Get To Know 10 Women Leaders In Architecture And Real Estate

This International Women’s Day, get to know ten women who are opening doors for themselves and for other women in the highly competitive fields of architecture and real estate. Each of these women has carved a unique path to success, but all are united by their professional drive, their passion to support other women, and their sheer tenacity. In the words of Jessica Miller Essl, founder of M2G Ventures, “anyone that gets in your way is just that, in your way.”

Kara Mann, Founder and Creative Director of Kara Mann  

Since establishing her own design firm in Chicago in 2005, some of Mann’s notable projects include designing a home for Virgil Abloh, a pop-up shop for Goop, Hotel Chelsea, product lines with Baker furniture, and most recently, her first ground-up condominium development, 1000M. Having broken ground in 2019, Mann created the interior layouts and finish selections for the residences as well as designed the 40,000 square feet of indoor, outdoor, and amenity spaces.

We are cognizant of the need to continuously develop a woman leader…[at] the local, the state and national level, and that’s a part of what the Women’s Council of Realtors helps to do…develop the next wave of leaders.

Nykea Pippion McGriff

Nykea Pippion McGriff, Broker at Dream Town Realty

Nykea Pippion McGriff is passionate about real estate and her hometown of Chicago, where she works as a broker with Dream Town Realty. In addition to her work as a broker, Nykea serves as the National Association of Realtors appointed Federal Political Coordinator for the 1st Congressional District of Illinois and is the 2018 President-Elect of the Women’s Council of Realtors Illinois (WCR). She also serves on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Realtors, Chicago Association of Realtors, and IDFPR Real Estate and Disciplinary Board.

Marianne McKenna Co-Founding Partner, KPMB Architects

Marianne McKenna is an invested Officer of the Order of Canada and an Honorary Fellow of The Royal Conservatory. Her impressive roster of projects include Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Northwestern University, The Royal Conservatory and the Conrad New York. With a focus on engaging community through design and concert hall architecture, Marianne’s current projects include an expansion for The Brearley School in New York City, renovation of the iconic Massey Hall, Boston University’s Data Sciences Center and the 130-year-old Bloor Street United Church.

We are fast-moving beyond the first waves of liberal and pragmatic feminism that made access and education available and gave voice to women and made them visible. A more broad-based, philosophical feminism that values talent, focus, and the ability to listen more broadly will be at the forefront of changes within the profession of architecture.

Marianne McKenna


Highlyann Krasnow, Partner at MNS

After starting her career as a broker fresh out of college, Krasnow worked to become the only female partner at MNS, a sales and rental brokerage that has sold or rented more than 12,000 units totaling more than $10 billion in real estate throughout New York City. Additionally, Krasnow has also launched her own eco-friendly interior design firm, The Design High, a women-run company and the exclusive design wing of MNS. 

Real estate has largely been dubbed a ‘male-driven industry,’ though this is changing at a rapid pace and should by no means steer women away from the field.

Arlinda Dine

Arlinda Dine, EVP of New Development Marketing at Modern Spaces

At New York City-based real estate group, Modern Spaces, Arlinda Dine oversees new projects from conceptual and financial projections, through sales and beyond. She has worked on numerous large-scale projects, like One Brooklyn Bridge and the Williamsburg Edge, where she was actively involved in every aspect of the development process, from negotiation and pricing, to marketing and sales. Over the past two years, she has spearheaded the marketing and sales efforts for Skyline Tower, the tallest building in the borough of Queens.

Real estate is still a male-dominated profession, but major firms…are finally starting to recognize the value of diversifying their workforce, and we are slowly starting to see things change. It will take time, but diversity is becoming more widespread in our industry.

Natalie Diaz

Natalie Diaz, Chief of Staff at Time Equities Inc.

