December 1, 2023

Design 50 2022: Interior Architecture & Design for Home

7 min read
Design 50 2022: Interior Architecture & Design for Home

For this year’s list, we kept our overall ranking numbers but organized everything by category.

Design 50 2022: The Fifty People Who Shape Chicago (Introduction)
Design 50 2022: Exhibitors and Advocates
Design 50 2022: Fashion
Design 50 2022: Architecture and the Built Environment
Design 50 2022: Graphic Design and Branding
Design 50 2022: Innovation, Incubation & Acceleration
+ Designer of the Moment: Andre Brumfield of Gensler Chicago


Here are those who shape Chicago’s Interior Architecture & Design for Home.

Sarah Freeman/Photo: Nathan Keay

Sarah Freeman
Co-Founder, SAUCED Night Market
SAUCED Night Market provides quite the shopping experience, bringing together a handpicked collection of Chicago emerging chefs, artists and makers—think shopping handmade goods, jewelry, clothing, apparel and prints with a drink in your hand, a DJ on the decks and a late-night bite (from gourmet dishes to boozy cupcakes to street food to ice cream). “The mission of the night markets has always been to bring together the city’s most promising creative minds and shove them into the spotlight,” says co-founder Sarah Freeman, who thinks of the market as a conduit for exciting cultural experiences. “I was floored by the amount of new talent the pandemic brought to the surface. It made the last few challenging years feel like hibernation rather than lost time.” Last year, she says, “SAUCED received over 150 new vendor applications, welcoming dozens of local vendors to their first markets. This year, fingers crossed, SAUCED will host four full-scale markets, including one at a new venue opening this summer,” she says. “I hope 2022 brings even more opportunities for cultural exchanges—as people feel more comfortable partaking in such—and those artists and small businesses who launched during the pandemic are finally able to shine.”

Stella Brown/Photo: Nathan Keay

Stella Brown
Director, Buddy Chicago
“I hope that the future will become even more local and Chicago-centric and continue to blend the lines between fine art, design, craft and made items. This city has such an amazing history—from the Chicago Imagists, to the rich intuitive art scene—something that I hope Buddy supports,” says Stella Brown, who is behind the newly opened art and design store within the Chicago Cultural Center. A collaboration between the Public Media Institute and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), this initiative provides visibility and opportunities to artists and small manufacturers across the Chicago area—a place to showcase and sell their goods and artwork to a vast audience of locals and visitors alike. “Buddy has only been open for six months, so I plan to work to establish the store as a home for design in all senses of the word with new artists and products, as well as shows and pop ups highlighting specific artists,” says Brown, mentioning the shag rugs from the artists of Envision Unlimited, a custom piñata show and a Midwestern shop in October during the organization’s new iteration of the MDW Art Fair. “We also have several artist product collaborations coming out this year under the name Buddy MFG,” she adds. Their mission? For Buddy to become a place that introduces the world to the people making it happen in Chicago—a place that helps them create a sustainable world we all want to work, play, and live in.

Elizabeth Cronin/Photo: Nathan Keay

Elizabeth Cronin
Founder/Creative Director, Asrai Garden
“I think Chicago design will always be based in a true Midwestern mentality,” says Elizabeth Cronin. “The design landscape here remains more authentic and humble than other large cities.” She hopes that “leads those of us with privilege and a dedicated following to continue to share our resources, time and spotlights with others, specifically holding space and helping propel forward designers who are queer, trans, non-binary, Black and people of color.” More than a destination for otherworldly floral arrangements, fine jewelry and magical curiosities, Asrai Garden is about building community. “We are working on setting up a foundation that will provide resources and support to up-and-coming Black florists,” says Cronin. Also a host and judge of HBO Max florist competition “Full Bloom,” she came up with a small but powerful gesture: Do you have in mind a Black, Chicago-based organizer, activist or essential worker who has been working tirelessly in and for their community? You can nominate them for a chance to receive a free bouquet of gratitude.

