8 Black Designers on How They Celebrate Black History in Their Designs and Homes

published Feb 23, 2022
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Room designed by Naika Andre

Some of the most innovative and interesting designs come from Black creatives. Often, they’re inspired by their identities — whether evoking their African heritage or showcasing the works of African Diaspora artists. By creating spaces imbued with culture and joy, Black creators are reimagining what interior design means and looks like in an industry that still tends to lack diversity.

To take a deeper dive into this matter, I spoke to designers about how they highlight Black history and artistry in spaces across the world — from New York and London to Pretoria, South Africa, and beyond. Whether designing their own homes, curating merchandise for their stores, or pulling spaces together for others, these rooms are love letters to their communities: a testament to their revolutionary creativity and the beauty in Blackness. In honor of Black History Month and always, get inspired and uplifted by this visual and verbal snapshot of these beautiful spaces. 

Credit: David Land

Designer Danielle Fennoy, Founder of Revamp Interior Design

“This [shown in the two images below] was a space I designed for a Black and Latino family with two young children, who emphasized from the get-go they wanted a space that felt like theirs. Entrepreneurs and marketing executives in their professional lives, both clients also identify closely with music and political activism. The easiest way to tie these themes into their home? Art. In the den, we made a point of using fabrics that nod to Afro-centric patterns and craft, including the Kuba cloth design used on the ottoman. The focal point of the room is the wall above the sofa, where several pieces by Makeba ‘Keebs’ Rainey are displayed. She does amazing collage prints of African American figures, ranging from Biggie to Basquiat to Angela Davis.”

Credit: Courtesy of HGTV Magazine; Photo by Dane Tashima

What inspires Fennoy to celebrate Black history in her work:

“When you open a magazine and don’t find images of people who look like you, it alienates you from the settings pictured. Particularly in the context of Black homeowners, this ongoing underrepresentation is a big point of inspiration for me to showcase Black history and artistry whenever and wherever possible.”

Credit: Courtesy of HGTV Magazine; Photo by Dane Tashima

Her favorite ways to highlight African and African Diaspora design:

“Truthfully, any way I can is my favorite way. Textiles and baskets are the most well-known examples of African artistry in design, and while I do implement these in my work, I want to support artists from a wide range of disciplines and expertise like lighting and furniture — not just in the mediums we’re used to seeing.”

See more of Fennoy’s work at Revamp Interior Design.

Credit: Courtesy of Michelle Mokone

Mo and Michelle Mokone, Founders of Mo’s Crib

“Walking through the art and decor in our home is like telling a story. Everything is embedded in the craft and artisanship of Africa — but beyond that lies the beauty, the vibrant use of color, and diverse textures. As a minimalist, I [Michelle] try to incorporate pieces in small ways that stand out — you’ll find unique objects on my otherwise empty kitchen counter, a bright piece of art over muted walls. I broke up the dark hues with a bright yellow sculpture made from old mesh-wire sourced from a South African street vendor [shown below]. In styling my home, there’s also a lot of recycled material incorporated in the decor such as wood from abandoned trees, grass, and recycled PVC — a nod to my commitment to sustainability.”

What inspires the Mokones to celebrate Black history in their work:

“We are incredibly proud to be from South Africa. We hope to celebrate our own country’s culture in everything we do but also the culture and art of Black people throughout the entire continent. We also honor the origins of our materials. Wherever we source an element from, we try to incorporate that culture’s artistic tradition (a color, a pattern, etc.) to represent and preserve their heritage craft.”

Credit: Courtesy of Michelle Mokone

Their favorite ways to highlight African design:

“The African continent is rich in natural resources, and as locals, it’s our instinct to preserve it — not exploit it. We explicitly choose to work with natural, sustainable materials like responsibly-sourced grasses and clay as well as newer, innovative materials like upcycled PVC plastic, which would otherwise contribute to the growing modern issue of plastic pollution in African ecosystems.”

See more of the Mokones’ home decor products at Mo’s Crib.

Credit: Virgil David

Naïka Andre, Founder of NJA Interiors

“The inspiration for this project [shown below] was the client’s impressive art collection and the colors of the sunset and sunrise. The client has such great views from her high-rise apartment (notice how we used Clare paint colors that draw from the views). The goal was to create an authentic space that helps her show up in the world a better version of herself — we did just that! My favorite elements in this apartment are the client’s vintage James Mont style chairs in the bedroom and vintage chrome coffee table that was passed down from her grandmother. They hold sentimental value and add a layer of soulfulness to the space.”

What inspires Andre to celebrate Black history in her work:

“Black history and artistry is so rich and diverse — I want to show it off in the spaces I design so my clients can enjoy it with their family and friends. Incorporating Black history and artistry in their spaces is a way to celebrate who they are!”

Her favorite ways to highlight African and African Diaspora design:

“African design motifs and art have always been prevalent in our society, and we love incorporating this design in our work. We try to work with various artisans in the Diaspora, whether it’s sourcing from a Black-owned business or working closely with local minority tradespeople, like contractors, electricians, and upholsterers.”

See more of Andre’s work at NJA Interiors.

