This Photography Studio in Ohio Doubles as a Community Space for Black Creatives

published Feb 20, 2023
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Credit: Riley Beard of Traces Collective

Aziza Allen-Weston is providing for her community in Columbus, Ohio. Before it became Portlock Manor, an evolving and fluid space for creatives, the Victorian home — built in 1899 —  has endured a lot of history, including Allen-Weston’s own family lineage. Although she moved out after getting married, she wasn’t moved to sell the home because it’s an extension of her story.

“For me to own [the home] felt so beautiful and powerful,” she told Apartment Therapy in a recent interview. “I’m doing simple things like mopping my floors, and I’m thinking about the women that were here mopping the same floors and what they would say or think if they could see me turning this into an inviting place for everyone, but specifically Black women.” 

Credit: Riley Beard of Traces Collective

Named after her mother’s maiden name, Portlock Manor is located in Downtown Columbus, and its mission is simple — to provide rest, pleasure, and creativity in what Allen-Weston describes as a “very boundless and almost futuristic” environment. At an hourly rate, the space is available for photo shoots, video shoots, and intimate gatherings, and the vision for event planning is endless with their in-house design company, Harlem Event Co.

As she continues to stress the importance of owning properties and building generational inheritance in the Black community, Allen-Weston also wants Portlock Manor to be a safe space for creatives to push their boundaries and try new things.

“There’s this long history of not having the privilege of rest, and I knew when I made this space, I wanted Black women to come into this house, I want them to feel seen,” she said.

And her ode to Black women is visible throughout the halls of the manor in portraits of Black icons like Nina Simone and literature by Ethiopian women. This was intentional, echoing the space’s welcoming atmosphere for Columbus’ photographers and videographers. Allen-Weston noticed that a gap in the town’s studio offerings and sought to change that with Portlock Manor.

“I just wanted to give my community something that was really special and curated,” she added. “Something with story, life, and history in it and allow people to come here and build on it while being inspired by what we have here.” 

But the portraits throughout the manor aren’t the only notable decorative choice in the home. Allen-Weston says that decorating the manor encouraged her to hone in on her design style and incorporate timeless pieces, including a mirror from the 1900s gifted by her husband. With a mix of the ‘30s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, there’s no decade discrimination while decorating.

Credit: Riley Beard of Traces Collective

“I like to mix time periods, and I hold on to a five-color palette, so I just sprinkle it throughout the house so that we have this sort of cohesion,” she said. “With [Portlock Manor] being a photo studio and a video studio, I wanted people to have so many opportunities to switch it up. If you go to an average studio, you’re gonna get your backdrop, and it’s going to come in maybe four or five different colors like a cool brick wall or an open glass, industrial-looking window. But you can’t really re-invent that in the same shoot.” 

The thought process behind choosing the aforementioned color palette — essentially, the vibe of each room — intentionally included moody colors. For example, the “blue room” features a monochromatic blue couch, rug, and walls, and according to Allen-Weston, visitors “eat that room up.”

Credit: Riley Beard of Traces Collective

So what’s in store for Portlock Manor’s future and Allen-Weston’s endless vision? She plans to develop a network of homes across the world that are spaces for creatives, similar to the global private members social club Soho House. Although she’s just getting started in Columbus, Allen-Weston seeks to own property in destinations like France, Egypt, and Chile, so any corner of the world has a space for creativity and resilience.

Despite the fact that the manor recently opened in fall 2022, their events have blossomed throughout the Columbus community and encouraged what Allen-Weston describes as an emotionally-driven camaraderie among visitors. For example, Portlock Manor hosts a monthly coworking event filled with snacks and laughter, and they plan to host writing courses. 

Interacting with Allen-Weston and hearing her vow to create an open space for Black creatives is inspiring. Whether visitors enter the manor with the intention to shoot a set of photos, share a glass of wine, or lose themselves in a book, the door is open, and the kettle is on.