Why design?

Local creators delivering big on visual impact

Here at C-VILLE, we spend a lot of time thinking about design—how what we’re showing you on the page helps you receive the message. That’s most obvious in our weekly covers, where we have only a 9.25″x12.75″ space to relay to you, the reader, what we’re interested in this week. But we consider the design of each of our projects—from C-VILLE Weekly and Abode to Knife & Fork and C-VILLE Weddings, from our Best of C-VILLE party invitations to c-ville.com—as much as we consider the words.

And we’re no different than anyone in the design field. We’re all answering the same questions: How can we convey the idea in a way that helps shape the reader’s/diner’s/consumer’s understanding of it? And how can the design contribute to the community as a whole?

In this issue, we’ve spoken to design leaders excelling at those tasks locally in six different arenas—home design, marketing, weddings, food and drink, personal adornment and home goods—and asked them to tell us what it means to contribute to the user experience.   

We also asked them to identify something they wish they’d created. And while everyone’s answers were compelling—from a coat rack to a whole city—we thought metalsmith Tavia Brown summed it up best: “I wish I could have designed one element of surprise among our environment. Maybe a quietly placed, delicately detailed garden gate. Or even the manhole covers we trudge over and barely notice, but whose design can sometimes be so intriguing. To have added a little touch of character to our city, that is what I wish.” Here, here.

Photo: Courtesy Christina Boy
The top of this patterned bench by Christina Boy is made from ash wood that’s been stained and brushed with milk paint. Photo: Courtesy Christina Boy


Christina Boy builds furniture inspired by Scandinavian design

“I make a lot of dust all day long.”

Making furniture is much more nuanced than that, of course, but that’s the short answer when someone asks Christina Boy what a typical day at work looks like for her.

The longer answer is that the German native designs and builds one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture inside a woodworking shop that she helped build with her own two hands. At any given time she says she’s working on at least two or three different pieces at various stages in the production process, and she travels around the region selling her products and taking custom orders at craft fairs. Boy fell in love with high-end Scandinavian-inspired furniture while she managed an office and commercial design showroom in Germany, so in 2002 she moved to the U.S. to learn how to make it herself.

“We sold a lot of high-end designer items [in the showroom] and I think that sort of trained my eye,” Boy says. “Especially the Scandinavian architects and designers from the 1950s have a huge impact on how I look at pieces.”

After graduating from the Craft/Materials Studies program at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007, she spent two years at the Penland School of Crafts in western North Carolina. By 2011, with the help of her husband and father-in-law, she had built a woodworking studio in Madison County and launched her business, Christina Boy Design.

Christina Boy says design and art go hand-in-hand—one often informs the other. Photo: Brianna LaRocco
Christina Boy says design and art go hand-in-hand—one often informs the other. Photo: Brianna LaRocco

Having always been the artistic type—she describes herself as possessing “two left feet but two right hands”—Boy is in her element when she’s translating one of her original ideas onto paper and into a finished product. Her approach to design is simple and minimalistic “with some funkiness to it,” and she values a clean finish with a natural flow and no excess.

“Having to make things simple makes things complicated sometimes, because you’ve got to design in such a way that everything has a purpose,” she says.

Design and art go hand-in-hand, Boy says, and she can’t imagine doing one without the other. Whether she’s designing and building a piece she conceptualized herself or working on a custom order that a customer requested for a specific purpose, it all begins with a sketch.

“Often the final product looks a lot like my sketch, but my sketches always have lines that are never totally straight, and sometimes I kind of missed that quality of something being not perfect,” she says. “In the sketches I like how it has a little bit of movement to it, and when you nail a piece of wood, it’s very flat. So sometimes I feel like it loses a little bit of its personality, but I think the grain of the wood kind of brings that back, because that’s not super straight and has that natural quality to it.”

Boy hopes to eventually have the space to also use her steelworking skills, but for now she says wood is her preferred material to build with.

“Wood just has a warmth to it, and people seem to be very drawn to it,” she says. “Every time I have a show and people walk into my booth, the first thing they do is touch. They run their hands across the surfaces because they want to see how smooth it is and how it feels. There’s something about wood that really draws me in.”—L.I.

Zack Worrell says Monolith knives are made for everyday use, but he’s been experimenting with exotic metals and stone accents, “for knives that are more for collectors.” Photo: Brianna LaRocco


Monolith Knives joins the maker movement

A happy accident—that’s how one might sum up Zack Worrell’s foray into the knife-making business. Having designed and built furniture for more than 20 years, Worrell was participating in a pop-up shop when he noticed that a rolling kitchen island he had for sale needed something extra to really set the scene.