Credit: Copyright: C.P. Hart; Photo by Anna Stathaki

Eva Sonaike, Designer and Creative Director of Eva Sonaike 

“I was recently commissioned to design a bathroom for the showroom of C.P. Hart. The brief was ‘Wellness Reimagined,’ and I wanted to go with a bold African theme. I chose a color scheme of green and purple, which embodies a new start, calmness, and regalness. My inspiration came from beach houses on West Africa’s luxuriant Atlantic seashore —particularly, mid-century architecture and Tropical Modernism, a term applied to African architecture from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. I used a living ceiling to give the space a more energetic, tropical feel. Our purple Odi fabric in combination with the raffia mirrors add a touch of African luxury to the setting.”

What inspires Sonaike to celebrate Black history in her work:

“I was born and raised in Germany but am of Nigerian, Yoruba origin. Growing up away from ‘home,’ I always celebrated my Nigerian culture, and this is definitely reflected in my design work, both in my textile design and interior design work. I also saw a lack of representation of high-end African-inspired design here in the UK when I was looking to furnish my home, so I created what I was looking for.”

Credit: Copyright: C.P. Hart; Photo by Anna Stathaki

Her favorite ways to highlight African design:

“African design is so versatile — we have over 54 counties with over 2,000 living languages in the continent — so there is no ‘African’ design as such. But, generally, the use of color is very important when designing an African-inspired space; it can be bold and bright for more of a West African feel or more muted and subdued for a Northern African feel.”

See more of Sonaike’s work at her website.

Christine Platt of The Afrominimalist

“In recent years, I have become very intentional about reclaiming painful aspects of our history by turning them into sources of inspiration and joy. One resource that I enjoy using [in my home] is raw cotton. The forced labor of enslaved Black people (and after the abolition of slavery, sharecropping) is a very painful aspect of history. Visiting the cotton farm of Julius Tillery, a fifth-generation Black cotton farmer in North Carolina, was life-changing for me. I had a chance to walk the fields where ancestors once toiled as enslaved people, learn his family’s history of how they purchased parcels of this same land over time, and for the first time, hold raw cotton. The experience is indescribable. I wanted to celebrate this by incorporating raw cotton flowers and buds into my decor. Having raw cotton in my home is a constant reminder of Black people’s strength and resiliency. It’s such a beautiful way to reclaim and celebrate our history! As Julius likes to say, ‘Cotton is our culture.’”

Credit: Courtesy of Christine Platt

What inspires Platt to celebrate Black history in her work:

“My scholarly research centers on the transatlantic slave trade, which is heartbreaking work. But it is also soul-stirring — soul-awakening — because I know what Black people have endured and survived. I know that Black people are living, breathing, walking miracles. So the inspiration behind celebrating Black history in my space is honoring those who were the strongest, the smartest, and most resilient. It is but one way to pay homage to our ancestors who are the reason that we are alive today.”

Credit: Courtesy of Christine Platt

Platt’s favorite ways to highlight African and African Diaspora design:

“Many Black people are unaware of our full ancestry — those who are fortunate may be able to trace their ancestry back four to five generations. But still, we all know of our origins, our true home. Incorporating pieces that are uniquely African and African American is my favorite way to bring our generational narratives full circle.”

See more of Platt’s work at The Afrominimalist.

Bailey Li, Founder of Bailey Li Interiors

“This is a bohemian glam living room that I designed for a client. Let’s start with the wall: I hand-painted an 18-foot colorful mural representing the blossoming of my client’s career! The mural serves as a daily reminder of growth and transformation. In addition, it adds a burst of bold color, which speaks to my client’s personality. The drama of the drapery, the gorgeous antique chandelier, and the sophistication of the 19th century Louis chairs combined to add elegance and sophistication. I also added a pair of pink leather Moroccan poufs for extra seating. Some of the other elements include: lacquer lamps, dragonfly jewelry boxes, and stackable egg tables from Numi Global Curiosities.”

What inspires Li to celebrate Black history in her work:

“When I initially began my journey as an interior designer, I struggled to find design elements that represented me or those like me. Instead of remaining discouraged, I decided to create what I was seeking. I began reupholstering antique and vintage chairs in vibrant colors and fabrics. I wanted my clients to possess unique conversation pieces that felt like art and had the vibrancy and energy that truly reflects African American culture.”

Credit: Keith Miller

Her favorite ways to highlight African & Diaspora design:

“My hand-painted murals, combined with the bold design elements that I curate, is my nod to the culture and to Black artists! When I am designing a space, my client becomes my muse, so I look to their history, lifestyle, and personality for cues on what truly inspires them.”

See more of Li’s work at Bailey Li Interiors.

Credit: Danielle Watson

Neffi Walker, Founder of The Black Home

“In our home, I wanted to create something that felt like our ancestors were watching over us. I created this beautiful wall of African masks from all different countries that are a direct reflection of me and my children. They’re beautifully hand-crafted — some painted with vibrant colors, others not. The faces are all different yet extremely familiar; more so, it keeps me grounded by reminding me that I come from a place of beauty and strength.”

What inspires Walker to celebrate Black history in her work:

“It’s important that we as Black people all across the Diaspora inhabit spaces that we can connect with to be reminded of all of the beauty we can and have been creating in this world.

Her favorite ways to highlight African and African Diaspora design:

“One of the most prominent ways is my use of cotton. When I began using it in my work years ago, it was extremely controversial. People did not understand why I chose to design with an element that many directly correlated to trauma. While I understood immensely, I didn’t just see it as that. It’s a representation of our pain and also our resilience. The cotton I source is from a Black-owned cotton farm in North Carolina, whose owners inherited the land from their ancestors who purchased the land from slave owners.”

See more of Walker’s design work at The Black Home.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.