Contemporary design shines a light on how people are living right now. It asks home industry leaders to posit what hasn’t yet been considered. “It’s a balance of styles that still pushes the boundaries,” says Brandon Berg, Andersen Windows & Doors Senior Vice President of Research, Development and Innovation. “Each of these experts is what we call a ‘possibility maker’ because they’re not following trends — they’re setting them.” Architect Cavin Costello reframes the pioneer spirit in the Southwest, while builder Jeff Sweenor inspires the next generation with time-honored techniques along the Eastern Seaboard. Atlanta-based interior designer Jessica Davis draws inspiration from her globetrotting upbringing. And California artist/designer Justina Blakeney encourages us to get in touch with our own creativity and, in turn, consider what contemporary design means to us. Berg explains that Andersen is uniquely positioned to deliver on those dreams: “We want to work with people who are bold in design and performance, because that’s exactly what our products are.”
“Confidence, creativity and joy are contagious,” Justina Blakeney affirms. Perhaps that’s why her lifestyle brand, Jungalow, floods some 1.6 million Instagram followers’ feeds with contemporary, bohemian designs. The spirit to create — and to share and celebrate that creativity — has been ingrained in the entrepreneur from the very beginning.
Growing up in Berkeley, California, she remembers spending her days in Tilden Regional Park and her evenings drawing and painting. (Even today, many of her designs start as doodles or watercolors.) Her parents, both developmental psychologists, supported and nurtured her artistic interests from an early age. “They allowed me to simply be myself,” the designer, artist, author and speaker shares. “It was about following my heart and exploring what I loved.”
After graduating from UCLA, she followed her heart to Italy, where she spent seven years working in Tuscany and Florence. “I have always admired how Italian designers mix the old with new, or bright colors with neutrals,” she muses. Her passport was well worn by the time she returned to the West Coast in 2009. The designer excitedly moved into her first solo abode, a 1920s bungalow in Los Angeles, and infused it with greenery and a connection to the outdoors evocative of her childhood.
As she peppered her new place with bold colors, prismatic patterns and earthy textures, she invited others along for the ride on her blog, Jungalow (a fusion of “jungle” and “bungalow”). “My interpretation of contemporary design is whatever moves us in the moment,” she offers. “It’s less of a choice and more an osmosis of things coming together when we’re feeling our most creative and inspired.” For the artist, that happens when she’s hands-on in a project — like transforming her blog into a thriving digital platform. Jungalow has since blossomed into a small but mighty team of women encouraging their community to tap into their own creativity.
Blakeney makes it easy to get started, noting that even small changes can affect how we live. “Think about the activities and routines you want your home to support,” she says. That’s how you figure out what you need. Then comes the fun part: “playing with colors, patterns and textures that light you up.” Design is an experiment, one that comes fully to life once surrounded with people, pets — and plants! (There are 52 and counting in Blakeney’s home.) Plus the brand is committed to planting at least two trees with every order.
The good news is you can take some of Blakeney’s free spirit with you anywhere, thanks to product lines spanning furniture, decor, textiles, stationery, gifts and accessories, all so shoppable from jungalow.com and the exclusive Opalhouse Designed with Jungalow collection available at Target. The good-vibes-only nature of her style is largely what makes Jungalow so successful, because it’s so relatable. One thing is certain: It’s Blakeney’s wild world, and we’re all welcome to join in the fun.
Two days after Cavin Costello earned his master’s degree in architecture from Northeastern University, he packed his car and moved across the country to Phoenix, sight unseen. At the peak of the 2009 recession, it was a total leap of faith. But then again, since when has the westward spirit been wary of the unknown?
Soon thereafter, he met Claire Aton, another recent grad who was equally passionate about improving the architectural future of her hometown. Their quick connection and the fickle job market paved the way for several months of day trips to experience the state’s rich history. They discovered an undeniable pioneer spirit, first harnessed by the region’s ranchers and miners. It’s a spirit they celebrate by honoring the past and inspiring the future through their firm, the Ranch Mine.
“The ranchers and miners serve as our inspiration to design spaces that afford us the opportunity to imagine beyond what we see,” says Costello, who’s now married to his fellow adventurer. The husband-and-wife team first gained notoriety thanks to a 2011 Arizona Republic story that highlighted renovations they’d completed on their house.
And then, the calls came in fast. People were eager to transform their own abodes from the unknown to the inspired. Costello learned early on that transformation is as close as your own two hands; his father, a civil engineer, built their family home in rural Connecticut. Suffice to say, his pioneer spirit had early roots.
Now, the Ranch Mine is a standout in the Valley and beyond for the team’s ability to break the boundaries of conventional thinking. “If your house had a mission statement, what would it be?” Costello posits. That fresh mindset draws in thoughtful clients who are emboldened to “build a house for their passions.”
For one couple, that meant an integration of music, yoga and sustainability. The solar-powered structure sits at just 12.5 feet tall, preserving neighbors’ mountain views. In place of a formal dining area, a stunning piano room serves as a central space. A generous fruit and vegetable garden complements the courtyard. And a unique utilization of windows gives the yoga studio a secret. The obvious choice would have been floor-to-ceiling, but Costello’s contemporary approach kept the compact windows close to the floor, revealing the desert vistas as a reward for a truly grounded yoga practice.
