Explore How Location Informs Design—No Matter Where You Live


Four design professionals discuss the lasting power of place. 

Nathan Turner

Nathan Turner at Alisal Ranch in California. (Photo by Noah Webb.)

California Dreaming

Nathan Turner | Nathan Turner, Los Angeles

I was raised on a ranch in Northern California. Growing up, food was a huge part of my family and culture. At the Alisal Ranch, a resort where I designed the guest rooms in a classic California Monterey style, they are famous for their pancakes and pastries. It’s fitting because I was taught on the ranch that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and necessary to set the day up right. Food is a big part of my life, and my feeling is, ‘What good is a really great-looking house if the food on the table isn’t delicious?’

Along with food, I think you can’t talk about the state without talking about our Spanish architecture, particularly in Southern California. Our history is embedded in it, and the oldest buildings we have in the state are the missions. I am extremely influenced by the old Spanish-style homes and downtown buildings in Los Angeles.

To understand my choice of materials and colors, you would have to understand the soft light of this state. It’s very close in quality to the light in the South of France. The artist David Hockney talked about how unique the light in California is, and how beautiful. And I believe the movie industry started here because of it. The light affected my style without me realizing it at first, but working in this incredible natural light has allowed me to have a lot of fun with color.

The common thread throughout this region is an easy-going lifestyle with a big emphasis on outdoors and bringing the outdoors in. It’s a laid-back vibe, but it’s stylish. I gravitate to relaxed, natural materials—linens over silks, for example. I love using wicker, grass cloth or seagrass—anything with an outdoor feeling to it. I have completed interiors all around the country, but even if I’m doing a traditional, formal interior in New York City, there’s still a little California in it.

Holly Hunt

Holly Hunt in the lobby of Chicago’s Design Center at the Merchandise Mart. (Photo by Cynthia Lynn.)

Midwest Modernism

Holly Hunt | House of Hunt, Chicago

I grew up in West Texas, but I’ve been living in Chicago since 1976. I started my business here in 1983, and at that time, it was unusual for a design business not to be headed up out of New York or Los Angeles. I like it here because the people are warm and honest. When you are running a business, common sense is important—and common sense is a community element here, as in Texas. The Midwestern work ethic and what they call “Midwestern nice” are real things, and when you are staffing a business, that’s great.

This city is also the heart of Modernism. This is the home of the Chicago School and of Bauhaus in America. Chicago is where Mies van der Rohe settled and did a lot of important buildings. In fact, you can’t talk about Chicago design without discussing its architecture. The architecture is strong, but it is also about the clean lines and the proportions of the Modernist movement. There’s a timeless quality about it, and it’s certainly influenced my work as I’m about clean, timeless design. Before buildings went up around it, I used to be able to see the Aon Center from my apartment. It’s the perfect Modernist building, with a clean, pure design, and I have admired it often over the years.

Also, art is everywhere in the streets of Chicago, and it’s inspiring. We have grand-scale public sculptures by Alexander Calder, Joan Miró, Jean Philippe Arthur Dubuffet and Pablo Picasso. I am struck by the richness of them and how they are so accessible. Of course, that’s not the only art here. I love the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and The Art Institute of Chicago. We have great theaters, dance, orchestras and restaurants. There are some people who would be surprised to learn that life is not slow in Chicago.

Mimi McMakin

Mimi McMakin at her home in Palm Beach with her dogs Mango and Anchovie. (Photo by Sonya Revell.)

Pretty in Palm Beach

Mimi McMakin | Kemble Interiors, Palm Beach

I was born in Palm Beach, and my family has been looking at the same sunset for many generations. This is an extraordinary area and an extraordinary town. It’s filled with beautiful beaches, glorious weather and people who like to be outdoors. After all, this place is enclosed by water, with a lagoon on one side and the ocean on the other.

In Palm Beach, we have an elegant and beautiful way of living that’s attractive to people. There’s a high standard for architecture here. The older structures are beautiful, and the new buildings are pretty and well-built. A lot of the influence in this area is Mediterranean—our buildings tend to have high ceilings, beautiful plaster walls and big windows for the view. Many interiors feature tile floors and hand- painted murals. Personally, I love rattan, sisal rugs, glazed walls and tile floors.

We aren’t known for prissy design, in fact, our design could be considered irreverent by some. In my own home, the kids used to ride skateboards inside! Here we are known for interiors where you can put your feet up and really relax and live. I think something that makes us different is that we have a great deal of openness. You can be walking down the street and find yourself peering over a hedge into a beautiful garden and at a lovely home—walks can almost be like a garden club tour. Our lifestyle is clearly on view, and you don’t get that in New York City when your home is 27 stories in the air.

My firm works everywhere—including Europe—but we’ve found that once people see how we live in Palm Beach, they decide they want to live the same way, so we often end up including Palm Beach elements. We make happy, beautiful places that you miss when you leave.

James Farmer

James Farmer in his Perry, Georgia dining room. (Photo by Emily Followill)

Southern Hospitality

James Farmer | James Farmer Designs, Perry, Georgia

The great Southern writer William Faulkner said: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” I am the fourth generation of my family to live in Perry, Georgia. If you came to my home, you’d find my Great- Aunt Irene’s big, beautiful platter hanging in the entryway. You’d see china, artwork and needlepoint from different generations of my family mixed with a traditional Schumacher fabric in a modern colorway. It’s a very Southern thing to be purveyors of family heirlooms and objects. And if Aunt Irene could see her things mixed in with mine, she’d say: “Honey, it’s all fabulous.”

One of the signatures of a Southern home is an embrace of collections and curated objet d’art. I have long maintained that the concept of “less is more” never made it south, as most Southerners are collectors. I personally collect odds and ends of silver pieces, including a serving spoon meant for spring peas and a fancy fork for bacon.

Another thing Southerners love and cherish is brown furniture. I like these pieces because they are a sturdy foundation to build upon in interior design. There’s nothing like an old bow-front table that’s built up a beautiful wax patina over the years mixed in a room with old mirrors and art from every decade. When you have all new furniture in a room, it’s not very exciting. But when you add old with the new, it’s an adventure for the eyes.

I think people unfamiliar with the South would be surprised at how avant-garde we are and have always been. We wear our fine clothes to football games, eat fried chicken with silver forks and drink bourbon in a julep cup. For us Southerners, it’s an unapologetic mix of the high and low, the old and new and the lost and found.