The interior design community has long had a diversity problem. When you look at lists of famous or iconic designers, the list is usually centered around white European or American designers. And, frankly, a lot of men. Even shelter magazines which highlight the work of current interior designers tend to feature white designers, designing spaces for white clients. This is not a new problem, unfortunately.

Historically, the staff of many design schools and institutions where interior design and art history were taught were dominated by white men. Furthermore, 95% of textbooks in these programs are written by white men. The result has been an entire industry shaped by a fairly singular perspective. And that doesn’t exactly breed diversity. So it’s not a huge surprise—though it is a disappointing one—that as of 2019 the American Society of Interior designs reported that Black designers accounted for less than two percent of its membership.

But we think things are slowly starting to change for the better. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, 2020 was a year when we saw major protests across the country surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. These events caused institutions, organizations, and individuals to reckon with their own implicit and explicit racism, to reexamine their values, and to more thoughtfully explore whose stories they’re choosing to listen to and tell. And it’s also ushered in a new focus on Black creatives and supporting the work they do.

At Modsy, we know we have work to do in our corner of the world. We often talk of the famous designs of Ray and Charles Eames, Dorothy Draper, and even designers today like Nate Berkus and Joanna Gaines. But this doesn’t tell a full story of the design world. So, as an organization, we’re seeking to do a better job of diversifying the stories we tell.

So, in honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting 10 Black interior designers—both well-established and up-and-coming—who are making bold moves in the field, along with some of our favorite spaces they’ve designed. The work of these designers is quite diverse—ranging from bohemian to classical, glam to brutalist. We hope you’ll find some new designers to follow on this list, along with lots of inspiration! Keep reading to get to know some of our favorite Black interior designers in the field today.

Image via One King’s Lane

Sheila Bridges

Sheila Bridges founded her design firm, Sheila Bridges Designs, Inc. in 1994 and has worked on numerous high-profile projects throughout her career—including designing the Harlem offices for former President Bill Clinton and his staff. She holds degrees from Brown University and Parsons School of Design, has been named “America’s Best Interior Designer” by both CNN and Time Magazine, and has been featured in numerous national magazines. Sheila is also the author of two books: Furnishing Forward: A Practical Guide to Furnishing for a Lifetime, and The Bald Mermaid, a memoir documenting her childhood, professional life, and her alopecia diagnosis.

In 1996, she launched a sister business, Sheila Bridges Home, Inc, where she designs furniture and home furnishings. Her collections have been sold at national retailers, including Anthropologie and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. She also hosted four seasons of a design show called “Sheila Bridges Designer Living” for the Fine Living Network—showcasing her practical design wisdom and hands-on advice.

Why We Love Her

Sheila has designed some pretty stunning residential and professional spaces—including her own Harlem apartment, which we have featured below. But her talent doesn’t stop there. In fact, Sheila’s Harlem Toile designs have become wildly popular, especially as wallpaper. Her Harlem Toile de Jouy wallpaper is a unique take on traditional French toile patterns, but instead of pastoral French scenery, they showcase the African American experience. On her website, Sheila writes, “As an African American living in Harlem, I have always been intrigued and inspired by the historical narrative of the decorative arts, especially traditional French toile with its pastoral motifs…but after searching for many years for the perfect toile for my own home, I decided that it quite simply didn’t exist.” So, she created Harlem Toile, which has garnered such a following that it’s included in The Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum’s permanent wallpaper collection.

“It’s important to have a home that makes you feel safe and comfortable, at ease and relaxed.” –Sheila Bridges

10 Black Interior Designers You Should Follow

Our Favorite Design

Talk about personality! When Sheila designed her New York apartment—located in Graham Court, one of Harlem’s landmark buildings—she didn’t hold anything back. You get to see so much of the designer’s personality in this playful but sophisticated space. We can’t get enough of the cheerful colors and animal portraiture throughout the space!

Justina Blakeney

Remember this Tropical Boho home tour? Full of Jungalow vibes, it was deeply inspired by Justina Blakeney’s designs. Justina is the founder and creative director of the home decor brand Jungalow® and is the author of The New Bohemians book series. Her design style leans tropical and maximalist, balancing color, pattern, and lots of plants to create spaces that are both lively and comfortable. Justina was named one of “The 20 Most Famous Interior Designers Working Today” by Architectural Digest.

Why We Love Her

In the design world, the 2010s were all about crisp neturals and minimalist spaces. But we love how Justina Blakeney broke onto the scene and broke the mold with her bright, bold, maximalist designs. We love the way she mixes new and vintage pieces for spaces that are truly one-of-a-kind.

