Designer’s secret to transforming room involves trifecta

Atlanta’s James Wheeler has a knack for solving design challenges while also creating beautiful environments.

The company: Founded in 2012, J. Wheeler Designs is an Atlanta-based boutique interior design firm.

Background: A native Atlantan, Wheeler graduated from Georgia State University with a degree in accounting and finance. Prior to founding his interior design studio in 2012, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company.

Why I became a designer: Design has been a passion of mine since I was young. I was fortunate to have grown up in a family that appreciated high design and placed a great emphasis in hospitality, both of which have shaped my own design style. Design gives me the ability to apply my skills in both the creative and operational sides to the business.

Where you’ve seen my work: Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, HGTV Remodels, Country Living and Good Housekeeping.

Best way to instantly transform a room: With a trifecta of paint, lighting and drapery.

A favorite decor touch: Use real rugs in the bathroom. It’s a great way to add warmth to a space that can often feel cold from all of the hard surfaces. My favorite is Turkish kilim rugs. They are made to withstand the elements and come in a variety of colors and patterns. Find them online and at antique stores.

Cheap decor tricks:

  • Paint. If you’re goal is to modernize a space, paint the walls and trim the same color.
  • Switch out cabinetry hardware in kitchens, baths and even on furniture. I love Anthropologie for unique hardware.
  • Change out lampshades. Most lamps are sold with paper shades. Ditch the paper for linen.
  • Decorate with books. Arrange books by the color of their bindings. This creates order and visual interest to your space.

Current design obsession: Black and white and layered textures.

Design pet peeve: Beige everything and windows without drapery.

Over-rated design trend: Reclaimed everything.

New or re-emerging design looks you like: Brass, Lucite, and the color green.

Design looks you are glad to see go: Antlers, agates, hair-on-hide, and chevron.

Most unusual request I’ve received: Being asked to design a room for a pet.

My personal style: A mix of traditional and modern, and the end result is a space that feels collected. I love the juxtaposition of an antique with something modern.

Biggest mistake I have ever made: I had my dining room chairs reupholstered in a very bold fabric just before the Midtown Tour of Homes in 2011. The second they came back from the upholsterer, and the day before the tour, I knew I hated them. On the tour, they became a favorite in my home and are beloved by visitors to this day. I’m happy to say that they’ve grown on me over the years, so much that I do love them myself.

Favorite design sources


  • Atlanta Decorative Arts Center (ADAC): Ainsworth-Noah & Associates, Bradley, Holland & Company, Jerry Pair, Lee Jofa, and Moattar, Ltd.
  • Americas Mart: J. Douglas, Legacy Home, Currey & Company, and World’s Away.

Stores: Bungalow Classic, B.D. Jeffries, Circa Lighting, and South of Market.

Unexpected finds: Savvy Snoot for great consignment pieces; Scarlet Loves Retro for unique finds; and Interiors Market at Bennett Street for a great selection of furniture, art and accessories.

Magazines: Elle Decor, Architectural Digest, Lonny, Milieu, Man of the World, and Kinfolk.

Designers: Vicente Wolf, Steven Gambrell, and Miles Redd.

Blogs/Websites: Remodelista, and La Dolce Vita. Designtripper, Culture Club (Club Monaco) blogs.

I collect: White pottery. It’s fresh and easy to use for entertaining, as well as decorating around the house. Also, Green Majolica dinnerware and vintage Christmas ornaments that have been passed down for years in my family.

Favorite space at home: The kitchen. When I’m not designing, I love to cook and entertain.

Favorite household possessions:

  • An original Steve Penley painting of George Washington given to me by my mother.
  • My grandmother’s iron skillet. It’s the secret to really amazing fried chicken … one of my guilty pleasures!
  • Etchings that I’ve collected on my various trips to Paris.

Space or product I would like to design: A beach home and a collection of tableware.

Most recent design projects: Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles 2014 Serenbe Showhouse, a remodel in Brookhaven, and a residence in Vinings.

Up next: A horse-farm project in Nashville for a long-term client with architect Keith Summerour. We’re also opening a new studio in the Old Fourth Ward next to the new Krog Street Market in mid-March.

Find James Wheeler at:

Instagram: @j_wheelerdesigns


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