In September 2018, designer and ceramic artist Malene Barnett decided to speak up about the lack of diversity within the design world. In an Instagram post, she addressed the New York Design Center's failure to invite Black designer panelists to their annual "What's New, What's Next" symposium. The center's decision to exclude Black designers from programming reflected a larger issue within the design community — an unwillingness to recognize and celebrate the presence and influence of Black designers and culture.
Although Barnett isn't the first person to voice her concerns, the post became a sensation, prompting a much needed conversation among editors, designers, and fans. A month later, Barnett founded Black Artists + Designers Guild, an online directory and platform for independent Black designers, artists, and makers across various art and design disciplines. Other members include Kesha Franklin, Leyden Lewis, and Joy Moyler. Organizations like BADG refuse to accept the tokenism of the design industry. In doing so, Barnett and others are providing new models for emerging and aspiring Black designers.
Inspired by BADG, we'd like to celebrate the visionary Black designers who paved the way for artists like Barnett, while also honoring contemporary creatives you should have on your radar (including just a few BADG founding members).
1. Cecil Hayes
No list of vanguard Black interior designers is complete without Cecil Hayes. She is the first African American designer to appear in Architectural Digest and went on to become the first African American (and designer from South Florida) to be included in the "AD 100," a list of the best designers and architects in the world. Born in 1945, she studied art at Florida A&M University before enrolling at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale for interior design.
In 1975, Hayes founded her own design firm, Cecil's Designers Unlimited, and a few years later, added a manufacturing division, run by her husband Arzell Powell — making her one of the first African American designers to manufacture furniture, case goods, and upholstery. Her clients include Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes, and George Mark. She is also the author of 9 Steps to Beautiful Living and Cecil Hayes Art of Decorative Details. Hayes's style favors experimentation, colorful accents, and elements of fantasy.
2. Darryl Carter
Washington, D.C.-based designer Darryl Carter catapulted to the public eye in 1997. At the time, he had been working as an attorney at his father's firm, but would flip properties on the side. One of those appeared on the cover of Metropolitan Home, leading to a burst of requests from clients and magazines. Buoyed by the praise, he decided to leave his law career to open up his own design firm. Since then, he has published two bestselling books (including The New Traditional), created two furniture collections, and designed a line of light fixtures for The Urban Electric Company.
He has appeared on multiple prestigious lists, including Architectural Digest's "AD 100," Elle Decor's A-List, and House's Beautiful's Top 50 in America. His work has been featured in O at Home, Southern Accents, and more. He is known for his spare interiors, monochromatic palette, and use of art and antiques. In 2012, he opened his first boutique, a home decor shop and studio, in an effort to share his vision with more people.
3. Sheila Bridges
Born in 1964, Sheila Bridges grew up in Philadelphia surrounded by art thanks to her parent's large collection. After attending Brown University, she briefly considered advertising. She moved to NYC in 1986; in addition to her degrees from Brown and the Parsons School of Design, she also studied decorative arts in Florence. Her design firm, Sheila Bridges Design Inc., opened in 1994, and has become one of the premier firms in the U.S. She's also a founding member of BADG.
A few of her high-profile clients include Bill Clinton, Diddy, and Princeton University. Her career has evolved to fit her needs; in addition to design, she's launched a line of home furnishings and published two books, including a memoir focusing on her alopecia diagnosis. She has also hosted four seasons of Sheila Bridges: Designer Living for the Fine Living Network, and has been a frequent guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Nate Berkus Show. With her love of classical silhouettes and layered patterns, Bridges has landed a spot on Elle Decor's A-List and House Beautiful's one-time Top 100 Interior Designer list.
4. Rayman Boozer
Rayman Boozer is often hailed as "the Color Guru," after Time Out called him "the go-to designer for color consulting." From a young age, Boozer was fascinated by shelter magazines like American Home, American Life, and House Beautiful, and he idolized Albert Hadley and Sister Parish. He went on to study interior design and fashion at Indiana University; he's now a founding member of BADG.
In 1994, he opened up a home furnishing store in Chelsea called Apartment 48, which led to the founding of a design firm under the same name. A turning point came in 2006, when his work appeared on the cover of Elle Decor. As his visibility rose, Boozer decided to close the shop in order to focus on his flourishing design firm. He began taking on commercial work, and started designing for production studios and flagship offices.
