Atlanta’s Favorite Interior Designers: Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters Exclusive Interview with Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters
August 16, 2017
Name: Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Occupation: Founders of Forbes Masters, Interior Design
Instagram: @forbesmasters @taviaforbes @monetmasters
Atlanta’s very own interior designers, Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters, are turning interior spaces into monumental masterpieces with their bold, modern, eclectic and sometimes masculine aesthetic. They have work with many well-known clients such as Myleik Teele and Kandi Burruss-Tucker from Real Housewives of Atlanta. We were able to get a hold of these busy, leading ladies to share their goals and inspiration behind their interior design business. From high-end fabrics to high-end clients, see below of our exclusive interview with the designers.
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MN: So how did Forbes+Masters come about?
MM: I was working on a project and it was my first commercial project since leaving the corporate life and started my company. So it was a very big project. I really didn’t know what I was doing but I was very young and prideful and wanted to complete the job. It was a very large salon. So long story short, I was way over my head. And they [client] brought Tavia in to mediate the situation because Tavia at that point had done the majority of the salon. But she was very heavy on the commercial side of interior design where I was residential. They ended up letting me go from that job and Tavia completed the salon. The next day, when I found out the news, I called Tavia and basically, she was like “Hey! I like you! I referred you! Let’s be friends!”
In that call, our business friendship started and that later evolved into a more personal friendship. And we just shared our struggles as she was still in New York handling clients there. Talk about the things that we were going through and they were always consistent and very familiar between the two of us. Tavia’s mentor who’s also my mentor now strongly suggested that she merged with someone. So Tavia started to teach me about merging long time ago. Then, honestly, we end up falling into it because of the workload that both of us were getting. So, it naturally came together.
MN: Describe a typical workday.
TF: First, we start off with trying to create our schedule probably in the evening for the next day. We really rely on scheduling our client meetings and other tasks that we have to do. We try to stay as organized as possible; however, because the nature of our job, anything can happen. Something can happen on a job site and we have to take care of that immediately. We try to schedule our shopping days. So it varies day-to-day. We try to schedule one day for just work. Things like paperwork–we usually do that on Mondays. Then, we schedule specific shopping days where we consolidate shopping trips for clients because we work on multiple projects at once.
We have install days that happen in the latter part of the week, where we are bringing in the product and doing whatever we need to complete our client spaces. So, it can be a very long day and some people say, oh it’s awesome you guys get to make your own schedule. And I’m like no, that just means we work all hours. All available hours of work, we work all of them. We do try of course stay very organized but it is very long hours for entrepreneurs.
MN: So you have a new project. You are working on a new home or a business site. What’s the first thing that you look at?
MM: I think with any project the first thing that we scope out is what is there. So even if there is non-existence bed or sofa or a piece of art, what is the architectural element in the room? Where are the windows? How tall is the ceiling? What type of flooring do they have on the floor? Those existing elements and the architectural elements in particular really gives light to our direction. And then honestly sometimes we’ve already done a shopping trip at one of our favorite private stores. We walk into a room already knowing what the inspiration is going to be, if we feel like that happily represents our client.
“So we always start at the top of the top with fabrics and color inspiration and then we’ll start to go in for the more inexpensive fabric stores and we are able to locate and see those same trends that may not be as evident…”
MN: As interior designers, where do you go for inspiration?
MM: Honestly, everywhere. One place that we absolutely love to go to are these places that have a lot of antique, custom furniture, and art put together by different artists. It’s called Scott Antique Market, and then there is another place called Westside Market. It’s just the conglomerate of different cool things whether it’s antique or even new, but unique. So those are the places that we get our inspiration from. We always go to the highest of the high-end fabric stores to get inspiration. Just like fashion, everything trickles down to the makes of Dolce & Gabbana and you see a remake of it at Forever 21.
So we always start at the top of the top with fabrics and color inspiration and then we’ll start to go in for the more inexpensive fabric stores and we are able to locate and see those same trends that may not be as evident as for the purpose of starting out in the low-end store.
MN: Who is your interior design icon?
MM: I am really focused on Nate Berkus right now. I think it’s his personality, his lifestyle, and his perspective on his design career. Tavia recently heard him speak at an event but she can probably sum up where we will be eventually.
TF: He knows how to place himself for the high, the mid, and the low-end clients. He really serves everyone. He has a great perspective on how to view his clients and be for his client not wanting to leave interior design business though having a show and a new product line. So I think he seems very grounded.
MN: So how do you go about building your business and earning new clients?
MM: There are a few strategies and I think the number one strategy is to build a good reputation. Referrals will get you very far and because the trust level is already there when you get referred. The other part of that is to maintain a good social media presence and internet presence. Make sure your business portfolio is updated–the images that you presenting are of your work and design process. So when it comes to getting high-profile clients, I would say it’s coming from a referral and then it’s backed up by having a strong presence.
MN: Did you go to school for interior design?
MM: So I didn’t find out that interior design was even a profession until at the end of high school. So at that time, I went into community college knowing that I was going to be researching the best interior design schools to attend. That led me in community college for three years. I took every class I can possibly take. When I finally met a SCAD [Savannah of College Art and Design] representative who was coming to my community college in Houston, I fell in love instantly. I applied. I sent them my portfolio and I got accepted. So I attained a bachelor’s degree in interior design at SCAD.