“I like to bring in items that stimulate senses other than just sight—things that you touch, things that you smell, things that you hear.” –Justina Blakeney

10 Black Interior Designers You Should Follow

Our Favorite Design

There’s a lot going on in this space. But, while it is wildly eclectic, it doesn’t feel messy or cluttered. The clean lines of the sofa and shelves help ground the look so that all of the fun patterns and colors in this space can do the talking.

P.S. While Justina has designed some killer spaces, what we really can’t get enough of are her collaboration with Loloi rugs. Her collabs with national brands like this are an easy way to bring some of her signature style into your home. (You can even shop her Loloi collab through Modsy!)

10 Black Interior Designers You Should Follow

Anishka Clarke & Niya Bascom

Anishka Clarke and Niya Bascom are the design duo behind Ishka Designs. Before becoming a designer, Anishka worked in finance, both in Jamaica and on Wall Street. But in 2006 she began pursuing her passion for interior design. Niya, the firm’s creative director, cut his teeth in the film industry, working in set design and in studio art departments, in addition to his work as a photographer. In 2019 and 2020, Ishka Designs was named to the Elle Decor A-List.

Why We Love Them

Niya was born in England to Jamaica and Guyanese parents and raised in New York City, while Anishka was raised in Jamaica by her Guyanese mother. Together, they bring a global perspective to their work, which makes their designs incredibly unique. They work with clients around the world, and we love that they seek to develop relationships with local partners, vendors, and artisans, holding an awareness of the impact of their projects.

Our Favorite Design

The Ishka Designs portfolio is so varied, we couldn’t choose just one design! So, we chose two wildly different spaces to highlight the incredible versatility of this design duo. First, you’ll see their Discovery Pitstop Daycare, a space that’s a remodeled thrift shop. We love the bright, vibrant, youthful vibe of this space—perfect for kids—and yet it still manages to feel sophisticated. The second design is a beautiful example of modernist pieces in a traditional setting. It’s rare for a designer to not only do high-end designs like this, but also pull off fun and funky designs like the Discovery Pitstop Daycare. Anishka and Niya have an incredible breadth of style!

10 Black Interior Designers You Should Follow

Iris Martin

Iris Martin is the founder of and principal interior designer at Iris Simone Interiors. Iris first discovered a love for interior design as a teenager in Accra, Ghana, when her mother gave her the opportunity to help design their home. She was able to help design different spaces in their home and restyle spaces as the years went by. This eventually led her to pursue a career in interior design and ultimately launch her own business.

Why We Love Her

Iris has a passion for creating spaces that truly reflect her clients’ styles and personalities, while ensuring that every space she designs is both functional and well-styled. We love when a designer takes a very attainable, livable approach while still giving spaces that designer’s touch!

Our Favorite Design

This “comfortably chic” space strikes that hard-to-achieve balance between being both glam and super livable. With transitional style at its core, this space feels wonderfully stylish but still super livable.

Photo Cred: One King’s Lane

Darryl Carter

Believe it or not, famed designer Darryl Carter began his career as an attorney. But even then he dabbled in design and recreationally flipped properties. Eventually, he began to formally pursue a career in design. He’s a big believer in creating timeless, livable spaces. His designs are far from trendy—but they do feature a unique blend of classical and modern elements, usually with neutral but considered color palettes. He tends to use a mix of antique and ornate with simple and modern to create these timeless designs. He’s the author of The New Traditional, which unpacks his signature style, as well as The Collected Home.

Why We Love Him

Sure, traditional design might be having a moment right now—but Darryl Carter was designing traditional and classical spaces way before it was cool. And, while his designs have an air of formality, they’re certainly not stuffy. In fact, Darryl creates spaces to truly be lived in and to reflect the individuality of the person who lives there.

“I think your home should be an individual expression of yourself, so I have a hard time getting my head around generic objects. And when I say this I don’t mean precious or expensive, I mean thoughtful and original.” –Darryl Carter

Our Favorite Design

This space perfectly captures the Traditional American aesthetic—but it also has an organic overtone, which brings traditional design to life in a way we haven’t seen before. Being surprised by traditional? We love that. The juxtaposition of the white-washed chairs in a formal silhouette perfectly sums up this vibe.

Denese Butler

Denese Butler started her career as a wardrobe stylist but found her true passion in the world of interior design. The daughter of a carpenter and wife to an architect, she feels a career in interior design was inevitable. She launched her design firm, The Perfect Vignette, a couple of years ago and has amassed a beautiful portfolio of both residential and commercial spaces.

Why We Love Her

Denese believes that a person’s space should feel like a safe haven and embody their lifestyle. We love her personalized approach, which results in spaces that are both functional and timeless.

“When it comes to interior styling, there isn’t a right or wrong way. I believe that it’s intimate, personal, and how you choose to live.” –Denese Butler

Our Favorite Design

This dining space is a Jewel Box Room if we’ve ever seen one! We love the dark color that covers not only the walls but the trim, molding, and even the fireplace! And we’re very into the mash-up of traditional and modern in this space—with the antique-style table and the mod dining chairs, along with the sputnik-style chandelier. It can be tough to create a space that feels both trendy and timeless—but this one nails it.

