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Class of 2020

Class of 2020: How Shavonda Gardner is Designing Bold Small Spaces and Giving a Voice to POC in the Design Community

published Oct 25, 2019
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Who: Shavonda Gardner, Sacramento-based blogger and interior designer
Nominated by: John & Sherry Petersik, the DIY design duo behind blog Young House Love
Where to follow her: Instagram

Apartment Therapy’s Class of 2020 Design Changemakers is a specially-selected group of the 20 people in the design world everyone should know about by next year. We asked experts (and you!) to tell us who they think should be included—see the rest of the nominees here.

Why Shavonda is part of the Class of 2020: “We would have to nominate Shavonda Gardner! She’s warm and hilarious and so inspiring thanks to her fearless use of color and pattern and texture and layering. Her moody and enveloping rooms draw me in and I just want to sit in them and stare at things for hours. I also love the open dialog that she cultivates around so many deep subjects beyond design. A must-follow for sure!” —John & Sherry Petersik, the DIY design duo behind the blog Young House Love

A resounding theme in Shavonda Gardner’s work is a trait that can be a rarity in the design community: she’s unapologetic and adheres to no one’s rules but her own. Whether it’s using moody floral wallpaper on the ceiling of an office, a juju hat in a bathroom, or painting a tiny space black, she doesn’t believe in “design rules”. “I don’t care about the status quo. I have a love and appreciation for things like trends and what’s hot, and things that are happening, but I genuinely just love what I love and I know myself,” says the designer. “I’m totally comfortable in being myself no matter what.”

While she has confidence in her design perspective that’s akin to someone who has been in the industry for years and years, her career began in the military, and then property management, as she had a young family at the time and wanted something stable. Inevitably, however, she stumbled into blogging and the rest is history. Following her instincts is clearly working in her favor—her beautifully textural, multi-layered and boldly colored designs have been featured in a number of publications, and the following she’s cultivated is very clearly less of a “fan base” and more of a community—thanks to a special combination of her talent, candid cadence, and willingness to think outside the box. Just take a quick glance at her Instagram feed or blog (SG Style), you’ll probably spend the next two hours doing a deep-dive of every room or space she’s ever touched (just take it from this writer), and quickly follow suit in becoming part of her community.

Credit: Christopher Testani

And while small spaces are her forte, she says the fact that she exists in that community at all is what sets her apart from most of her peers. “The reality is that in the field of interior design you don’t see very many black and brown faces. And even further beyond that, you don’t see very many LGBTQ black and brown faces in this industry,” she says. There is no doubt about the staggering lack of representation of people of color in the field of design—but the problems with equity and representation lie not only with the design and creative community, but with society as a whole.

“There’s still that battle within society of what is deemed more marketable, what is deemed more sellable, is deemed more palatable. We as a nation have to deal with the racism and the issues that we have with our people in general, with the relationship that people have with each other in general. When that happens, then I think things will start to trickle down and become a little bit easier.” At the end of the day, she says, the design world is so magnetic and there’s talent beyond talent out there, and things have to change. We sat down with the designer and blogger to talk about downsizing her living space, her unique design perspective, and how she hopes she’s paving the way for other people of color to feel they deserve to be valued in society—and in the design community.

Apartment Therapy: What do you remember as being design inspirations growing up? What is your inspiration now?

Shavonda Gardner: I grew up in a military family. Both my parents were military. We moved a lot, growing up—we were never in one place for more than three years or so. My design inspiration was really just the different communities and places that we lived. We lived in Germany for a while and I think that really was the first true imprint on me in terms of what design and home meant, and what it looks like. Because the way that we lived in Germany and the houses that we lived in were so vastly different than how they were in the U.S., which really triggered my curiosity and love of what the definition of home means. At a very young age, I realized that home looks very different for everybody, and one is not better than the other, it’s just how we choose to live, and what we make of the spaces that we have.

My inspiration now is probably the same. I’m still so curious about how people live and how people feel when they are in those spaces. I’m inspired by the different ways that people live and the ways that people make home work for them beyond the standard. How people take spaces and genuinely make them work for them.

Credit: Shavonda Gardner

AT: What’s your favorite project you worked on in 2019 so far? (and why?)

SG: Definitely our bathroom. The reason why it was my favorite project is that this was a space that our family really, really, needed. We live in a two-one, so we all share one bathroom, and it just needed to be a really functional space for us to do our lives day-to-day, and I just love that it now is not only much more functional, but it’s really beautiful. It’s like we’re on vacation every day. It feels like we get to shower and brush our teeth in a fancy boutique hotel room every day, and we love it.

We used beautiful black tile from Fireclay, and we put in a skylight so now we get beautiful lighting. Before it was dark and it faded and grungy. It was a massive upgrade not just to our home aesthetically, but it made living in our home better.

Credit: Shavonda Gardner

AT: Is there a specific piece or design of yours that you think is particularly indicative of who you are or what you’re trying to do?

SG: I was asked to be a part of designing the office in the Real Simple Home, and it was essentially the smallest room in the house—which is great because smaller spaces are my favorite. I really wanted to take this room and have people look at space in a different light. I think people feel very limited by what they can and cannot do when it comes to small spaces. I painted all the walls a super dark black, and I put this beautiful floral, colorful wallpaper on the ceiling and played with texture, and we had this really beautiful burl wood desk in the middle. I kind of always go into every project thinking, “What can I do that’s going to make people think beyond what the norm is?” I think that’s why this space is my favorite. Besides the fact that it turned out really beautifully, I think it’s a collection of all of these choices that 95% of people probably would not have made.

AT: What three words would you use to describe your work or style?

SG: Eclectic. Trend-Setting. Moody.

AT: What makes you feel at home in your own space?

SG: The thing that makes me feel at home is knowing that everything about it, all the decisions that were made, were because I genuinely loved each design decision. The spaces were intentionally designed and everything in my home brings me joy.

“The legacy that I hope to leave is that fellow creatives of color feel like they have a space in this world, feel like their voices are important, their visions are important, to feel like they belong in this space, period.”

-Shavonda Gardner

AT: Any big plans for 2020 or beyond you can share with us?

SG: I really want to create products now—kind of focused collaborations with people. Maybe a line of wallpapers, or a line of pillows, or a line of candles. I really want to have something that feels like mine within the design world, rather than me working to highlight other people’s brands, which is what I do and I love, but I also want to have something of my own now. That would be an absolute dream.

I’ll be going into my second year of full-time entrepreneurship. So, I’m still trying to get my business life together, which is really hard. And there are so many things going on, so I’m really trying to hone in on what I love, what I’m good at, and amping that up.

Credit: Shavonda Gardner

AT: What three words would you use to describe where you see the design world going in 2020?

SG: Sustainability. Natural materials. Saturated/rich colors.

AT: What legacy do you hope to leave?

SG: The legacy that I hope to leave is that fellow creatives of color feel like they have a space in this world, feel like their voices are important, their visions are important, to feel like they belong in this space, period.