“I went to my shop and made a knife to go with it after watching YouTube videos on the process,” Worrell says. He placed it on top of the cart for staging. “That weekend at the pop-up shop, the only things that I sold were the two knives I had made for the island.”

Monolith Studio Knives, an offshoot from his furniture company, Monolith Studio, now makes knives for commission and custom one-offs as inventory. Worrell says that gives him a certain amount of creative freedom that the furniture business sometimes didn’t afford.

“Many times, custom furniture makers find themselves being pulled away from their own designs and having to make design changes and alterations for the customer,” he says. With knives, customers choose a type of wood and a profile and let Worrell and his business partner, Alan Bates, go to work.

Each of the Monolith knives is made from high-grade stainless steel alloys sourced from suppliers in the United States, but Worrell says they’ve also found steel from unusual places—like reclaimed steel from cars.

“We pick specific car parts, which we can identify through manufacturers,” he says. “Our favorite is the more storied and famed cars, like the ’67 Mustang.”

But for Worrell, good design actually goes beyond a product’s parts.

“I find that people love to make the human connection from the maker to the user, something that is dying out faster than it can be replaced,” he says. “People who buy our knives have a love of food, design, craftsmanship and even the age-old entrepreneurialism spirit that helped make our country grow and develop.”

Worrell believes the art of knife-making transcends time.

“It is the harnessing of steel, forming it into a beautiful piece of art that can be used as an everyday tool to live or even survive. It is so raw and base level to me,” he says. “I think people relate to this.”

Photo: Courtesy Bushman Dreyfus Architects


Architects aim to create conversations around their projects

Jeff Bushman and Jeff Dreyfus, principals with Bushman Dreyfus Architects, see design as a dialogue. Not only are conversations happening between themselves, staff members and contractors, but they are happening with the client and with the space itself.

Before they start developing concepts for a project, Bushman or Dreyfus will study the site and their client. They ask a lot of questions with the goal of not just hearing an answer but analyzing a client’s response to understand their needs and what’s driving them.

Jeff Bushman. Photo: Courtesy Bushman Dreyfus Architects
Jeff Bushman.

“The client is as much a part of the design team as anyone,” Dreyfus says.

Bushman calls themselves “design doctors”—experts whom the client relies on to know more than they do. He says the goal is to not only meet desires and needs but to go beyond that and bring things to the table nobody could ever dream of.

Dreyfus says they shatter the stereotype of the egotistical architect “dashing off a drawing and saying, ‘Build it.’”

Jeff Dreyfus. Photo: Martyn Kyle
Jeff Dreyfus. Photo: Martyn Kyle

“One thing that sets us apart is we’re pretty good at talking to people and easy to work with, which to most people means they feel like they’re listened to, not talked down to or told what to do,” Bushman says.

Once the team has done its research, they start with hand drawings of a project, including overlaying sketches on top of a CAD drawing done by a surveyor. When the sketch is complete they’ll translate the vision into the CAD software on a computer—an iterative back-and-forth process of translating from paper to screen. Digitizing a sketch allows the architects to show clients a 3-D model of what the project will look like. Many people can’t read a floor plan or elevation drawing, Dreyfus says, and instead rely on understanding architecture and the design through a dimensional presentation.

Bushman says even with 3-D there’s always a pencil involved; they’ll make revisions by hand on printouts, and analytical 2-D drawings give engineers precise dimensions.

“All the different ways of looking at the design are just different filters, lenses or different kinds of X-rays we can use to try to understand the design better,” he says.

But even after the final design, the job isn’t done. The physical building must still be built, and the architects have to rely on the builder and other partners to execute their vision. Bushman says they visit every project at least once a week, some daily at certain phases.

The design aspect of their jobs is more than just style—they think about buildings in terms of architecture and infrastructure, how a building fits within its surroundings. Stylistically, they see themselves as forward-looking and contemporary, meaning discussing how people—maybe several generations—will use a space. They bring that contemporary view even to preservation projects, such as when they renovated the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. The auditorium is now used for state of the art presentations, in a space that was built in the ’20s.

The Paramount Theater restoration is another example of honoring the character of a building.

“For us it’s the fun of it—how to preserve the character and beauty of what may be old or historic but making it useful for today,” Dreyfus says.