Kesha Franklin

Kesha Franklin launched her interior design firm, Halden Interiors, in 2006 and has made a name for herself as a designer of luxury interiors. Before becoming a designer, she had an established career in couture fashion, working as a backstage production manager and wardrobe stylist for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. This helped her sharpen her eye for details and develop her profinity for luxury. Kesha has been featured in a number of national magazines and was named a Designer to Watch by the Black Interior Designer’s Network.

Why We Love Her

While Kesha has a very high-end look (and clientele), we love how simple her approach is when beginning a project with clients: “As a designer, I start the process by listening, and then I keep listening.” Her highly personalized approach results in spaces that truly reflect her clients’ style and goals for their space.

“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.” –Kesha Franklin

Our Favorite Design

We love the way this living room plays with color without being too in-your-face. The overall look is pretty dramatic and bold—and yet, when you zoom in on some of the foundational furniture, it’s fairly restrained. This leaves a lot of breathing room for statement pieces, like the coffee table, to take center stage.
10 Black Interior Designers You Should Follow

Tiffany Thompson

Tiffany Thompson worked on the creative team at Nike for almost 10 years before taking the leap into interior design. When she did, she founded Duett Interiors. She credits her New York City upbringing for exposing her to art and culture from a young age, and uses the “melting pot” of styles and perspectives she encountered there to inform her style and approach today.

Why We Love Her

We love Tiffany’s unexpected style. A mix of brutalism and modern minimalism, with a wabi-sabi aesthetic, her spaces have a new-age vibe that you don’t see everyday. But she hasn’t stopped at interior design. Last year she launched a contemporary home decor product line, featuring handmade plastic-covered throw pillows (with truly beautiful fabric underneath) inspired by her grandmother.

“Chasing perfection is not the ethos I mirror my style on. It’s imperfection that is beautiful and using materials and objects that have stood the test of time.” –Tiffany Thompson

Our Favorite Design

Neutral boho and glam is not a style combo you see every day—and it’s certainly not one that’s easy to pull off. It’s really hard to hit on styles that are on such opposite ends of the spectrum—with boho being super relaxed and organic and glam being very polished and refined. But this space brings the combo to life in such a beautiful way. And those pampas hats on the dining room wall—talk about a statement! We love.

Mikel Welch

Mikel Welch is a well-known celebrity designer who’s become more of a household name as a TV personality. Some may know him as a former on-air personality of TLC’s Trading Spaces. But today, he’s a host and design expert on Quibi’s Murder House Flip. On the show, he shows viewers how to design sophisticated spaces at affordable prices. Off-camera, he runs his own interior design business, Mikel Welch Designs. In 2020, he was named as one of House Beautiful’s 2020 Next Wave Designers. His designs have been featured on HGTV, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Good Morning America, and in numerous national magazines.

Why We Love Him

Despite his rising star and growing list of celebrity clients (he’s designed VIP green rooms for Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Halle Berry, to name a few), Mikel maintains an air of total approachability. Outside of his client work, he’s passionate about helping everyday people achieve luxury looks in their home—which is actually what his new Skillshare class is all about.

Our Favorite Design

Mikel has designed so many stunning spaces—but our current favorite might be his own home. This space embodies that “Traditional Comfort with a dash of British charm” style we’re really into right now. We love that it’s so comfortable and liveable but with clean lines to keep the look more current.

Image via Dwell

Delia Kenza

Delia Kenza fell into interior design somewhat by accident. A lawyer by trade, when she and her husband bought their first place in upper Manhattan, they renovated it themselves. And then she agreed to do the same for a neighbor. And just like that, she’s been in the design world for a decade, working on both her own real estate investments and client projects. She operates under Delia Kenza Interiors, and specializes in complete renovations of urban dwellings.

Why We Love Her

Delia operates in bold, clean lines and neutral palettes—but uses plenty of natural materials and choice color accents to warm things up. We love the balance that her designs strike, and the way they celebrate both a modern aesthetic but with a subtle nod to the past.

Our Favorite Design

These two rooms flow so beautifully together. With a Scandinavian-inspired vibe, the crisp neutrals give this space a clean, minimalist feel. But pops of bold earth tones and that wooden dining table make this space feel so warm and inviting. We love the way the wall moldings and wall decor play off of each other in the living area. There’s a playfulness in the off-centered mirror, which makes your eye bounce around the space and take in all the lovely details.

Want to increase your exposure to even more Black interior designers and their work? Follow the Black Interior Designers Network and the Black Artists + Designers Guild on Instagram.

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