Learn How These Black Interior Designers Honor Their Heritage in Their Own Homes
From hand-picked items from markets in West Africa to framed photos of family that span generations, here are some of the ways these creatives honor their legacies.
Interior designers are true masterminds behind millions of homes around the country. And while much of their décor style is influenced by fashion, art, and modern-day life, there is often an underlying influence that they hold dear: their roots. And for the talented Black interior designers ahead, it is their heritage, they say, that inspires the look and feel of their homes. Here, they explain how they express their backgrounds, upbringings, and family histories within their own four walls.
Use vibrant colors and West African prints.
Many factors move and inspire Amber Gray of Grayson Interiors to pursue her passion, but one is reminding the masses that colors, essential pieces, and fabric have an important impact on vibe of a home. What is just as important in her own space, however, is honoring her heritage through vibrant colors and West African prints from Ghana—which she uses to make pillows in her loft area, where she likes to read, journal, and meditate. "The colors remind me of my heritage, my growth, and the shoulders on which I stand. The prints and stories I compose empower me to keep going, amplify my grit, and keep me rooted knowing that the quest is so much bigger than me," she says. "Incorporating my heritage in my home is dear to me because of how rich my history is and how the grit of my ancestors paved a way for me to take the leaps that I am able to today."
Display pieces of the past.
Air Force veteran and founder of the firm Alluring Designs Chicago, April Gandy likes to think of her style as transitional with a Hollywood regency twist. And as someone who served in the Air Force Reserve for 20 years—and who comes from a long line of military veterans—it's important for her to honor this part of her past. Her most prized possession? Her great-grandfather's American flag, which was draped over his casket at the time of his passing. It is now in a shadowbox in her living room and serves as a way to cherish his memory. "I love to teach my children about all the things our family has fought and died for," she says. "Having those conversation starter pieces are key for me in honoring my roots."
Take a global approach.
Classic design with an edge is how Jameelah Davis, the co-founder of Lauren Wesley Designs, approaches her clients' projects—but her own home is inspired first and foremost by her grandmother, Gloria Watkins, who partially raised her. "My grandma was a world traveler, so there were a lot of interesting elements and trinkets that she always brought home," she tells us. She also enjoys displaying bits and pieces of her African heritage while showing appreciation to other cultures, as well. "What I love about design is that there are no rules: You have the opportunity to chart your own path and travel around the world through design," she adds. "As long as it is authentic, the style will translate."
Recreate the nature of your home country—and curate a meaningful bookshelf.
Designer and furniture maker BOA, the creative director of Oi Studio, is a self-proclaimed nature lover with a commitment to environmental responsibility; she designs sustainable pieces that are modern, organic, and minimalist. Her approach aligns with the laws of nature: Everything that exists has a purpose. In fact, much of her work is inspired by her Caribbean heritage, which she pays homage to at home. "I like to bring the outdoors in with tropical plants and create a relaxed, casual mood at home," she explains, noting that she also has a bookcase filled with texts on Caribbean architecture, fiction, and poetry.
Play with cultural plants and accents.
To Dennese Guadeloupe Rojas, of Interiors by Design, home is the very definition of personal. "It's that warm place where you can totally relax and enjoy your special treasures," she says. Born in Trinidad and raised in St. Thomas, Rojas incorporates elements of her upbringing into her own space—and the design projects she tackles today—through the use of tropical houseplants, from crotons to ferns, as well as lively, bright, and bold colors. Her home reflects the warm hues, warm wood finishes, and scenes of the tropics in the abstract and vibrant paintings displayed on her walls.
Hang familial art.
Although she was born in the United States, Kesha Franklin, the lead designer behind Halden Interiors, notes that her entire family hails from Belize. She considers herself a true island girl at heart and honors these roots at home with organic elements and rich colors through art, textiles, and accessories. "Since my husband's roots are based in Panama, his culture is also celebrated in our home through my late mother-in-law's needlepoints, which remind me of their native Mola," she says. "It is art, handmade of textiles by the women of Central America, and is also the way we honor and remember my mother-in-law since her passing."
Think beyond décor.
Camia Brown, of Camia Brown Interiors, honors her heritage through stories and experiences, rather than through items hung on a wall or displayed in a cabinet. "I like to think I honor my heritage every time I bake a caramel cake or use any other recipe that's been passed down that I've remixed and added my own personal flare to," she says. "What resonates with me are the memories and the oral tradition, because my family can only trace our ancestry back a few generations—and then it becomes muddled and lost."
Collect with culture in mind.
At home, Keia McSwain, the principal designer of Kimberly and Cameron, draws inspiration from everything and everyone around her, including her legacy. "I collect pieces and art that pay homage to the motherland, as well as my roots in the South—the walls are a dark Chambord and I've mixed metals while layering textures and completing the space with African woven tapestry art," she says.
Implement reminders of home.
Like many African Americans, Kiyonda Powell has not been able to pinpoint her West African heritage—but has always been drawn to the bold mix of colors and patterns in textiles and has incorporated them into her personal style over the years. She also likes to utilize saturated colors, as well as vintage and antique furnishings, that remind her of the brightly colored homes in Charleston, where she was born.
Gain a new perspective through art.
At a young age, Jack Poles became enamored with traditional pieces and loved shopping in antique stores and flea markets—something he attributes to his penchant for mixing styles and time periods, today. He began collecting African-American art years ago, which he now has incorporated into his own home. "As a Black person, I think it's important to incorporate your heritage, even if certain things may not have been good," he says. "When I look at my art, it turns the negative into a positive and gives me a drive to work harder every day."
Blend décor from two cultures.
Much of Linda Hayslett's influences come from the fashion and art born out her Black and Korean heritages. "Since I come from two different backgrounds that embrace strong colors and shapes, neutrals are in the background supporting them," the creative behind LH.Designs shares of her space. "I have pops of colors that bounce off neutrals and abstract art with strong shapes that show who I am and where I'm going as a designer."
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