Natalie Diaz joined Time Equities Inc. (TEI) in 2011 as the Executive Assistant to CEO Francis Greenburger. Natalie now holds the position of Chief of Staff. In her role as COS, Diaz works with both the CEO and President of TEI to create and/or refine company-wide policies and procedures to support efficient internal operations and interdepartmental communication. Diaz oversees all marketing and communications for the firm. Last year, Diaz founded the Women’s Equity Committee (WEC) at TEI and is passionate about increasing inclusion from diverse female voices.

Working in a male dominated industry, I quickly realized to rise above it, meaning I didn’t dwell on the fact that I am in the minority. Kick ass and you will rise above it. Anyone that gets in your way, is just that, in your way.

Jessica Miller Essl

Jessica Miller Essl, Co-President, M2G Ventures

Sisters Susan and Jessica Miller founded M2G Ventures in 2014 to invest in distinctive, mixed-use and industrial development projects in Fort Worth, TX. To date, the firm has handled over $60 million in property, primarily in the urban center of Fort Worth. M2G also specializes in limited strategic consulting for legacy projects, and has been selected as the exclusive retail and restaurant partner for the $200 million redevelopment of the Horse and Mule Barns located in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. 

Maile Aguila, Senior Vice President of Residential Sales for Swire Properties Inc

With over 30 years of real estate experience, Maile Aguila has led sales efforts for the company’s Brickell Key developments, an impeccable record that has generated more than $800 million in revenue for the Tequesta Point, Courts Brickell Key, Carbonell and Asia condominiums. Currently, Maile is focused on the sellout of two premier residential towers, Reach and Rise Residences at Brickell City Centre, the $1.05 billion mixed-use development in Miami.

Your gut feeling is your compass, and it is informed by the powerful combination of your heart, mind and body. Tune into it and don’t let anyone tell you not to pay attention to it. 

Elana Friedman

Elana Friedman, Chief Marketing Officer for AKA 

 As the Chief Marketing Officer of AKA, Elana Friedman takes under-the-radar hotels and puts them on the global stage. She is known in the hospitality industry for her creative ideas, such as the first-ever outdoor hotel bedroom for serviced residences AKA, which led to an influx of worldwide visitors seeking the best of both worlds — a well-designed residence with the amenities of a hotel — for longer stays. The outdoor bedroom became so popular that it set off a trend and has been duplicated by other hotels. Elana also was the first to create a luxury mobile suite, which she launched with an Airstream 2 Go at AKA Beverly Hills. 

Find your passion and be willing to work hard. Don’t give up when it gets tough, and it will. Surround yourself with great people with whom you can be vulnerable. Most important, strive to find and be your authentic self. Life is a journey, and we are all works in progress.

Florence Quinn

Florence Quinn, President and Founder, Quinn PR

As President and Founder of Quinn PR, Florence Quinn serves as the luxury agency’s strategic and creative director. Her agency of the same name focuses on real estate, travel, and hospitality, and was named one of the “Most Powerful PR Firms of 2019” by Observer. Florence’s ability to anticipate trends and strike at just the right moment has allowed her to grow a one-woman firm to the 70-person, multi-million-dollar, award-winning company it is today. With offices in New York, Miami and Los Angeles, Florence Quinn continues to inspire her team to achieve excellence.



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12 Of The Best Instagram Accounts To Follow Right Now For Colorful Interior Design Inspiration

Farrow & Ball

Based in Dorset, England, Farrow & Ball is a manufacturer and distributor of richly pigmented, water-based paint and wallpaper, so it makes sense that their Instagram accounts offers daily eye candy in the form of colorful room settings. This is a great account to follow for inspiration to go bold with wall color or dive into the wonderful world of wallpaper.


Sweeten is a free service that matches people with renovation projects to the best general contractors in their area, and their Instagram is filled with inspired ways to layer color and pattern into your projects.

Kelly Wearstler

Kelly Wearstler is an American designer and author with an impressive portfolio of projects, awards, and publications. Her account offers an expertly curated exploration of materiality, color, and forms, so following her is both an opportunity to peep gorgeous interiors and also gain insights into her methods and concepts.