A key example of forward thinking is the firm’s involvement with the West Main Street streetscape redesign. They were members of the team led by urban designers and landscape architects in northern Virginia that redesigned the streetscape as it deals with multimodal transportation including bikes, buses, cars and people.

“It’s the shot in the arm that Main Street had 30 or 40 years ago, and now it’s West Main’s chance,” Bushman says. “I think it’s really going to put this town on the map, in a way.”

Bushman Dreyfus is also designing a mixed-use building that is going up behind the Blue Moon Diner. It’s the first project that won’t be student-oriented on West Main Street, Dreyfus says. The client hopes to attract young professionals who want to live and work in an urban environment—that population “is dying for urban living and there’s just not a lot of that in Charlottesville.”

In terms of inspiration for design, Bushman says he’s “drunk the Jefferson Kool-Aid.” He loves Monticello, but not for the same reasons as most people. He sees it from a true architect’s perspective, of a man changing his house over and over again and being really hands-on with the whole process as he struggles with design and money issues.

“I just love the story of the place,” he says. “His fascination with gardens—it’s all there if you look for it.”—J.L.

Photo: Courtesy Bushman Dreyfus Architects

Photo: Courtesy Bushman Dreyfus Architects
The architects’ projects include (from above) a modern residence in East Aurora, New York, a contemporary home in Albemarle County and an update to a 1935 international-style house in the city. Photos: Courtesy Bushman Dreyfus Architects


In the studio with Kelly Witt

Kelly Witt’s office looks more like a home, which is fitting for the interior designer. There are two large tables at the front of the bright, airy main room that serve as Witt’s workspaces—they’re often covered in carpet and upholstery samples she pulls for clients. One of the tables, a late Victorian antique dining room table with claw feet, belonged to her husband’s great-grandmother. It was too large for the home she shares with Clay Witt, a local artist whose artwork decorates the office walls, so it now resides in her work space.

In the back right corner is a cozy seating area where Witt does some of her client consultations. There’s a gray couch (her favorite color) that Witt had custom made from a workroom in North Carolina, and a turquoise table Witt made herself a few years ago. The top of the table is a wooden grate she got when the Fayerweather Hall building, which houses the McIntire Department at Art at UVA, was redone.

The dominant color in the room by and large is white—it shows up in the walls and ceiling, antique Khotan rugs, on the base of the pine plank work table and even in the chandelier. Witt says it’s intentional—she wants the space to be more of a blank slate so customers aren’t too distracted when they come in. She adds just enough visual interest—whether in accent pillows in chairs around the room or through texture in the tree branch chandelier—to make the space inviting, homey.

In addition to myriad swatches and textile samples, the office of designer Kelly Witt also contains homey accents like throw pillows and a tree branch chandelier. Photo: Brianna LaRocco

In fact, Witt doesn’t have a home office, and instead chooses to come in to her office on the weekends. She doesn’t turn on the overhead lights—the floor-to-ceiling front windows get southern exposure, so there’s plenty of sunlight that streams through.

“It’s very peaceful here,” she says. “I love coming in on the weekends. It’s so quiet, but it’s a good quiet.”

But the focal point of Witt’s office space is her library of samples, which line wall shelves around the entire room and are even tucked into nooks at the bottom of tables. From upholstery, embroidery, silk, cotton, appliqué, linen, carpet and wallpaper, she keeps samples within reaching distance so she can pull them for color schemes for clients. The books are organized by type and weight.

Witt’s vast collection of samples allows her to show clients something tangible rather than just looking at drawings or pictures. That’s what led Witt to interior design in the first place after she got her bachelor’s degree in architecture at UVA—she liked the “softer side” of architecture, working with different fabrics, wallpapers and tactile things. She keeps baskets of memo samples, which are pieces of fabric she receives or buys from reps, throughout the office. Witt says clients love digging through the baskets and seeing if anything stands out to them—another glimpse of their personalities and their vision for the project.

“It’s really the clients that inspire me,” Witt says. “I don’t want all my work to look the same, and so I really feed off what the client’s going for and what they like. Granted, sometimes I don’t exactly care for their aesthetic, but I try to work with it and add elements of my style to it.”—J.L.

