Walking through Interior Designer Alvin Wayne’s New York City high-rise is like getting a glimpse into his masterful design process that has been featured in Architectural DigestApartment Therapy, and HGTV, to name a few. Between the sartorial blend of rich textures, vibrant Black art and unexpected accents, it’s easy to understand why Wayne has an impressive social media presence and long list of clients who look to his expertise and premium taste to bring their own homes to life. Today, Wayne takes EBONY on a design masterclass, walking us through the creative vision for his own space and his top three guidelines for elevating any home. 

Don't Be Afraid to Upgrade a Rental

For starters, Wayne emphasizes that living in an apartment or compact space doesn’t mean that you must adhere to minimalist aesthetics and bare walls to make it more visually expansive. “I think so many people get stuck on this myth especially when it comes to adding color and texture to walls” he says.

“When you play with wallpaper, usually it stops at the ceiling. However, when you extend it to cover from wall to ceiling, it actually creates an optical illusion that the space is bigger than what it is. I usually go for a graphic wall mural with a larger scale print since it is covering the most surface area in the room.” For any other print in the room, “always go with a smaller scale than the wallpaper print and mix in neutral colors, or whatever your accent color is, so your eye doesn't go like too crazy trying to process multiple prints. It's just all about really balance.”

Make a Statement Using Plants

When it comes to selecting greenery for your home, most people gravitate towards lackluster plants that blend into the background. Wayne’s approach is the opposite. He advises to go for the unexpected. “I use bold plants in design because they're more sculptural and can be used strategically, like another piece of furniture or a piece of art” explains Wayne. To achieve this, he says to opt for statement-making stems and florals that “add energy to the space and pops of color. I'm from Florida so I will always lean towards more tropical plants. No matter how bare the room is, if you have the right plant that adapts to the surrounding area well, it no longer feels one dimensional and instantly gives it some life.” 

Lean Into What You Love

Wayne is a firm believer in bringing individuality to your surroundings rather than leaning into a trendy aesthetic. Whenever he begins the process of working with a new client, he emphasizes that the result should ultimately reflect their taste and preferences, which is what takes a home to the next level. “I always tell them that this is your home, put your spin on it. Is there something here that you want to say? What makes it yours? What personal items makes you smile? Go for that. Whatever makes you feel good, lean into it,” says Wayne.

“Your home is a love letter to yourself. You must be surrounded by everything that you absolutely love” he explains. “It is the place that you go to sleep and dream at night. The place where you wake up, and you strive to be a better version of yourself, so you need to be surrounded by all those things that highlight the best parts of you.”

A Tour of Alvin Wayne's Home

Image: Keith Major.

Wayne believes in impressing your guests the second they walk into your space. “The entryway really sets the tone for your home," explains Wayne. "So if you have enough space, you should go for the gusto and create a wow moment that says, 'This is what you're about to walk into…hope you are ready to hold on the walls!'” His jaw-dropping moment comes from a neon light installation that reads "Kiss Me Karl" and gives his foyer a hazy pink glow. Wayne layered it over a peel-and-stick textured wallpaper for even more dramatic effect. 

The painting to his left was created by Brooklyn-based artist Ronnie Williams, who created the striking piece specifically for him. “He made this for me and I just absolutely love it because it's black and layered on a raw canvas," shares Wayne. "It's just so good and the fact that a Black man created it, who happens to be one of my friends, makes it even better. I truly love this piece and it is actually hiding my electrical panel which is behind it.”

Eternity Modern Mario Bellini Sofa $4,200, eternitymodern.com. CB2 Serpents Throw Pillow $35, cb2.com. Image: Keith Major.

Wayne’s light-filled living room was intentionally arranged as an area to host friends and support his passion for bringing people together. “I love to entertain!” he gushes. “I always joke with my friends that I'm like Joan from Girlfriends because everybody comes to my house to hang out or cook dinner. I just want everyone to be comfortable when they come over. The design is just not about having a certain look—I actually live in this house and I want people to enjoy themselves when they're here.”

His favorite piece in the room is a statement sofa that “is a Mario Bellini replica. Between the golden color and plush velvet, it’s so soft and I absolutely love it. And again, I wanted my living room to feel like a lounge with cozy seating so my this sofa feels like a big gathering hub.”

Since most New York apartments don't have overhead lighting, Wayne added a subtle matte black fixture. “I went with this rotating mantis lamp to draw the eye upwards especially since the furniture is so low. It highlights the floor to wall windows and makes you realize that this space is taller or it appears taller than what it really is.”