Justina Blakeney

Founder of @theJungalow and @justinablakeneyhome, Justina Blakeney’s Instagram offers pure happy-making, utterly delicious daily doses of color. From colorful decor pops to brightly hued interiors, this is a space dedicated to celebrating all things colorful.

Maison Sarah Lavoine

If you get a chance to visit designer Sarah Lavoine’s brick-and-mortar shops in France and New York City, you’ll be glad you did. But in the mean time, follow @maisonsarahlavoine for an inspired mix of contemporary style and vivid hues.

India Mahdavi

For the past 20 years, India Mahdavi has been a leader in the design world with her unapologetic use of color and bold, sophisticated sensibility. Follow her account to see all the exciting possibilities of layering in color.

Sheila Bridges (@harmlemtoilegirl)

As an A-list designer and owner of Sheila Bridges Design, Sheila Bridges has mastered the art and science of balancing bright, modern hues with classic forms. Follow @harmlemtoilegirl for ideas and inspiration to get out of the comfort zone of neutrals.

Nicole Cohen (@sketchfortytwo)

Nicole Cohen’s skills as both a designer and photographer come through in spades in her Instagram feed, which will have you thinking about color in entirely new ways. Rich hues, modern angles, and unfussy styling show how color can live very happily in a more minimalist context.

Grant K. Gibson

For interior inspiration that fuses eclectic with easy elegance, give a follow to San Francisco-based designer Grant K. Gibson. Gibson has gained a stellar reputation for using color and pattern to create beautiful yet personal interiors.

Summer Thornton Design

Chicago-based designer, Summer Thornton, is renowned for her fearless approach to color and pattern. Follow her Instagram for beautiful ways to mix unexpected hues. Some of her coolest tips: “Colors don’t clash” and “Never say never.”

Sight Unseen

Sight Unseen is an online magazine that covers the latest in art and design. This is a fantastic Instagram account to follow to stay current on the latest colors and patterns designers are loving right now.

Graham & Brown

For anyone who is considering wallpaper, give Graham & Brown—luminaries in the wallpaper industry—a follow on Instagram. The company has also ventured into paints and patterned textiles, so their feed is a lovely mix of luscious wall coverings vibrant interiors.

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The Renaissance Of Brick-And-Mortar Locations As Ad Space

Traditional brick-and-mortar shopping offers customers more than an opportunity to purchase—it’s a chance to have a personal interaction with a brand. From the unique way a brand merchandises items down to the lighting and design, music and employees, a brick-and-mortar store experience is just that: an experience. As customers continue to move towards a digital landscape, brands are exploring new ways to break through the digital noise and offer customers tactile, sensory, and personalized experiences—effectively turning built environments into ad space.

Similarly, commercial real estate developers, architects, and investors are exploring new ways to reinvigorate historic, underused, or shuttered spaces that once served traditional brick-and-mortar purposes but struggle to remain robust in a digital economy. Brands and real estate developers alike are turning to firms like Skylight, a placemaking and venue development firm that combines adaptive reuse, redevelopment, and forecasting to transform traditional and struggling commercial spaces into immersive brand experiences.

Skylight specializes in developing “intentional short-term real estate opportunities” for brands—most often activations, pop-ups, and launch events. Conceptually, these opportunities are designed to reenergize an underutilized built space and give customers a tangible experience with a brand. Over the last decade, Skylight has developed brand experiences for such companies as Amazon, Hermes, Nike, Hulu, Spotify, and Tesla. Brick-and-mortar locations include The High Line, St John’s Terminal, the Historic San Francisco Mint, the Row in Los Angeles, and New York’s Bleeker Street corridor.

We recently sat down with Stephanie Blake, CEO of Skylight, to learn more about the firm’s approach to brick-and-mortar and her thoughts on the ongoing push and pull between built commercial spaces and the digital economy.

Skylight is known for creating what you refer to as “intentional short-term real estate opportunities.” What do you see as the benefits to this approach?