GREEN DREAMS: From the pages of Abode, four landscapes we love

  • Circle theory: This outdoor feature at a Western Albemarle house is a circular, open structure with classical columns inspired by something Thomas Jefferson drew, what he called a folly. Although Jefferson’s idea never came to fruition, stonemason Shelton Sprouse helped build what his clients call “the temple.” Situated downhill from the house, the temple is part of the landscape, which includes two pools and several sets of steps bisected by water running through a channel. Photo: Virginia Hamrick

  • Sitting pretty: Forty acres of open and wooded land stretch from a Civil War-era home in Free Union toward the mountains, upon which several vintage outbuildings sit. Although charming, the space wasn’t functional, its homeowners said. They installed a pool and patio, but the afternoon sunlight was unforgiving. So they contacted Cabell Cox and The Grow Co., who brought in, among other things, an October glory red maple to shade the outdoor dining area, and river birches over chaise lounges to offer partial shade. Photo: Virginia Hamrick

  • Taking shape: After a Charlottesville homeowner read about local landscape designer Cole Burrell in the New York Times, she called him to re-envision her outdoor space. The bone structure was there—a series of terraces cascaded downhill from the property, flanked by perennial beds. Burrell spent nine years renovating the landscape piece by piece, which allowed the site to reveal its needs to him in time. Brick walls define the terraces now, and a boxwood screen was replaced with lower-profile Japanese maples, which add color in all seasons. Photo: Cole Burrell

  • Time to relax: The beauty of this 45'-long pool, surrounded by scored concrete and custom finishes to add visual interest, is only upstaged by the gorgeous mountain views that surround it. Nestled on a 51-acre site in Nelson County, the pool, from landscape designer John Meaney, extends from a dining area under a trellis and out toward the southern mountain view, culminating in a single point where the pool’s far corner seems to float in space. Photo: Virginia Hamrick


Menu to kitchen, former Palladio chef’s new project is a blank slate

Melissa Close-Hart may have drawn her new kitchen a hundred times.

“Ground up, it’s my first kitchen, so it’s my baby,” the former head chef of Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville Vineyards says. Close-Hart is sitting at The Local in Belmont, not far from her new project, Junction, an under-construction restaurant in an historic building at the corner of Douglas and Hinton avenues slated to open this summer. It was, she says, the first time she has been handed a blueprint of a building with a blank spot at the back where the kitchen will go.

“I have a folder this thick of things drawn on graph paper to scale and that’s just how I visualize it. I can show you my kitchen right now on an 8-and-a-half-by-11 piece of paper,” she says.

Close-Hart’s departure in early 2015 from Palladio, where she was a four-time James Beard Award semifinalist, reverberated through Charlottesville’s restaurant scene. For the last year, she has been working with The Local team on Junction, where she will lead the kitchen preparing cuisine she describes as modern Southwest and Mexican.

Melissa Close-Hart has been working for the last year on Junction, a modern Southwest and Mexican restaurant in an historic building in Belmont. Photo: Brianna LaRocco
Melissa Close-Hart has been working for the last year on Junction, a modern Southwest and Mexican restaurant in an historic building in Belmont. Photo: Brianna LaRocco

That cuisine choice imposes constraints on kitchen and menu design. For example, making tortillas, which Junction will do every day, requires space. “You also have to think about it design-wise,” Close-Hart says of her stove. “Like if you’re doing tortillas, do you have a 12-eye range, or do you have an eight-eye range and a flattop? When you’re doing tortillas, it’s much better to have a flattop. So we sacrifice four burners to have a flattop, and then your menu changes a little bit more because you have less eye space during cooking time. It’s very fluid.”

With the concept and location in place, the team’s attention turned to the design aesthetic of the space. Construction crews stripped layers of drywall and plaster from the walls to expose the brick beneath, as well as a massive vintage Pepsi advertisement on a wall that was once the original 1800s-era structure’s exterior. The floors are heart pine and the bar antique wormy chestnut. Ipe wood ordered from South America for the balconies arrived in mahogany shipping containers, so carpenters are using it as trim on the bar shelves. Chandeliers resembling wagon wheels hang in the original windows. Tabletops will be crafted from two ash trees that stood next to the building. The crew had to fell them in what Close-Hart describes as a painful concession to the need for parking in dense downtown Belmont.

The goal, according to Close-Hart, is for the space to feel classic and minimalist while at the same time evoking an early-20th century saloon. That extends to the glassware chosen for the bar. “They kind of harken back to a little bit of that 1920s feel, and especially our specialty cocktail glasses,” she says. “We’re using more coupes than flutes and things like that.” For plates, Close-Hart envisions handmade-looking earthenware in colors like rust and burnt orange and cobalt. 