5. Tiffany Brooks
Tiffany Brooks began her design career in high-end residential property management and staging. After one of her model-home designs won an award, Brooks decided to shift her focus to interior design, launching her Chicago-based firm, You and Your Decor, in 2007. In 2013, she was cast in season eight of HGTV's Design Star. She was crowned the winner and went on to host Most Embarrassing Rooms in America. She has continued her relationship with HGTV as the host and designer of Smart Home.
She describes her design aesthetic as a mix of classic and funk. Her work has been featured in Architectural Digest, Ebony, House Beautiful, Essence, and more.
6. Iantha Carley
Iantha Carley launched Iantha Carley Interiors in 2006 after sharpening her skills working for leading textile and furniture manufacturers. Prior to that, she worked for the government at the Environmental Protection Agency. She wanted to be an interior designer from an early age and cites her creative family, especially her mother Vera, for igniting her love of design. Carley is the first African-American to participate in the respected Washington, D.C. Design House.
Her style exemplifies a fearless approach to colors, patterns, and textures. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Home & Design Magazine, and Business of Home.
7. Roderick N. Shade
Like most designers on this list, Roderick N. Shade's design dreams were sparked by the shelter magazines he read as a child. Growing up in San Diego, California — in a house built by his father and grandfather — he studied medicine before switching to interior design. He gained experience in Los Angeles, working for high-end firms and designing for a model-home company. Eventually, he moved to New York, where he worked as a window dresser while designing on the side. He launched his own firm, Roderick Shade Design, in 1993. Just a few years later, in 1998, he co-founded Harlem United Show House, the first show house to feature African American designers. He has presented rooms at various show houses, including the Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse, the Architectural Digest Time Warner concept house, and the San Diego Historical Society Designer Showhouse.
Shade was featured on Architectural Digest's AD 100 list, and his work has received praise from House Beautiful and New York Magazine. Along with Jorge S. Arango, he is the co-author of Harlem Style: Designing for the New Urban Aesthetic. His style merges disparate global influences into a unique, polished whole.
8. Keita Turner
New York-based Keita Turner's designs are elegant, warm, and uplifting. She credits her background as a former fashion designer for her particular approach and vision. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Turner often infuses her residential and commercial projects with couture details, paying attention to silhouette, line, proportion, and other key elements. She launched her full-service firm, Keita Turner Design, in 2000. A founding member of BADG, she was named one of five finalists in the Interior Design category at the 2017 New York Cottages and Gardens Magazine Innovation in Design Awards.
Inspired by her collection of vintage textiles, Turner recently launched a pillow collection, Livvy & Neva. Her work has been praised by Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, House Beautiful, and more.
9. Corey Damen Jenkins
Corey Damen Jenkins got his start in 1996 before launching his own design firm in 2008. Hailing from Detroit, he has been drawn to design from a young age. His parents would remodel their house every few years, which sparked his interest. At 19, he moved to New York City to study interior design. When he finally launched Corey Damon Jenkins and Associates, he had to work to get clients. He went to the affluent neighborhoods of Detroit and knocked on doors and offered his services until someone said yes. Jenkins put photographs of a home he decorated for a wealthy couple on his website, and HGTV came calling two weeks later. He was cast in and won HGTV's design competition series Showhouse Showdown.
Since then, he has partnered with Leathercraft Furniture and Hudson Valley Lighting and his work has been honored by Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, Wall Street Journal, and more. A traditionalist at heart, Jenkins likes to blend the classic with youthful and contemporary details.
10. Erika Ward
Atlanta-based interior designer, writer, and philanthropist Erika Ward launched her design firm and showroom in 2006. At the time she had been working as an accountant at a top design-build firm, where she managed "multi million dollar construction budgets." Eager for an opportunity to flex her creative skills in addition to her business acumen, she started taking interior design classes on the side while growing her new company.
After juggling both jobs for over three years, she eventually made the full-time switch to interior design. Since then, her classic glam designs have caught the eye of House Beautiful, Domino, and Architectural Design. She's worked with brands like High Point Market, ADAC Atlanta, S.C. Johnson and Company, and Rowe Furniture.
