New England Home 5 Under 40 2020 Winners

November 23, 2020

Text by Paula M. Bodah    Photography by Bruce Rogovin

We never fail to be amazed at the wealth of young design talent that emerges year after year here in New England. Now in its eleventh year, New England Home’s 5 Under 40 Awards program shines the spotlight on the hottest young professionals in the area’s residential design community.

Jessie Carroll’s clients often tell her she gives off the “vibes of a psychologist.” That doesn’t surprise her. “The most interesting part of architecture isn’t the structures, but the people behind them,” she says. “Working super closely with couples and families, listening to how they want to live, helping to see that through is what keeps it exciting for me.”

Her clients undoubtedly benefit from Carroll’s insight and empathy, but for architect Thomas Catalano and the other 5 Under judges, it was her eye for design and skill as an architect that stood out. “She displayed an uncanny 40 understanding of place, and her architecture spoke to its context in a refreshing way,” Catalano says. “She understands craftsmanship and building and the teamwork that goes into a successful project.”

Context is crucial says Carroll, associate principal at Portland, Maine-based Whitten Architects. Good architecture, she believes, has a light touch on the landscape. That doesn’t mean its presence isn’t felt, however. “The architecture may be simple and quiet and timeless, but all the details are fleshed out,” she says. “How this trim turns the corner, how the drywall meets the window, the scale of that window—that attention to detail, that thoughtfulness runs through the work.”

Growing up in Westford, Massachusetts, Carroll was a competitive runner. The discipline required for long-distance running extends to her career, she says. “As a runner, there’s always this moment when you don’t want to go on. The average length of time to become a licensed architect is twelve years, so it’s like a marathon.”

Carroll, who earned an MA in architecture from Northeastern University, has already garnered an impressive list of academic and professional awards. The 5 Under 40 award feels special, however. “Being acknowledged early in my career is one of the most exciting professional achievements I’ve had,” she says.

Perhaps Elizabeth Hendrickson’s career choice was inevitable, given her upbringing in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, where she spent a lot of time at her grandparents’ five-acre organic farm. “I was one with the land from an early age,” she says with a laugh. What’s more, a great aunt and uncle had a nearby nursery, so the farm held a wondrous variety of plants.

Hendrickson dreamed of being a florist in those days. “I was obsessed—I’m still obsessed—with flowers. They make me so happy.” On the advice of a florist she worked with, Hendrickson started studying plant science in college. “But it was like bio 101 and chem 101, and I thought, ‘Why am I taking these classes if I just want to play with flowers?’ ” She switched her major to landscape architecture, and a career was born.

Hendrickson, senior landscape architect at Kathryn Herman Design in New Canaan, Connecticut, says she doesn’t have a signature style. “But I do have a philosophy. My job is to make the site in which the architecture sits seamless. It’s meant to look like it was always there.”

That viewpoint holds no matter where a project is, whether it be an apartment with multiple terraces in New York City, a home on the water in Connecticut, or a fifty-acre Westchester, New York, estate. While each project has a unique look and feel, as well as its own palette of materials, all are equally timeless.

John Haven of Boston’s LeBlanc Jones Landscape Architects, a member of the judging panel and a past 5 Under 40 winner himself, says Hendrickson’s work excels in both its variety and its quality. “As a fellow plant person,” he says, “I appreciated the sophistication of her planting designs. Her knowledge of plantings and composition really stood out.”

Some little girls spend their idle hours dreaming about their perfect wedding. Stephanie King spent that time looking at magazines and fantasizing about the house she would live in when she grew up. “I knew I wanted to be an interior designer,” she says. “What I love about it is that it’s art that you live in.”

Her parents—an engineer father who makes furniture and loves architecture, and a mother who loved entertaining and, says King, “had every Martha Stewart book”—were her earliest influences. “My parents took so much pride in where they lived. It fostered that understanding that the place you choose to spend time in can be art.”

