The interior design industry is notoriously homogeneous – only 2% of interior designers in the U.S. identify as Black. In the not-so-distant past, the gatekeepers of this industry have often made it difficult for Black designers to break through barriers and reach the success levels of some of their white counterparts. While the industry is slowly evolving – specifically, during the anti-racism uprisings of summer 2020 — you’d be hard pressed to find an editorial story in a mainstream publication that didn’t preach the gospel of Black interior designers you should be following. The truth is, Black interior designers aren’t new to the scene, and progressing the industry to be more welcoming to people of color requires significant internal shifts within the organizations at the top. We still have a long way to go, both as a country and in the design industry, but we’re optimistic that the shifts currently taking place will drive real, long-lasting change.

EBONY spoke with four owners of Black interior design firms about their distinct design philosophies and how they’re working to shift the industry to become more inclusive. 

Leyden Lewis, Leyden Lewis Design Studio

Leyden Lewis. Image courtesy of subject.

“My design philosophy is an alchemy of parts—taking the programmatic aspects of a project and applying the practice of drawing space in order to reveal functional and poetic magic.

At various stages in my career, I observed that some of my white industry counterparts had access to projects and wealth. These experiences have, for me, exposed how much imbalance there is in America. It takes educating ourselves as creatives to recognize and uphold our financial value in the industry. I am working to continue finding my personal voice of courage to speak out and name those areas of pain. As well as collaborate with the many talented makers of color ready for more opportunities in the industry. A conscious promotion of that which is lacking in the industry is necessary. 

Room designed by Leyden Lewis. Image: courtesy of Leyden Lewis.

I see a noticeable shift in who is being covered in editorials, being invited to panel discussions, et al. Representation in the industry is paramount not only for the next generation of designers and makers of colors but also for consumers of color to be recognized. The evolution of the design industry should result in more dollar amounts in diverse pockets. Financial numbers need to be a part of any conversation regarding change.”

Whitney Jones, Whitney J Decor

Whitney Jones. Image: courtesy of Britt Smith Photography.

“My design philosophy is simple: infuse my clients' personality into a beautiful home, without breaking the bank. I pride myself in giving my clients a stunning home that's also functional and will stand the test of time.

For way too long, the design industry has been seen as a "professional" industry that designers and makers of color were shut out of. The industry has been evolving by showing creatives on the scene receiving their well deserved flowers. Being a part of Black creative organizations, like the [Black Artists + Designers Guild] – where I'm a member, helps us further grow as talented Black creatives, and these organizations show that we are just as worthy of the large projects and the accolades. Personally, I make it a goal of mine to partner with other Black designers and purchase from Black makers whenever possible.” 

Design by Whitney Jones. Image: Whitney Jones Design.

Her advice for up and coming Black designers: 

“Reach out to those you admire and genuinely make a connection without expecting anything in return. You'll find that we're more than happy to lift our fellow brown designers and creatives up!”

Kelly Finley, Joy Street Design 

Kelly Finley. Image: courtesy of Hilary Jean Photo.

“We believe in working with our clients to create unique and restful spaces that define and reflect their personal style while crafting personal touches that fit perfectly in every space.

Our first office is located in Oakland and despite Oakland being an extremely diverse community, I was the only Black designer that I knew at the time. So as I worked with different people/organizations, I would keep notes of when they mentioned other Black architects, designers, makers, etc. I also actively seek to hire a diverse group of designers and staff to our team. 

Kelly Finley Design. Image: courtesy of Kelly Finley.

Prior to 2020, the industry was very monotonous - the same people were always the one featured and the same type of design. Over the last few years, the industry has been forced to "discover" and take notice of the bevy of talent being produced by designers of color and generally excluded from the overall industry experience. There are still often missteps where it's clear that the company/organization is only doing it for the publicity (and fails to ever do it again) but we've seen industry wide shifts to acknowledge the work of Black makers.”

Leia T. Ward, LTW Design

Leia T. Ward. Image courtesy of subject.

“I believe your home should be your refuge - a calm space that greets you with a hug when you arrive home. [Recently],I have seen many platforms feature Black designers that have not in the past. We are sourcing from Black owned businesses both local and on the west coast, and we support Black artisans and include their work in our projects as well as share stories on social media.

Design by Leia T. Ward. Image: courtesy of LTW Design

Her advice for up and coming Black designers: 

“Work harder than you think you need to, keep your head focused on your message and talent, never get caught up in the minutia or nonsense of others' opinions or what others are doing. Never compare yourself to others, it’s wasted energy – forge your own path that is unique to you.  Also, never copy other designers. Create your brand aesthetic that makes your work recognizable and stay true to it.”