Developing a Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurant, she notes, presents choices on whether to embrace or discard certain tropes. “At first we all thought it would be kind of fun to do the kitschy: Bring the fajita pans out with the little handles on them and everything,” Close-Hart says. “But we decided that we wanted to be a little more classic.” They eventually opted for an approach she describes as, “like what they are doing in Austin right now.”

Close-Hart’s expectation is for Junction to feel like an established restaurant from day one, but her experience tells her that until a space is filled with people cooking and moving and eating, it’s almost impossible to predict how she and her staff must adapt. “I’ve been in the business in town for a long time. I have a reputation,” Close-Hart says. “I’m not saying that we won’t have problems. Every place does. You have to find your groove. But I don’t see us not being successful.”—D.T.

Photo: Brianna LaRocco


Four perfect plates that are (almost) too pretty to eat

For most chefs, visual composition is but one aspect of whether a given dish can be considered a success, its design a tertiary concern alongside taste and textures. Ideally, each element will enhance the others. Here, four Charlottesville chefs describe the composition behind four signature dishes.

Clifton Inn (above)

Pan-roasted quail with red grits and rhubarb meringue          

Clifton Inn Executive Chef Yannick Fayolle prepares the quail for this dish in the French style, quickly roasted in the pan and finished with butter and garden sage. The grits, from red Bloody Butcher corn, are whipped into a foam, and the third main component of the dish is a rhubarb meringue.

The rhubarb and pineapple sage sprouting in the Clifton Inn’s garden inspired Fayolle. “It’s clean plating, nothing messy. It’s a straightforward dish. You find plenty of textures in it, plenty of tastes,” he says. “The colors are nice: the green brought by the pineapple sage. The rhubarb is very grassy and complements the pineapple sage.”

When Fayolle conceives a dish, he starts with one component and lets the rest unfold in a process more intuitive than deliberate. “I tell myself what I can do with the product, what techniques I have available and then I pair the products together, the flavors, and then I play with textures,” he says. “So the crispiness and airiness of the meringue complements the overall rhubarb. I like to take one thing, one ingredient, and just change the textures.”

Photo: Brianna LaRocco
Photo: Brianna LaRocco


Molten mango cake    

The molten mango cake, a creation of Fleurie Executive Pastry Chef Serge Torres, incorporates many of the elements he values in a dessert. It’s seasonal. With warm mango the dominant flavor but topped by a lychee sorbet, it’s exotic. And it’s gluten-free.

As Torres plays with the flavors and structure and complementary elements of a dish, he considers the impact on the customer presented with it. “They should have a first impression by their eyes, and after by the smell and after by the taste,” Torres says. “Those are the three factors, and for me the flavor is the priority.”

He designed the dish so the warm mango purée, surrounded by the cake, accented by a strawberry-balsamic sauce, sorbet and raspberries also allows for various textures to complement one another. “The flavor exploding when they start to eat the first bite,” he says, “and all this texture and between the soft, the crunch: I like to play with this kind of thing.”

Photo: Brianna LaRocco
Photo: Brianna LaRocco

The Alley Light

Lobster and sweetbread, lobster velouté, asparagus and lobster crumble

Chef Jose De Brito’s lobster and sweetbread is a variation on a classic regional dish from Lyon, France, usually done with crayfish. “I have so far in Charlottesville never found good quality crayfish so I did lobster. Close enough,” he says, describing it as, “classy and saucy, a refined surf and turf.”

The Alley Light’s menu changes constantly, so even when De Brito has decided on a particular presentation for a dish, he knows he’ll be onto something else before long.

“The first impression is important, so yes, I like to have good-looking plates with some finesse, but it is absolutely not my priority. My priority will always be taste, always,” he says. “If a dish needs to be ugly to taste yummy, it will be ugly. Have you ever had a pretty cassoulet?”

De Brito strives to be flexible about how he plates a dish, letting instinct and knowledge guide. “I do not know how it will be plated until the guest ticket comes,” he says. “I cook without a net; I jump in the water and swim, but I have quite a bit of experience so it is most of the time okay.”

Photo: Rammelkamp Foto
Photo: Rammelkamp Foto

Now & Zen

Soft-shell crab, avocado, cucumber and roe covered in seaweed and topped with toasted almonds

During the lunch rush of a recent spring day, Toshi Sato was calm in his kitchen at Now & Zen, slicing fish.

“I like spring,” Sato, chef and owner, says. He pulls a wax flower and then a hydrangea from vases nearby, snips the stems and begins to arrange them on the plate around the sushi. A prawn rests at the center of the dish.