King started her career with a bang, landing a job, right after graduation from Syracuse University, at Slifer Designs, an AD100 firm in Colorado. “I went for an interview, and I was hired on the spot,” she recalls. “That’s a proud thing for me: each job I’ve had I’ve been hired during the interview. I love what I do, and I think that passion, the love and joy, come through in my interview.”

Eventually, the Princeton, Massachusetts, native made her way back east, working with Amy Lau Design in New York City and then, in 2012, joining Boston-based Heather Wells as her lead designer. King’s designs often begin with a quiet, neutral palette featuring black and white, which she then layers with texture, subtle color, and a decidedly bespoke nfluence. “I don’t like buying off the shelf or machine-made,” she says. “I love to see the hand in the texture of a fabric or a piece of carved wood. Everything has to have that layer of artisan quality.”

King’s work has been widely acclaimed and has been featured in Architectural Digest, Luxe, and New England Home.

The entrepreneurial spirit runs in Emily Pinney’s family. Her father had a design/build firm in New Hampshire, and she spent plenty of time at his work sites or in the workshop where he crafted millwork. So when she decided to start her own firm, Pinney Designs, in 2011, the idea wasn’t at all scary. “It just sort of evolved organically,” she says. Home base for the company is Belmont, Massachusetts, where Pinney’s two young children often join their mom in her workplace, just as she did with her dad.

The built environment was Pinney’s first interest, she explains. “I was born and raised in residential design. It wasn’t until much later that I realized interior design was a thing,” Pinney says. A wise high-school teacher suggested she take a CAD class, and she found she loved it and had a talent for design. Education at the Boston Architectural College suited her, with its emphasis on hands-on learning. “I really believe that design is something you learn by doing, not necessarily in a classroom,” she says.

Helping younger designers get that firsthand experience is important to Pinney, and she enjoys hiring interns. “I really like to take them under my wing and teach them,” she says. “One of my longest-running employees started as an intern.”

Equally important is community involvement, such as last year’s Room to Dream project her firm undertook, redesigning the basement and the three kids’ bedrooms for a family whose home had been damaged by a flood.

Pinney also fulfills her entrepreneurial desires with Syd + Sam, a Belmont-based home boutique (currently with online shopping only, thanks to COVID-19). Again, the philanthropic occasionally comes into play; last year Pinney created a pop-up Syd + Sam in Brooklyn, New York, to raise funds for the Global Autism Project, a nonprofit started by her sister, Molly Oly Pinney.

Alina Wolhardt is the only one of this year’s 5 Under 40 winners who isn’t a native to the Northeast. The daughter of a Japanese mother and Danish father, she spent her first eighteen years in Tokyo then lived in Copenhagen for two and a half years before moving to the United States. Wolhardt, who earned an MA from the New England School of Art and Design in 2008, cut her design teeth at Duncan Hughes Interiors and then at Elkus Manfredi Architects before opening her own Boston-based firm, Wolf in Sheep Design, in 2015.

Given her background, it’s no surprise that Wolhardt’s work incorporates elements of both Asian and Scandinavian design. “They both have a very clean aesthetic and are more on the contemporary side,” she notes. “Japanese design is very minimal, and every detail matters. In Denmark, comfort is really valued because the winter months are long and dark.”

Those influences translate into interiors that are striking in their simplicity and elegance but imbued with a playfulness—a bold shot of color here, a delightful mix of textures there—that gives each space a unique personality.

Wolhardt isn’t content to sit still, artistically. She enjoys residential, commercial, and hospitality design equally. And she is working to expand her reach nationally and internationally. “We have a place on the West Coast, so I’ve started taking projects out there,” she says. “My next goal is to take projects everywhere, especially with things going more virtual anyway.”

Although she’s a relative newcomer to our area, Wolhardt has found a true home in Boston. “The city resonated with me because of its very European feel. I didn’t intend to stay as long as I have—I hate winter,” she says. “But I met my husband here, and that sort of sealed the deal. I think it’s a great city.”