SB: Intentional short-term real estate opportunities are the physical manifestation of the “drop” economy. It’s a disruption (and re-imagination) in both real estate and retail / brand approach to innovation and development.

It’s not replacing permanent brick-and-mortar concepts, but it is reimagining the industry in the way co-working companies changed the way we use office space and share ideas and resources to promote innovation…In a world where new collaboration, co-creation, and constant iteration is needed to maintain consumer interest, short term real estate plays provide the platform to showcase these moments while gathering intel and insights that inform the next move.

For example, Skylight worked with Nike and Virgil Abloh to find a home for their Nike “Off Campus” experience, which was created to showcase a collaboration between Nike and Off-White. Skylight brought the multi-day activation to 23 Wall Street, the former home of JP Morgan. The event, which included an immersive museum, programming, and a retail space, sold out almost immediately.

Short-term real estate opportunities have allowed brands the short-term flexibility to take RISKS and EXPERIMENT with different concepts, based on the willingness to suffer losses if costs are significantly lower.

Stephanie Blake, CEO, Skylight

Can you talk about your statement that one of the biggest real estate trends for 2020 will be the utilization of the physical and built environment as ad space?

SB: Storytelling is more important. The built environment provides something that screens cannot. There is a desire to reach consumers where they are with these stories, and brands are taking notice of the way audiences go about their daily routines, particularly in cities.

The physical and built environment can be utilized as ad space. At Google over a decade (15 years) ago, the focus used to be ‘how do we convince brands to move spend from traditional media to online?’ The pendulum is swinging back, but now with new tools informed by digital products and the growing importance of data.

Brand communities, referring to any investment of time or money that customer makes into a brand beyond purchase/transaction (think Harley Davidson die hard fans getting tattoos of the brand + meeting with other fans) is the most valuable brand equity that brand aim to achieve. Skylight has followed this shift first hand through our event and client experiences; while brands historically spent marketing dollars on traditional product launches and showrooms, we are noticing a transformation to experiences that aim to form brand communities and bring fans together.

For example, The Stalls at Skylight ROW DTLA hosted a sprawling, multi-sensory production in support of Billie Eilish’s debut album. The Billie Eilish Experience welcomed over 3,000 devoted fans for a weekend of art, technology, and the unexpected inspired by the artist’s own experiences with synesthesia. Conceived by Billie Eilish herself, and produced in partnership with Spotify and Adobe, the former produce stalls were transformed into immersive rooms imagined along the themes of the tracks on her album, “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” This provided a tangible experience in which Billie could demonstrate her unique point of view as an artist, celebrate a career milestone, and give fans a platform for engagement and community in her home city.

What are your thoughts on the future of traditional brick-and-mortar retail?

SB: Cities were built around adjacencies—the pop-up economy responds to this by sharing space within communities and affinity groups…ALL brands need to consider a physical space, even e-commerce, direct-to-consumer brands still seek out brick-and- mortar opportunities to reach consumers.

Multi-brand formats, and even store-in-store residencies that showcase a brand and its partners / collaborators embody the co-creation model where 1+1=4. There should be core pillars or elements that give the brand environment a specific messaging and point of view, or some defining element that differentiates the store from others in a very competitive retail landscape where it is more difficult to get customers in store.

For example, Skylight created an urban landscape at the intersection of art, commerce, and culture: Love, Bleecker, a collective of locally-based, digitally-native brands, each paired with contemporary artists.

Eleven new brands have joined the corridor since Skylight debuted the project, resulting in a 63% decrease in vacancy with brands that share audiences and similarities to Love, Bleecker’s tenants. Skylight created and ran a comprehensive programming calendar engaging the neighborhood residents and NYC locals, and fostered community amongst the merchants. Over 120 unique events filled the corridor, igniting community building and experiential retail.

It’s interesting that digital brands are embracing the built environment. What is driving that?

