Tamara Eaton always thought she wanted to be an architect—even taking summer classes in CAD and model-building during high school—but it wasn't until attending NYU, where she studied art history and urban design and architecture (with a minor in econ, a "personal requirement" since her dad's an economics professor) that the Charlottesville, Va., native discovered her interest in interiors, as well. "There's a lot of overlap in terms of architecture and interiors and even art history," she says. "I really just started to love that in a way that I hadn't loved many other things." A post-grad internship at David Howell Design led to a position essentially running what was a lean interior design department, and after five years with the firm she broke out on her own.
Thanks to strong relationships with vendors and former clients, "work came very fast" after Eaton founded Tamara Eaton Design in 2009. "It was awesome to come out of the gates and be able to have such a good support from the people I had worked with," she says. A spate of early projects included a rental in the luxury Manhattan building 40 Bond, a ground-up home in Southampton, N.Y., which is a collaboration with an architect and is almost finished, and a townhouse job in Brooklyn. "I made my way quickly to these townhouses in Brooklyn," Eaton says, adding that she's working currently working on five of them. "I don't know how that happened, but I'm happy with it. They seem for some reason to be a solid market for me."
Whether it's townhouse interiors, her very first nightclub project, currently in the works—"it's such an awesome mental exercise because you have to think of things in a totally different way, like high heels not going through banquette fabric"—law offices, a restaurant, or a private residence in Dubai—"more is more, and then some more"—Eaton approaches things "funtionally from the very beginning," she says. "A lot of what I do is not hyper modern and it's not terribly traditional," she says. "What I really care about it is the clients' home for the next 20 to 30 years. Because I do a lot of townhouses, that's how I think. I don't think about how this is going to look in a magazine. I think about whether they have kids, or whether they're amazing cooks and they want a big kitchen and a really durable countertops. I'm really cued into a client's lifestyle and how they live functionally, and I think that kind of sets me apart not in aesthetics but in terms of how clients and I work together."
Adam Gordon, a NYC developer and member of the Young Guns selection committee, elaborates:
"Tamara Eaton kind of captures the zeitgeist of her clients. They may be Russian mobsters or new money or old Greenwich, but she's able to weave among them what they want and elevate it rather than imprinting her own work. I think one of the abilities of a mature, thoughtful designer is to understand their client and not force them into your own. She takes someone in Greenwich and they want to do high WASP, and she's able to do that too. Too many designers play into the insecurities of their client." Today, Tamara Eaton Design has three employees, and Eaton's planning on bringing on a fourth. She runs the firm from an office in Chelsea, which she shares with Allen + Killcoyne Architects. ("It's actually been great because now we're starting to actually do some work together.") In the future, she hopes to build "a successful business that has an international presence, and I'd love to roll out some product lines and work with different aspects of the interior design world in terms of making things that aren't just interior spaces." Though ultimately longevity is what she hopes for in the industry, at the moment she's focused on being "better, faster, stronger," she says. "I never think that my best is good enough, and I think that's part of what drives me—that I always want to get better."