“You have to show the seasons in the plate,” he says. “In the spring, we start to use lots of greens.” Visual presentation is a key element of any sushi dish. And it’s traditional, Sato says, for sushi chefs to draw inspiration from what surrounds them: mountains, trees, flowers. “It’s all nature.”

The plate complete, he regards it for a moment and sets it on the counter for pickup. “Visually, it’s beautiful,” he says. “Enjoy taste, second.”—D.T.


Journey Group is taking visual storytelling to the next level

As a graphic designer, Greg Breeding is resistant to the concept of simply decorating the world. “Images have great impact on humans,” he says.

Breeding feels strongly about his company’s role in graphic design. The president and creative director of design firm Journey Group, he has a lifelong love of all things aesthetic, which he credits to his father, “a closet artist.”

“I love the ability my father had to create something,” says Breeding. “As a result, I mimicked him. I tried to draw and paint, and I fell in love with the visual world.”

Breeding says that, growing up, he was not like other boys his age because he liked things to be neat and tidy, which he now applies to design. “It brings clarity to the message and the story,” he says.

Breeding and his business partner, Phil De Jong, founded the company in 1992. Together, they had nonprofit and magazine experience, and decided to combine their strengths to focus on creating print magazines for the broader nonprofit market. Three years after opening its doors in Fredericksburg, Journey Group relocated to a century-old residence in downtown Charlottesville, where it remains today.

Greg Breeding says that, at its core, Journey Group is about engaging readers and getting them interested in a specific cause. Photo: Brianna LaRocco
Greg Breeding says that, at its core, Journey Group is about engaging readers and getting them interested in a specific cause. Photo: Brianna LaRocco

The 22-person office on Fourth Street NE houses a collection of designers, developers, writers and editors, along with administration and management and Breeding’s current business partner, Ron Londen. And while Breeding heads it all, he insists his greatest success is being able to attract and retain incredible creative talent.

“Everyone here brings gifts and expertise that I don’t have. We have a depth of talent and integrity and I’m humbled to work alongside each of these people.”

Visual impact

The company is focused on the visual storytelling experience, and at the heart of its work is graphic and web design with impactful writing. Journey Group is one of several agencies in Charlottesville, but it’s unique in its creative firepower. From strategy to content, the group offers video, animation, graphic design and web development to bring a story to life and inspire action on the part of a reader.

“It’s a visual and visceral world that changes and forms us as human beings,” Breeding says. “We have the opportunity to influence people through our design, often in ways we don’t understand. It’s an aesthetic experience.”

Journey Group translates that into brand identity work and digital content, too. With changing technology, the company is finding ways to up the ante of its work’s sensory impact. Movement, sense of touch, audio—all of these are bringing design to life in a way that wasn’t available just 15 years ago. “It acknowledges all the things that make us human. We all respond to design,” Breeding says.

Journey Group uses that mantra in “visual storytelling” for its clients—which include the University of Virginia, the Smithsonian Institution, Habitat for Humanity and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others—anyone who wants readers to be more fully engaged and contribute more to their causes. Breeding says the company uses design to influence behavior, values, beliefs and actions. “It’s emotional, sensory and experiential. That’s what design is. That’s what stories do.”—L.T.

From the studio: A few of Journey Group's projects

  • The annual report for UVA's Jefferson Scholars Foundation.

  • The cover of EFCA Today.

  • Print materials for the United States Postal Service.


Details are the order of the big day for Adam Donovan-Groves

One of the first things wedding planner Adam Donovan-Groves asks when he meets a couple is, “What’s your favorite room in your house?” He wants to know about colors and art work. If the walls are ivory or ecru, he envisions champagne- or blush-colored table linens at the pair’s upcoming nuptials. If they’re partial to black-and-white photography, he knows big pops of color probably won’t fly.

Adam Donovan-Groves
Adam Donovan-Groves. Photo: Jen Fariello

“Designing a wedding can take an hour or it can take many months,” Donovan-Groves says. To start, couples often glean ideas by studying photos of other weddings, and eventually a pattern emerges—everything they like has a blue tint, for example—and a picture of the look for their day comes into focus.

“Weddings don’t have colors anymore,” Donovan-Groves says, smiling at the memory of a scene from Steel Magnolias, where bride-to-be Julia Roberts proclaims that her colors are blush and bashful. “I can’t even remember the last time I asked anyone what their colors are. We have palettes now,” he says, pointing to photos from a Montpelier wedding, where he “embraced the space and worked with the colors in the room.” The walls were white with blue-gold accents, so Donovan-Groves reversed that for the tables, using blue linens and adding bright floral centerpieces and bowls to give the tablescape balance.