SB: Digital saturation has spurred a movement toward IRL experiences for brand engagement with consumers, but it’s also informed the way that we approach them. Just as A/B testing is essential for innovation in the tech space, in-person interactions across a variety of markets, demographics, and formats / settings is crucial for companies to keep pace with breakneck changes in consumer preferences and behaviors.


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A Thoughtful Renovation Turns Two Apartments Into One Family Home

New York, NY Frederick Tang Architecture recently completed the renovation and combination of two residential condominium units on the Upper West Side for clients Brian Berger, CEO of the men’s apparel company, Mack Weldon, and Erin Berger, a former director at Jessica Seinfeld’s non-profit, Good+ Foundation.

“Brian and Erin had lived in a three-bedroom for some time, and with their (three) sons getting older, they were itching for a little more space,” explains Frederick Tang, founder of the Brooklyn-based architecture and design firm. “Luckily, their adjacent neighbor was moving, and they struck a deal.”

The Bergers approached Tang and his team about combining their apartment and the newly purchased adjacent apartment into one home for their growing family. While the central goal of the redesign was combining two apartments into one seamless family home, Tang’s team also sought to create a home that reflected the unique style and personalities of Brian, Erin, and their three boys.

The centerpiece of the renovated living room features a large-scale Alex Prager photograph that belonged to the Bergers’ and heavily influenced the room’s palette, materials, and furniture. The team created a custom multi-purpose shelving cabinet to house the television, books, and media.

“Their home became the balance of both worlds,” says Barbara Reyes, the firm’s Director of Design. Reyes notes that Brian prefers elevated simplicity, while Erin gravitates to bolder, more colorful design elements.

Along with creating dedicated areas for their sons, a media/entertainment room, and home office for Erin, the newly renovated home also combines sophisticated style with bold color accents and a sense of playfulness.

The renovated kitchen features custom millwork, built-ins, and custom rose gold-colored handles and shelving, which gives the space a pop of color and shine. 

The focal point of the master bedroom is the custom headboard that is flanked by custom millwork in soothing shades of cream, gold, and blush.

An inviting grey Venetian plaster archway connects the boys’ wing to the rest of the apartment. This well-designed opening allows for a streamlined flow while concealing structural and mechanical ductwork. 

Tang and his team approached this project as a collaborative process, emphasizing the importance of understanding the Bergers’ unique style and lifestyle. The end result is a bright and spacious family home that combines luxury with livability.

Interior Furnishings

Living Room: Sectional Sofa by Moroso, Chair by Bensen, customized in Elmo leather and Maharam material, Rug by Aelfie x Studio Proba from Matter, Lamp by Norm Architects from DWR, Coffee Table by Leon Pace from 1st dibs, Pivotante Sconces by Charlotte Perriand for Nemo Lighting 

Dining Room: Table by Willy Rizzo, Beetle Chairs by Gubi.

Guest Bath: Tiles from Clé Tile, Bastion Light from Allied Maker.

Milos’ room: Map Wallpaper from Happy Walls, Chair by Jean Prouvé from DWR, Shelving by Vitsoe, Storage bins are custom made, Wall Sconce by Jielde. 

Office/Den: Chair and Ottoman by Kodof Larsen, Art is from the Owner’s Collection, Sofa fabric by Kelly Wearstler, Coffee Table by Gubi, Drapery fabric by Knoll, Shelving unit by Julian Chichester, Desk by Edward Wormley, Desk chair by Saarinen reupholstered in Italian rust velvet and 14k karat gold legs, Floor and Desk Light by Lambert et Fils.

Foyer: Custom grey wood floors by Madera, Custom millwork.

Master Bedroom: Custom Bed and Millwork, Headboard Fabric by Knoll, Sconces by Apparatus Vanity lights by Sciolari, Brass Mirror by Egg Collective.

Kitchen: The custom rose gold-colored handles and shelf add shine as well as a hint of color to the neutral kitchen millwork and stone.

Boys’ Bedroom: Art by Frank Magnotta, Shelving by Vitsoe, Wall Sconce by Jielde, Storage Unit by Anna Castelli from Kartell.


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