For design partners Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters, creating beautiful living spaces has always been about building relationships. Each client of their acclaimed Atlanta-based design firm Forbes + Masters brings an opportunity to learn a new story. “We really try to get to know them. Where they like to shop for clothes, or where they traveled recently,” explained Forbes. “All of our projects reflect what has been stuck in our clients’ heads.” To create these connections, they’ve learned to leverage their shared Jamaican heritage — and all the confidence, boldness and gregariousness that comes from it — to draw out their clients’ best selves.
“Jamaicans are very expressive, and we definitely got some of those vibes from our families,” said Forbes. “So we’re able to break walls, break barriers, and get them to talk to us in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t have,” added Masters.
This intimate approach comes naturally to both designers, who first developed DIY skills and stylistic sensibilities early on because of their fathers. Forbes, who was born in Mandeville, Jamaica, shadowed her dad at work as a contractor and custom cabinet builder. Masters, who lived both in Los Angeles and Houston, grew up watching her father shape stand-out living spaces. He didn’t just want to live in his home. He wanted to be inspired by it.
“At one point, our living room consisted of green leather sofas and green carpet that matched exactly. We had a fish bowl coffee table that lit up bright blue [and] purple,” Masters said. “You knew it was only about style when the fish died within two weeks. Then it was just the table full of water and rocks.”
Forbes’ laughter spilled over the story. “I’ve never heard this!” This energetic exchange perfectly captures the friends’ creative partnership, as we discussed more engaging stories behind three of their design projects.
Living Room Redux
When a young doctor in South Carolina wanted to enliven her living room for entertaining, Forbes + Masters had to charm details out of the shy client. They discovered an eclectic playfulness that shone through in her precious books and art pieces, which they took care to showcase with custom, built-in shelving. To complement these elements, the duo had fun sourcing seating that had unique geometric shapes, but also felt comfortable for guests.
Choosing the right pieces proved tricky, however, as they wanted chairs that would not obstruct views of the backyard. This led to some special finds, like the rolled-back armchairs they reupholstered in houndstooth. “Trying to find a stylish chair that doesn’t take up volume can be very difficult,” noted Masters. “These had a lot of personality and didn’t shoot up high in the air like a balloon chair or wingback would.”
Dining in the Tropics
A mother, daughter and grandchild in Georgia wanted a bright, whimsical design for their first formal dining room. Inspired by their clients’ Puerto Rican heritage, Forbes + Masters tapped into the colorful, nature-centric spirit of island living.
The room was fortunately blessed with bountiful light through French doors, which they framed with intricately embroidered drapery featuring a botanical motif. Textured wicker and caned detailing on the dining chairs also helped “hint at that island vibe,” said Forbes. They also chose a grasscloth wallpaper with silver and gold leafing, as the natural hues and soft glimmer “reminded us of sand when you’re on the beach,” Forbes noted.
For statement lighting above, they went hunting for a chandelier that mimicked a cascade of tree branches, but their first find was beyond the budget. For a thrifty-chic solution, they first found a similar, smaller fixture for a fraction of the price, buying two units and painting the champagne-gold hardware a contrasting black hue to play up its organic lines. They then hung both at different levels to command the same attention as the pricier piece.
Bedroom Beach Fantasy
A film executive asked Forbes + Masters to update her bedroom to fulfill her dream of “a beach house in landlocked Atlanta” that matched the monochromatic tones throughout the rest of the house. “She’s never home, so we wanted to create a retreat for her,” said Masters. “We wanted a space that was calming and would still feel natural.”
Instead of leaning on a more conventional coastal style, the pair used interesting textures to capture the relaxed mood of a seaside escape. On the wall, they created an artistic focal point by framing gauzy, striped Élitis wallpaper with white trim. Plush textiles also invited more relaxation, like the blue velvet on the curvaceous settee and bouclé upholstery on the headboard and bed frame. More texture came through accents like the bleached driftwood above the headboard, and delicate lamps that “looked artistic and handmade,” Masters said. “Like something you would buy near a beach town.”