In honor of Black History Month, we’re celebrating the work of black designers and architects who are shaping diverse fields—from furniture and product design to architecture and interiors—confronting every obstacle to become groundbreakers and game changers. Often incorporating elements from their roots in the Caribbean, Africa, and different regions in the U.S., these leading black designers come from diverse backgrounds that inform their forward-thinking work. Read on to learn more about some of the most inspiring black designers working today—and hear what they have to say about diversity in the design world.
Kesha Franklin, CEO and Lead Designer of Halden Interiors
Kesha Franklin runs Halden Interiors, an interior design firm specializing in residential and hospitality spaces. Franklin has a background in the world of fashion, and it shows in her airy, luxe spaces outfitted with thoughtful touches of color and tactile fabric choices.
Speaking about diversity in the design world, Franklin draws out a disconnect between practice and practitioners: "The definition of diversity means a state of being diverse, having variety; being composed of differing elements. To me, that is the essence of interior design: bringing together a mix of furnishings, colors, time periods, materials, and cultural stories of the individuals who dwell in the spaces. Our designs may represent the beauty of diversity, but as an industry we lack variety in the representation of the many faces that create that beauty."
Jeanine Hays and Bryan Mason, Interior Designer and Author at AphroChic
AphroChic—a multifaceted design firm specializing in interior design, product design, fashion, and publishing—is dedicated to celebrating culture, creativity, design, arts, science, and technology in the African-American community, with a focus on the intersection of modern design and global culture across diverse populations. AphroChic began in 2007 as the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Jeanine Hays and Bryan Mason, and quickly expanded from an online blog to a firm that does a wide range of work, from product design to interiors and even film.
Since 2007, Jeanine and Bryan have developed five collections of home decor, all inspired by the cultures of the African diaspora. "We created AphroChic in response to the lack of diverse representation that we saw and still see in the design industry," they say.
"We didn’t see the voices of African Americans represented, and the absence impressed on us the importance of design and narrative, not simply for creating comfort in the home, but as a means of documenting a culture and expressing a world view. In seeking to correct this lack of representation, which should not be confused with a lack of presence, AphroChic has continually worked to design rooms that tell a unique cultural story, and to provide our customers with products that will help them do the same."
"In seeking to correct this lack of representation, which should not be confused with a lack of presence, AphroChic has continually worked to design rooms that tell a unique cultural story."
—Jeanine Hays and Bryan Mason
Stephen Burks, Founder of Stephen Burks Man Made
Designer Stephen Burks’ work—which includes retail interiors and events, packaging, lighting, furniture and home accessories—typically involves a connection between the handmade crafts of African and the contemporary aesthetics of today. His industrial design studio, Stephen Burks Man Made, has worked with leading furniture manufacturers to develop lifestyle collections that engage hand production as a strategy for innovation. In 2015, Burks was awarded the National Design Award in product design and in 2018, the Harvard Loeb Fellowship.
What's more, his work has been exhibited at the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Museum of Art & Design (MAD), and he has worked with nonprofits including Aid To Artisans, Artesanias de Colombia, the Clinton Global Initiative, Design Network Africa, and the Nature Conservancy. His projects seek to bridge the gap between authentic, meaningful production, industrial manufacturing, and contemporary design across the globe.
Burks' pluralistic vision of design is inclusive of all cultural perspectives, and says that the work of his studio is "driven by a fervent desire to participate at the highest level of the design disciplines to create the space for diversity and our voice to be heard both aesthetically and philosophically."
Burks points out that in the luxury home furnishings market -- an industry that focuses more on exclusivity rather than inclusivity, "there’s often little room for social consciousness, yet we constantly try to be critical of this twentieth-century model and offer perspectives that are authentic, generous, culturally specific and excel at being of service to our clients... The question of diversity is one that we seek to address through leading by example with our ongoing craft research, collaborative approach, and the presence of our work.It's a priority of ours to be willing and able to help others better understand the landscape and carve their own path."
Veronica Solomon, Owner and Lead Designer of Casa Vilora Interiors
Based in Katy, Texas, Veronica Solomon brings over 12 years of expertise to her role as leader of the Casa Vilora Interiors design team. With a design point of view can be summed up as eclectic, classic, bold, whimsical, and yet timeless, the spaces she creates are known for their eclectic vibe and masterful use of color, pattern mix, and textures. Solomon pulls from her Jamaican heritage to create multilayered spaces that mix old with new, high with low—and boldly use color, pattern, texture in ways that excite.