Photo: Dominique Attaway

Donovan-Groves also made certain the chairs that “framed” the table were the same color as the actual frames on the room’s walls. “Every aspect of the design talks to the others,” he explains. “You’re not going to have black chairs if you’ve gone with peaches and blushes. You’ll need to bring in a natural-color chair; a softer chair.” The chairs really are like a picture frame, he says, pointing to a photograph hanging on the wall of a downtown bakery. “This image would look ridiculous in anything other than a black frame.”

But for all his talk about framing and tablescapes, lighting and elements of whimsy, Donovan-Groves, who was named to Vogue magazine’s 2016 list of Ultimate Wedding Planners, also knows the ceremony is the most important part of the day. And the look for a traditional religious ceremony is very different from that of a non-faith-centered ceremony. “I always want to be respectful of a couple’s religion,” he says, pulling up an image of a tasteful wooden cross behind an outdoor altar. “Nobody should get lost in the detail of the flowers during a ceremony” when two people say their vows, he says.

Photo: Courtesy Adam Donovan-Groves
Photo: Jen Fariello

If those vows are spoken outside, Donovan-Groves makes certain the rehearsal is at the exact time of the wedding so he can decide where the couple and their wedding party will stand. “I don’t want anyone to be partially shaded in the photos,” he explains, adding that determining where the sun is going to be is a big part of designing an outdoor ceremony. He works with trees to give natural shade, and he makes sure unattractive buildings and road traffic are as far away as possible.

And when it comes to trends, Donovan-Groves thinks less is more. “I ask a couple if they’re going to be okay with something that’s super-trendy and popular right now when they look back at the photos in 10 years.” Mason jars, for instance, are fine at a barn or a rustic wedding, but a definite no-no for a more elegant event. “You have to know when and where to use something,” he says.

Donovan-Groves says the most important thing about wedding design is to make the day feel like it belongs to the couple. “I want them to walk into the space and for it to feel like it is an extension of them,” he says. “That it is exactly what they didn’t know they wanted.”—S.S.



It’s hard to deny the power of makeup. Even a little mascara can up your personal style ante. We asked The Spot Beauty Shop’s Nikki Benedikt to show us how a dramatic, smoky eye can transform a face—even when it’s beautiful to begin with.


Photos: Jen Fariello

Hair: Brianna B. Adams

Model: Amber Griggs


The right vessel gives every flower more power

“It’s all about the container,” says Amy Webb, owner of Blue Ridge Floral Design, when asked about trends in flower design. “A cute container sets the tone for everything.” And when it comes to what goes in that container, less is more.

“Spend a little more for a nice vase and fill it with a couple of flowers, something colorful,” Webb advises. Now that it’s spring, she suggests heading outside to pick a few blooms, and then putting them in a striped container that matches the flowers. “Or go to a farmers market and see what the growers have,” she says.

This bouquet designed by Amy Webb combines a few of her secret weapons for a successful arrangement: berries for texture and long-lasting roses in a square metallic container with other colorful flowers. Photo: Brianna LaRocco
This bouquet designed by Amy Webb combines a few of her secret weapons for a successful arrangement: berries for texture and long-lasting roses in a square metallic container with other colorful flowers. Photo: Brianna LaRocco

Lilacs have a long shelf life, but “roses are my tried-and-true because they hold up so well,” Webb says. “You get a week’s shelf life out of them.” Ranunculus are great, and peonies are in season, she adds, and encourages using berries for texture and augmenting arrangements with micro mums, spray roses or sprigs of forsythia.

As for those ever-important vessels, metallics are hot right now, Webb says, as is square, and “round is always in.” And she likes ribbon: “We do a lot with ribbon on little glass vases,” Webb says. “Ribbon adds color and brings out the color of flowers.”—S.S.

There’s a conceptual thread throughout Tavia Brown’s work, she says, which relies on her fascination with continuity. Photo: Brianna LaRocco

Sourcing the soul

The core beauty
of taviametal

All that glitters is not gold. In fact, at a large, shared metalsmith studio on East Market Street, what glitters is mostly sterling silver, platinum and titanium.

Using primarily these precious metals, Tavia Brown coaxes out chic, urban, wearable works of art with very few gems and a sparing use of gold. “It’s about the metal, about the design,” she says. “Stones are the accents.”