Obi Nwazota
Owner, Orange Skin and Okpara House
“Meaningful change can be slow to enact,” Obi Nwazota says. He founded Orange Skin, a leading retailer of contemporary furniture in Chicago more than two decades ago, to enrich physical, cultural, emotional and spiritual lives by means of good design. But “2022 will see the germination of ideas that earmark our journey toward a better representation of the rich treasures of diversity and inclusion that has hitherto been locked away and denied existence.” Ever-evolving, Nwazota is working on Okpara House: “It’s a culture platform inspired by my roots—Igbo culture,” he says, describing it as an expansive project that involves publishing, design, dialogue, performance and exhibition space. “We are inspired by a time when we, Black Africans, were in control of our lives materially and spiritually. Okpara House is reimagining, reclaiming and asserting Igbo cultural assets as a critical and relevant element of contemporary Black lifestyles. Chicago is a melting pot of cultures. This is a contribution from my community to Chicago, and by extension, America.”

James Geier/Photo: Nathan Keay

James Geier
Founder, 555 International
Ever since launching in Chicago over thirty years ago, 555 International has become an award-winning global design, development and fabrication firm that specializes in the commercial, retail and hospitality industries—from Soho House, The Girl and The Goat, Andros Taverna and Ina Mae Tavern, to the SoFi Stadium Pro Shop and the Madhouse Teamstore, to Whole Foods and Lululemon. “We design without running to the computer,” says founder and president James Geier. “We have to think about all of the elements and how each one affects the space and the person using it. With this old-school approach, we are able to solve many of the challenges that are part of the process, and are better able to evaluate the importance of every decision prior to the final drawing process.” Never standing still, Geier has exciting projects to share: “I have been developing a masters program on Entrepreneurial Hospitality with Tulane University’s Freeman Business School; Board of Advisors at The Block Museum at Northwestern University; a new restaurant, Marvin’s Food & Fuel, opened during the pandemic at my building and venue in the Fulton Market District; and a new immersive touring art and large-scale sculpture experience I am putting together, TRANSFIX. Our vision is to create a walking maze out of shipping containers that will showcase installation art, often illuminated in some way—think Burning Man meets Cirque du Soleil.”

Angie West and Alberto Vélez/Photo: Nathan Keay

Alberto Vélez and Angie West
Co-Founders, Refractory
Founded by Angie West and longtime Holly Hunt design director Alberto Vélez, Refractory, a furniture, lighting and objects brand and design studio, embraces a fascination with materiality. The founders describe it as both an evolution and an extension of a community of artisans who seek to create in the space where art meets collectible design. Splitting their time between Refractory and sister company West Supply—think handcrafted heirloom-quality metal and cast glass objects—the duo looks to the future: “With unprecedented demand coming from the residential interiors market, we feel that Chicago’s robust heritage in design manufacturing is enjoying a renaissance,” they say. “The Midwest is a hub for this renewed momentum in domestic manufacturing, and we believe Chicago will rise to meet this new summit of demand while leveraging its maker muscle. Many businesses also looked within during the pandemic and emerged with more innovation, new ideas, and fresh perspectives. It will be exciting to see how this plays out for Chicago this year and beyond.”

Norman Teague/Photo: Nathan Keay

Norman Teague
Founder, Plank
Specializing in custom furniture that delivers a personal touch and unique aesthetic detail, Norman Teague’s design experience spans consumer products, public sculpture, performances, specially designed retail spaces and more. Teague, also an educator and co-founder of blkHaUS, a Chicago-based, socially focused design studio the name of which was inspired by the Bauhaus, describes Plank’s aesthetic as reclaimed, artisan and unique. Their mission is a process: ”We take found objects and refashion them into something beautiful that has value, and translate that creativity into economic opportunities for our community.”

Neil Zuleta/Photo: Nathan Keay

Neil Zuleta
Director of Interior Architecture and Design, House of Hunt
Neil Zuleta describes his work as constantly observing and exploring the world around him through architecture, design and marketing. His design philosophy is to create functional, beautiful, nuanced and artistically rich projects. Zuleta has been working at Holly Hunt as an interior architect for years, established and led the Interior Architecture and Design Studio within the company, and recently he became partner at House of Hunt, a design lab and creative studio founded by Holly Hunt in 2021, that specializes in interior architecture, design and furnishings while  exploring a vision for modern living.

The Hall of Fame: Interior Architecture & Design for Home
*= new this year

* Cheryl Durst
EVP/CEO, International Interior Design Association (IIDA)

* Felicia Ferrone
Principal, fferrone design

* Holly Hunt
Founder, Holly Hunt and House of Hunt

Kara Mann
Founder/Creative Director, Kara Mann Design

Scott Wilson

Richard Wright
Founder/President, Wright

Design 50 2022: Interior Architecture & Design for Home