When asked about what drives her work, Solomon describes her philosophy: "It is the belief that a home should tell the story of the people who live there. I believe that everyone deserves great design, and incorporating their story into the space they call home is always my goal." However, Solomon is also devoted to paving the way for future generations of black designers, making it a mission to work with junior designers over the past two-and-a-half years. She now runs a community of over 3,500 junior and senior designers, has been featured in Business of Home, and has sat on several design panels.
Samantha Josaphat, Architect and Founder of Studio 397 Architecture
A self-described "unapologetically young and fabulous woman defeating the odds in both the STEM and construction industry," Samantha Josaphat founded her own architecture firm in New York as the 397th living black female to achieve licensure in architecture—hence the name Studio 397. "Design for me is not only expressed in the spaces I design, but also in my connection to fashion and commitment to living a healthy, sustainable lifestyle," says Josaphat. After leaving the world of corporate architecture, she set out on her own to establish a boutique architecture firm whose projects includes residential and commercial work.
As Josaphat points out, only .3 percent of black female architects are registered architects in the United States, and she continues her commitment to her community in hopes of raising the percentage of minority architects in the field.
She is the current president of the National Organization of Minority Architects’ New York chapter—carrying on its legacy of championing diversity within the design professions by promoting excellence, community engagement, and professional development for members. Josaphat is not only active at the professional level, but also teaches architecture at The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at City College and sees inspiring future architects and designers as the way of the future.
Anishka Clarke and Niya Bascom, Founders of Ishka Designs
Ishka Designs is a Brooklyn–based, full-service interior design firm creating hospitality and residential properties informed by their endemic concept of "efficiently beautiful"—a conscientious, mindful approach pursuing the ultimate form of simplistic design, efficient lifestyle, and the luxury of natural materials. Founded by Niya Bascom and Anishka Clarke, the firm carries out vacation properties, restaurants, and residences globally including the United States, France, and the Caribbean.
Both Clarke and Bascom have roots in Brooklyn and the Caribbean, specifically in Jamaica and Guyana, which has led to a strong connection to nature that complements the firm’s minimalist and modern design tastes.
Hana Getachew, Founder and Creative Director of Bolé Road Textiles
Designed in Brooklyn and handwoven in Ethiopia, Bolé Road Textiles marries ancient weaving traditions that are passed down through the generations to today’s artisans—but reimagined with a modern aesthetic. Ranging from pillows to towels, bath curtains to table cloths, Bolé Road Textiles donates a portion of each purchase to support artisans and contribute to the education of girls in Ethiopia.
Getachew was originally born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and part of the mission at Bolé Road is to foster positive change and support economic development in Ethiopia. As Getachew says, "As an Ethiopian-American I am fortunate to have been afforded so many opportunities growing up in the States. I’m proud that Bolé Road Textiles supports imagine1day’s girl fund, which is dedicated to educating girls in rural Ethiopia and providing opportunities for the next generation of women entrepreneurs and leaders. These girls are my sisters, my cousins, my friends, and only a few twists of fate separates my life from theirs."
Eneia White, Owner of Eneia White Interiors
After working for high-end residential and commercial design firms in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and New York, Eneia White launched Eneia White Interiors in 2018. She works largely with residential clients, bringing value to their homes, thinking outside the box, and creating a place of comfort and respite in New York City.
Residing and practicing design across the country has given White a unique perspective into how culture, location, and environment shapes the client’s lifestyle and needs.
White’s work is driven by the thrill of translating a client's personality into their individual spaces. As she says, "Having the opportunity to create special moments throughout their home, that feel personal and charming, drives me to help them discover what ‘home’ means to them. I'm grateful for the chance to deliver creative solutions while working with some pretty amazing people along the way!"
Dani Arps, Founder and Interior Designer of Dani Arps LLC
Founded in 2014 and almost exclusively working in commercial interiors, Dani Arps is now known on the NYC tech scene as the interior designer of choice. With a uniquely eclectic—yet slightly industrial—take on design, she has completed high-profile projects for spaces including SeatGeek, Sailthru, Codecademy, Venmo, Newscred, Contently, Uncharted Play, and Gilt, and has collaborated with General Assembly on their worldwide build-out.
Dani credits her success in the design world to her "innate sense of drive" and commitment to strive to be the best designer she can be. She is starting to see a change in the design world as it starts to recognize black and brown designers; while she acknowledges it's a slow process, the change has been drastic since her time as a graduate student. More specifically, she notes that "networks like B.A.D Guild and the Female Design Council, have made it a priority to recognize black designers and Artists. I know this trend will continue as social media makes it easier than ever to find black design networks in which to connect and find people who you can see yourself in."
Who are the black designers and architects that most inspire you? Tell us in the comments below.
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