From New York hotspot Le Coucou to the buzzy renovation of The Chicago Athletic Association, Roman & Williams has captivated the design world with layered interiors that defy classification. For the past 5 years, Whitley Esteban has been behind the scenes, quietly shepherding the firm’s projects (including the highly-anticipated British Art wing at the Met, opening this spring) as its Managing Director.
Esteban’s personal style and process reflect the best of her firm’s: She’s passionate about classical art and design (she’s active in the nonprofit Institute of Classical Architecture & Art), fascinated by context, and always looking to experiment. “I want to be able to acknowledge the classics and play them back in a reverential way,” she says.
As such, much of Esteban's work at the firm centers around research. The Roman & Williams team digs ferociously into location, history, and culture of a place (Esteban calls it "immense immersion") in order to situate their work within it—and also push its boundaries a bit. "We try to be to be really great listeners really great interpreters of the brand's vision and then manifest that in different ways," she says.
Esoteric as that might sound, it's balanced out for Esteban—who studied architecture in a traditional, hand-drawing manner at Notre Dame—by good, old fashioned hard work. “Whitley's most valuable asset is her fierce intellect combined with her leadership skills,” say Roman & Williams principals Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch. “Rarely have we seen a person who has both of those qualities.”