Alvin Wayne Marble Coffee Tables pricing upon request, alvinwaynehome.com. Image: Keith Major.

The center of the room is grounded by neutral textures, including a thick Moroccan rug and two low coffee tables, which Wayne designed himself. Speaking on the tables he shares, “One table is a Calacatta Viola marble and the other one is a black and white marble. I love the interesting veining pattern that compliments the graphic rug underneath. The harmony of these pieces shows that you don't have to be afraid of pattern, but it's all about the colorway that you choose.”

West Elm Pictograph Buffet $1,699, westelm.com. Samsung Frame TV $1,800, bestbuy.com. Image: Keith Major.

Across the room, Wayne combined two West Elm media consoles, to house his bar, record table and discreetly serve as storage units to maximize the room.

Originally, he intended to stain the wood of one of the consoles so the colors would match but ultimately, he chose to embrace the imperfection of the pieces. “I liked the difference and noticed that the different colored wood has an ombre effect," he explains. "Now, it feels more interesting.” Wayne applies this mindset whenever he shops retail for furnishings. “I always look for things that have interesting details in them, that are quality made and looks bespoke. These dressers look like somebody carved this overseas. And I also think it's about how you put things together too that makes them look cohesive.”

Gold Stainless Steel Wallpaper $7 per sheet, amazon.com. Circa Lighting Strada Small Flush Mount $699, circalighting.com. Image: Keith Major.

“If you’re working with a small kitchen just lean into it and embrace it,” advises Wayne. “What I like to do is I like to mix a lot of metals and I added my own light fixture because that instantly upgrades a narrow space.”

To amp up the culinary area even further, Wayne transformed the cabinets with gold contact paper he scored for under $10 from Amazon. The idea came after seeing images of brass cabinets online that he decided to emulate. He explains, “This is the only DIY project that I've completed and it is a really good one. As a renter, I can’t just change my cabinets to brass but I found this beautiful, removeable contact paper that actually looks like metal. It was so easy to put it on by myself, and it was cheap. I like to tell people to spend money only what you need to spend money on. Otherwise, don’t spend it. Mix high and low just like how we dress in our wardrobe. You may wear designer shoes with a Zara outfit; this is the same thing.”

When it comes to choosing decorative accents, Wayne also only selects pieces that he truly light him up. “I only have art in my home created by Black people. It’s an extra added layer for me as a person of color and I love Black art. So even though I can't afford a real Basquiat, why not get a print on skateboards? It's all about the unexpected. It's the thing that makes people say, Oh, I would have never thought about that. I like to show people that art is just something you hang on the wall. It can be literally anything. It can be sculptural, digital or whatever you deem is art. If it makes you smile, then go for it.”

Another source of joy for Wayne is a wooden bowl filled with Polaroids on the kitchen counter is known as “the bowl of fame.” He remarks, “I love to host friends at my place and the only requirement if you come to my house, is you must go to the bowl of fame and take a selfie. That is my one thing to show that we have fun in this house. And if you're having a dinner party and your food is not ready yet. It's a good distraction!” 

Pixel and Wall Nostalgic Rainforest Wallpaper $8 per panel, etsy.com. Fornasetti Wall Plate $185-325, fornasetti.com. Image: Keith Major

For the dining area, “I wanted it to feel like a lounge” Wayne recounts. “Like the VIP section or just very exclusive seating, with an amazing backdrop. And then it's like why not the iconic palm print? Wallpaper like this gives us space so much depth like this room, which is not that big. But when you look at it, it feels endless because of the print and then you see outside of the window is the city.” 

In addition to a stunning botanical centerpiece, Wayne adorned the wall with an assortment of Fornasetti plates to tie into the other touches of brass throughout the space.

With a sleek desk facing the window, Wayne’s bedroom also functions as his working space. He expresses, “I wanted to create zones within the space for sleeping and working but I also wanted them to feel cohesive. To achieve this, I decided to just go with a straight up neutral palette with minimal color outside of plantsTo me, black and white always grounds the space.” To elevate the monochrome theme, Wayne enveloped the walls with a graphic motif and smaller, mixed patterns for the bedding, upholstery, and rug. Lastly, he added “wood tones in the nightstand, desk and in the bed to visually warm up the room and tie it all together.”

Wall Mural Abstract Graffiti Wallpaper $63, amazon.com. Image: Keith Major

Overall, Wayne describes his home and approach to interiors as playful. “In every design that I do, I try to add something that's a little whimsical. People don't really have to take themselves too seriously. You’ve got to have fun.”