Classic to the core and geniuses at the power of now, the pros on this year's A-list are raising the bar on traditional design.

By Betsy Cribb and Ellen McGauley
April 13, 2017

Here, our 2017 trendsetters spill their secrets for achieving classic, timeless style.

Andrew Howard (Jacksonville, Florida)

Phot: Max Kim Bee

For Andrew Howard, designing rooms meant for carefree, no-holds-barred play is a kind of rebellion. “Growing up, we had rooms in our house that we’d get $5 fines for eating in,” the designer says with a laugh. “So I try to stay away from $5-fine rooms in my projects. You can make even the most formal, classic room in the house a place to kick back in.”

Photo: Max Kim-Bee

He has a penchant for using outdoor fabrics indoors (even on living room sofas) and leans into creative use of color (think mod hand-painted credenzas), but at the core of Howard’s rebellious spirit is a need for longevity. “Any room that you consider timeless will have evolved over the years,” he says. “You have to start with good, classic shapes, but as time passes, you can reupholster pieces in new fabrics or add pillows to tie in those of-the-moment trends.”

Mark D. Sikes (Los Angeles, California)

It seems fair to call Mark D. Sikes a Renaissance man, a master of mixing past with present and making classic look cool. “I love the past. I love style. More than style, I love seeing how people live, and what they collect, and what it feels like when they enter a room,” says the Los Angeles–based designer, who created a lifestyle blog in 2011 that’s since grown into an interior design studio with projects across the country, a fashion line that celebrates his affinity for classic stripes, and a best-selling book (Beautiful: All-American Decorating and Timeless Style). “I believe every room should have a fabulous antique,” he says. “The first antique I ever bought was a 17th-century chinoiserie armoire. It was a huge expense for me at the time—it cost as much as a car—but it was worth it. It’s still my very favorite thing I own.”

Tilton Fenwick (New York, New York)

Photo: Francesco Lagnese

No repeats. That’s the shared mantra of Anne Maxwell Foster and Suysel dePedro Cunningham, the power duo behind boutique design firm Tilton Fenwick. “We never use the same fabric twice. If we use a fabric in a project, even on a throw pillow, we retire it,” says Cunningham. “We want to create an entirely new look for each client, not just tweak something we’ve done in the past.”

Photo: Max Kim-Bee

That’s a tall order for a pair who have established themselves as color-mixing, pattern-layering tours de force, though it’s made easier by the fact that they have their own collection with Duralee, plus a wallpaper line with Hygge & West that’s set to roll out this summer. As with color and pattern, the furniture mix is all-important, says Cunningham. “You don’t want to walk into a room that’s only antiques, or custom pieces, or catalog furniture. A mix of those pieces is what makes a house feel really timeless.”

Beau Clowney (Charleston, South Carolina)

Photo: Patrick Brickman

“All good design, in my mind, is derived by looking at those things that have been proven successful in the past,” says architect Beau Clowney, who spent childhood summers on the South Carolina coast and his college years in New Orleans. “There’s such a rich inventory of details to pull from in historic places like these,” adds the architect, who spent his graduate years at Princeton. “But we’re not just replicating old forms. Rather, we look at those traditional elements with a fresh eye, and reinvent them.”

From grand new builds on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, to petite cottages in the Bahamas, he draws from elements of the local vernacular to create something that feels both novel and familiar. “My office is right on the Battery in downtown Charleston,” Clowney says. “When any of our architects are stumped or need inspiration, I tell them to go for a walk: Just three or four blocks, then come back and tell me how you feel. They always find something.”

Christopher Spitzmiller (New York, New York)

Courtesy of Christopher Spitzmiller, Inc. 

During the summer Christopher Spitzmiller spent working as an artist-in-residence at Southampton’s Mecox Gardens, every dish he made broke right out of the kiln. “Suddenly, nothing worked, and at the end of the summer I remember thinking, ‘Maybe I’d have been better off going to the beach every day,’” he says with a laugh. But failure, Spitzmiller notes, especially early in your career, shores you up. He left the Hamptons with $200 (borrowed for the trip home to Washington, D.C.) and an order for a pair of lamps from interior designer Richard Keith Langham. Success. More commissions followed, and 20 years later, the notable ceramicist’s classic lamps, with their colorful, hand-turned bases and gilded details, have landed everywhere from beach estates to the Oval Office. And just last year, he also launched a line of marbled tableware in vivid blues, oranges, and purples. “My belief has always been that if you make something using the best possible process, with the best materials, it will sell itself. And it will always be relevant,” says Spitzmiller.

Photo credits (Top to bottom): Max Kim-Bee (top 2), Claiborne Swanson Frank, Francesco Lagnese, Max Kim-Bee, Patrick Brickman, Courtesy of Christopher Spitzmiller, Inc.