“At its essence, contemporary design is basically free of style,” the architect explains. “It must respond to people, place, culture and climate.” This belief helped earn the Ranch Mine a 2019 HGTV Designer of the Year Award for the firm’s Red Rocks project, a residence clinging to the side of Camelback Mountain. The 1970s Spanish Colonial Revival was a perfect example of style over function, so the team reconfigured the entire layout and simplified the additive features. Now, the showstoppers include large expanses of glass and more than 2,000 square feet of exterior patios — welcoming a connection to the outdoors and the famous Arizona sunsets, all with a pioneer spirit soaked in.
Jessica Davis has always been design-obsessed. When she was 12, she wrote a letter to Southern Living magazine, detailing her backyard renovation ideas, including hand-drawn landscape plans. “The editor did write me back,” laughs Davis, who has since transformed that childhood passion into award-winning hardware company Nest Studio and design firm Atelier Davis.
Her perspective is largely influenced by her time living around the world. She grew up in Sydney, Hong Kong and Dallas, and after earning degrees from Princeton and the New England School of Art & Design, spent her early career working for a large hospitality design firm on the East and West coasts. Now settled in Atlanta with her husband and two young children, Davis is highly sought after for her creative contemporary vision.
The designer, whose thesis focused on urban planning and the modern American home, approaches projects from both an aesthetic and a practical standpoint. Each space is meant to be truly livable, with an inventive mix of luxurious and accessible design. Davis first developed this dynamic blend working as a producer on the TV show Bob Vila’s Home Again, where she sourced furniture, decor and materials. “I watched Bob Vila growing up, so the chance to work for him felt like a dream,” she shares. But she was eager to realize her potential, and an opportunity to create hardware for a friend’s lighting company came at just the right time.
Nest Studio earned support quickly. “I was into blogging and was an early adopter of Pinterest,” says Davis, which helped drive traffic to her online shop. Two product lines have now grown to 10 and are featured in 60+ show rooms internationally. The collections celebrate her love of mixed materials (like acrylic and brass in the Transparency series) and layers of dimension (as seen in the hand-polished metals of the Step series). And over at Atelier Davis, her team injects personality into spaces that tell a story about the people who live there.
Both studios are entirely women-owned and are operated by a team of mothers. “As a mom, I wanted to support work/life balance for other talented working moms,” Davis asserts. “It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart.” And it’s something that’s a direct response to environment — not unlike her approach to design.
As needs change, contemporary design responds. “To me, contemporary means design that’s happening now, in the specific time we’re in,” she muses. She notes that, like so many people, the pandemic accelerated her need for a functional everything-at-home lifestyle — ergo, a forthcoming addition to her abode that will skew more contemporary than the rest of the residence. It includes a stronger connection to the outdoors and a more open floor plan than you’d typically see in a midcentury home. And finally, there’s her studio space: a “glass box” office that will sit upstairs and channel the steel frame windows Davis grew up admiring as a kid in Hong Kong, where it all began.
Long before he built houses, Jeff Sweenor built teams. He rowed crew for the University of Rhode Island and helped earn a 1984 national title. By 1987, he was competing on the U.S. team, training for the following year’s Olympic Games. “Rowing is an incredibly team-oriented sport that relies on perfect synchrony,” he shares. It’s this mentality that inspired him to found his eponymous design and build firm just two years later in 1989.
But champions aren’t built in vacuums. In Sweenor’s case, they’re built in chocolate shops. He credits much of his work ethic to growing up with his family’s fifth generation candy business. By the time he was in high school, they expanded to Wakefield, Rhode Island, converting an old commercial office into their shop. Not only was the candy made from scratch, so too were the renovations and even the equipment. Sweenor learned the basics of carpentry, plumbing, electrical and refrigeration. He built everything with his dad, including a 40-foot cooling tunnel for “chocolate-covered anything.”
When the time came to purchase his first home, he chose to build it instead. “I was never afraid to take something head-on because I grew up with my family’s entrepreneurial energy,” explains Sweenor, who teamed up with local pros to construct the abode. He meticulously learned the craft alongside them and has honed those skills for more than 30 years.
Throughout that time, Sweenor Builders has grown from developing spec and starter houses to creating beautiful legacy homes that dot the New England coastline. Now touting 65+ staff members and an in-house millwork and cabinetry shop, the company is a standout for its seamless — one might say synchronous — integration of capabilities that makes for a rewarding client experience.
One project in particular celebrates quality craftsmanship through contemporary design. Built in 1971, the residence’s congested floor plan and scattered windows detracted from riverfront views and clear sightlines. The innovative renovation retains the coastal character, while sleek exterior materials like black vertical longboard, AZEK panels and cypress cladding give it a modern upgrade. The firm optimized overhead space by utilizing a low-pitch roof and clerestory windows to let light fill the newly expanded interiors. “Clean lines and the ability to complement natural surroundings make the house one of the most contemporary on the river,” notes Sweenor, who gets a glimpse of his team’s handiwork every time he rows by.
The builder’s dedication to both craftsmanship and community is palpable. “Every day, I’m striving to be the best in the world at something,” he shares. “It’s much more than a habit; it’s a way of life.” His two adult children have since joined the team — a sweet homage to his family business upbringing. Sweenor also connects with local students, offering on-the-job opportunities as future career paths. “These are skills you’ll use forever,” he says excitedly to the next team he’s building.