TF: I actually did not go to school for interior design. I went to school for business, marketing, and art. I didn’t take interior design seriously as a career but it was kind of around me as I was growing up with my dad being a contractor. Mostly thought of it as a hobby. While I was in school, I realized that I was geared more towards the art but still maintaining a business education. I graduated and got into like doing event design right outside of college. That was so much fun and I just love making beautiful things. I wanted to do more event design and then I fell into interior design when I did an event in Atlanta and that’s where I met my mentor. We connected along with my mom and it went from there. I started working with her on her space and she referred me and then another [client] referred me and it just kept growing exponentially.
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MN: So would you say interior design is a “gift” or is it something that you can actually learn from school?
TF: You can learn–but even when you learn from school it’s still an innate gift. You learn structure. You learn why things work together but I believe that you must have an ingrained passion for interior design. It’s an artistic career so it comes from within and not necessarily something someone can insert in you.
MM: I would say starting at SCAD and finishing at SCAD with the same group of people who I started with working towards our degree, I would say wholeheartedly that it’s a gift. There is a lot of people who try to pursue interior design. There are a lot of basic formulas that you could keep and you can get by being a decorator or being a [home] stager. But as far as interior design, it means something completely apart from just the course. You must have the talent and you must have an eye for that. That’s something that is very hard to learn.
“Getting those first lessons and the fact that you have to fail a few times to win and everything is not going to be easy. So there is still constant reminders to keep going. So what you decide, there is no giving up if you want to be a winner.”
MN: What keeps you coming back to your job? How do you keep the same spirit and the love of your career you have from the beginning to now?
TF: The fact that you love it. When you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. Though you may have some really hard days and something may not work out but you know that you want to get back to the things that you were born to do. Actually, I received a text message from my mentor two days ago and she just said, “Hey, I just want to tell you are doing a great job. You stuck with it through some really hard times.” Getting those first lessons and the fact that you have to fail a few times to win and everything is not going to be easy. So there is still constant reminders to keep going. So what you decide, there is no giving up if you want to be a winner.
MM: It’s just a part of you. When I tell you, Tavia and I dream about furniture. We dream about projects. Like I don’t know what it was but even I think about something design related in my sleep. But when it is a part of you, then it’s not a job. Then, you are sharing yourself with others. Even when we have harsh deadlines and it seems tough and stressful because you have these deadlines, it still feels like I am preparing someone to understand this amazing idea that I have.
MN: What would you say is the good, the bad, and the ugly of being an entrepreneur?
MM: The good is the ability to create your own schedule. To have the freedom to do what you love to do. The bad is that you are pretty much by yourself. There is no walking into a building with a ton of support. So in my case, it’s me and my business partner. We do everything together and figure all problems out together but we are not backed by anyone else, just us.
The ugly is honestly the run-ins that you can have with others that you are not expecting and not protected from. The biggest challenges are discerning what personality types would work with you and being able to say no to do business with. You have to learn how to do that to know when someone is not for you. When you are not fit for a client and they are not a fit for you. So that was a huge challenge and something that we are still learning but very proud that we are working on it.
“There are black interior designers but there are no firms that are actually hiring students, hiring new designers, hiring project managers, contractors or a full running staff. So I would say that is a major long-term goal.”
MN: What are your long-term goals?
MM: The trajectory that we have right now is to create a design firm to have a larger business. There aren’t many, if any, black interior design firms in Atlanta. There great black interior designers but there are no firms that are actually hiring students, hiring new designers, hiring project managers, contractors or a full running staff. So I would say that is a major long-term goal.
Then definitely a product line. Like when I say we really run close with–not run alongside close but we really look at Nate Berkus closely because he has a lot of what we will have. So definitely a product line and a design show. To continue to share our creativity as well as educating the community about interior design.
MN: If you were given the opportunity to work with one celebrity, who would that person be?
MM: I would say for me any male that has ever been on in front GQ [magazine]. The men on GQ, they are like crazy stylish and known for like good fashion.
Tavia and I were just talking about these two clients last night that we are going to be doing a barber shop but we just love masculine spaces. They are always very dark and moody. So like George Clooney–like what would his house look like? Oh my gosh!
MN: What about Andre 3000?
MM: Oh my gosh yes! That would be so sick!
TF: That would be a fun like trippy free for all. Like the things you can do to the ceilings and the floors and just start match-making and just run wild. Yeah, that it would be so perfect actually.
MN: Final Question: According to the National Association School of Art and Design, as of Fall 2010, about a hundred thousand students are enrolled in some form of art or design bachelors program, but only about 4% are blacks. So how do you feel about that statistic? What do you believe is the underlying problem of why minorities are not enrolling in art design?
MM: First and foremost exposure is everything. A lot of us are in these communities that don’t really expose people to artistic careers. And I think because of art–because of our parents, our family, and as a culture, I think that it’s a little too risky of a thought to think about a career in the arts. We are thinking about things that can guarantee money as an easy formula. You have to be very confident and comfortable as well have that support behind you.
We may not have that support maybe because it’s the lack of support in the statistics or even the lack of support from our family members. I know my parents. So when I told them I’m going to pursue art design, I kind of have this attitude like I’m telling you not asking you. It was just kind of like this is where I am going and they are like okay. I later found out that they would get on the phone with each other and just be like I don’t know what’s going to happen. We are just going to keep supporting her but I don’t know this is going to work. But they never came to me with that negativity. It was just positive and it was just encouraging. And the more exposure that I got, the more confident I was with doing it on my own or work for a design firm.