As the author of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown has become a prominent voice surrounding conversations about racial justice and the Black American experience. In addition to writing her best-selling books, Brown is also busy with public speaking engagements and producing her original web series. To combat the exhaustion of her jam-packed work schedule, Brown decided to transform her old-fashioned living room into a zen reading room haven where she could retreat after a long day.

She enlisted the help of Havenly, the largest interior design service and ecommerce platform, and lead designer Melissa Wagner to assist with the redesign. Wagner was committed to capturing Brown’s vision for a “shelf-care” oasis, where she could cozy up with a book or have a low-key night with her family. Wagner was careful to design the space around some of Brown’s prized personal pieces including her beloved vintage writing desk and family art prints with sentimental value. 

Ahead, Brown and Wagner share more about their design collaboration process and where to shop the pieces. 

Incorporating Family Heirlooms

Image: courtesy of Havenly

“Both of my grandmothers were artists" says Brown. "But both had to make sacrifices for how that artistry looked in their lives. One grandmother worked at a department store and was unable to finish her degree in art. The other became a home economics teacher and wove artistic elements into her classes and the creation of costumes for school plays. My greatest possessions come from the two of them. The artwork, the programs, the drawings, the memories of their work. Every piece of art brings me so much joy.”

Mixing In Color and Texture

Crate and Barrel Alex Navy Blue Velvet Accent Chair, Anthropologie Cecilia Curtains, Image: courtesy of Havenly

In addition to some new furniture, Wagner brought the room to life with colorful add-ons to energize the space. Although Brown was initially hesitant to steer from her go-to neutral palette, she ended up being pleasantly surprised by the pop of color, especially the bold drapery which Wagner used to unite the color palette. Brown says, “The lighting and the curtains are actually soft and inviting. I truly love every piece and I think that’s a rare thing to be able to say about any room.”

Inspired to mix in even more texture, Brown decided to pull in some eclectic pieces from Justina Blakeney to "compliment the design and to support her as a fellow successful Black business woman...luckily, [Blakeney's] designs blended so well with the existing colorful palette, playful patterns, and personal artwork."

Adding Subtle Storage Solutions

Burrow The Index Wall Shelf in White,
Image: courtesy of Havenly.

In one nook of the room, Wagner installed a narrow shelf to house Brown’s many reads alongside her favorite vintage writing desk which also serves as storage. Mixing old and new was crucial to Wagner. She explains, "I centered the design around the existing pieces [Brown] already owned and loved – the things that defined her unique style and story (like artwork and personal artifacts) – and kept her hopes for the space top of mind.”