For 15 years, Brown has been creating her unique designs as the brand taviametal. After taking a sculpting class in art school, she happened upon jewelry making, and it became immediately apparent that she’d found her passion in the small scale form. “It’s art first,” Brown says. “I don’t tell people that I’m a jeweler.”

She’s one of five other ’smiths (currently all women) who share the warehouse studio, as well as the casting and soldering station, the hydraulic press, anvils and hammers. But it’s at the bench of each artist that the personality of the work truly takes shape.

Brown’s designs offer form, function and allure. Her patterns are at once bold, delicate and playful. They inspire curiosity and a desire to look closer, and the pieces have weight—the physical weight of metal countered by a spiritual and emotional weight. The artist holds up a necklace. “This one came out of…” she pauses, “a challenging time.”

While she says she’s moved away from conceptual designs, Brown conveys that there’s a thread of concept through all of her work. That thread relies on her “fascination with continuity” and taps a creative source for the designer, resulting in the ability to see the beauty in the everyday. It’s like “going on a walk and seeing the flower blooming between the cracks of broken concrete,” she says.

Photo: Courtesy Taviametal

Photos: Courtesy taviametal

Sustainability also plays a major role in her art. By recasting the shape of a found object, toy wheels on a car transform into modern cufflinks, a rip cord from a spinning top creates a stylish, edgy pendant. “I have a voice, a story,” Brown says. “It’s important to look deeper into my work and notice that.”

Study the details and you’ll find that much of her jewelry bears a tactile narrative. A standout in the new Intrepid collection is a necklace titled Tumbling Beneath the Sky that evokes a buoyant, roller coaster-like feeling countered by stability from the double chains that hold its “colorful sky.”

Before the pieces are ready, they are named and “tested” by wearing. Letting go can sometimes be as emotionally challenging as the path to inspiration. “Mountain of Illumination will always be a piece I miss,” Brown says about a complex piece layered on a titanium plate and resembling a mountain range.

She jokes about keeping a mental inventory on where each of her creative outputs now lives, but it’s another duality that she considers part of the artistic process. “If we don’t sell our items, we won’t make more, or push ourselves deeper with our craft, ” says Brown.

Barring a small segment of wholesale work, Brown’s pieces are one-of-a-kind and she’s gaining recognition for it. “Someone saw my mom wearing my jewelry and asked if it was a Tavia,” she says. “When she said yes, they asked, ‘Do you know her?’ That made my mom happy,” she says.

Like the personality in her work, Brown imbues a parallel of warmth and intensity, passion and empathy—a thread of “sustainability between self, object and soul.”—T.K.


Ben Miller reflects on art and design as a tattooer

Ben Miller has been tattooing for more than two decades, a career path that stemmed from a lifetime of appreciating and creating art. It’s a labor of love for sure, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t scratch his artistic itch the way it did in the beginning.

“As far as art and tattooing, a lot of times I separate the two. I obviously use what I’ve learned in doing my own personal art endeavors and apply it to what I do in tattooing, but in tattooing I very rarely get to do exactly what it is that I want to do,” Miller says. “Tattooing is more my job, and my artistic endeavors take place after work.”  

As for the design element of his work, Miller says individuality is nearly impossible to achieve these days. The internet—Pinterest and Instagram in particular—has “destroyed all originality,” making it too easy for customers to just point to a picture they want to duplicate rather than coming up with a design on their own.

Photo: Ashley Twiggs
Photo: Ashley Twiggs

When Miller opened Ben Around Tattoos 10 years ago, he intentionally excluded books of designs to choose from, which he says was previously unheard of in the tattoo world. He advises customers to look at photos of the actual thing they want tattooed rather than photos of other tattoos.

“Every time an artist interprets something, it becomes slightly watered down and slightly farther away from what it truly is,” he says, explaining that that’s why the American traditional style roses often look more like cabbages than flowers. “It’s so far removed from the real rose that it started as that it’s almost incomparable to what it started as. So I encourage people to go back to photographs. Take it to its truest source.”

Miller says his goal as a tattooer, rather than establishing himself as the premiere artist using a particular technique or trying to push the boundaries in his artistic approach, is for each customer to look at the finished product and say “It’s perfect.” He’s providing a service, and ultimately he just wants his customers to be happy—even if that means he’s tattooing a flock of birds emerging from a dandelion for the umpteenth time.—L.I.

Jessica Lee. Photo: Ezé Amos