11. Brigette Romanek
Brigette Romanek's A-list client roster will make your jaw drop: it includes Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Kelly Rowland, Misty Copeland, Gwenyth Paltrow, and more. Originally from Chicago and now based in Los Angeles, the self-taught designer is known for her chic, spacious interiors informed by a sense of play and daring. Before turning to interiors, she worked as a singer and handbag designer. She designed her first house as a favor to her friend who, impressed by her vivacious personal style, asked her to help with decoration. The project unleashed a passion, and she hasn't stopped since. She launched a firm with Estee Stanley called Hancock Design in 2016, before launching her own firm, Romanek Design Studio, in 2018. Architecture Digest included her in its 2018 AD100 list.
Her sprawling Laurel Canyon family mansion, shared with her filmmaker husband and their two children, provides a peek into Romanek's luxe style: It's got marble tiles repurposed from a French chateau and a solarium.
12. Marie Burgos
Marie Burgos's design aesthetic is informed by two childhood inspirations: the architecture and art of Paris, where she was borned and raised, and the vibrant nature of the Caribbean, specifically Martinique, where her family is from. Her eye for detail caught the attention of colleagues and friends, who tapped Burgos to offer creative direction for their work and home environments. She enrolled in NYU's design program, going to school in the evenings and weekends while working full-time. During her studies, she developed an interest in Feng Shui, drawn to the concept of arranging spaces to create balance and harmony. She is now a Feng Shui master and incorporates the philosophy into her overall design approach.
Her firm, Marie Burgos Design, launched in 2007, and includes residential, hospitality, and commercial design. Recently she developed the Marie Burgos Collection, a brand of curated furniture, home decor, lighting, art, and accessories — with a focus on items not seen in U.S. markets.
13. Nicole White
Nicole White's award-winning designs pay homage to and celebrate her Jamaican upbringing, from woven textures paired with summery color schemes to airy rooms perfect for family gatherings. Before she made the leap to focus on design full-time, she was a successful journalist for The Miami Herald, covering everything from politics to celebrities. She decorated houses on the side before founding her full-service firm, Nicole White Designs. Based in Florida, her firm has worked with high-end clients — including Miami's top athletes, musicians, and lawyers — for more than ten years.
White has won praise from Business of Home, Better Homes and Gardens, and Domino, and was named one of the top 25 interior design firms by South Florida Luxury Guide. Her Instagram is filled with dramatic kitchen renovations, inspirational art, and snapshots of her life with her son, Xavier.
14. Beth Diana Smith
Beth Diana Smith pursued interior design after decades of a finance career working for companies like Johnson & Johnson and Viacom. Her full-service design firm blends her thoughtful style with a savviness for budget. Features on Business of Home, Elle Decor, and Lonny — as well as networks like NBC and HGTV — confirm her bold use of patterns and lush details. One of her signature moves? She leaves an elephant in every client's space. She explained to Go Design Go: "I want to wish them good luck in their new space."
Her frequent appearances on various panels also confirm her commitment to pushing the industry forward, with topics ranging from inclusion to secrets of the trade. She's also a founding member of BADG.
15. Laura Hodges
Laura Hodges's aesthetic showcases an international bent, inspired by those closest to her: her Norwegian grandmother, British mother, and Jamaican father. Her style also reflects her extensive travel, from Peru to Thailand to Morocco. Born and raised in northern London, she moved to New York to study business and interior design, while also lending her attention to music and cooking.
Hodges now runs her boutique design firm, Laura Hodges Studio, located in both the Baltimore and D.C. area. In 2018 House and Beautiful named her one of its "Next Wave" designers to watch; Sotheby's Home named her one of the Ttop 20 designers for 2020. She also runs DOMAIN, a boutique accessories and gift shop debuted in 2018. It features fair trade home decor, statement jewelry, bath accessories, and original art.
16. Nikki Klugh
San Diego-based Nikki Klugh imbues her designs with a nurturing spirit. For her, homes should be "sacred spaces," as she described on her website — places to recharge and rest. Clients appreciate Klugh's ability to transform simple spaces into uplifting designs, unafraid of mixing the cozy and elegant.
Her firm, Nikki Klugh Design Group, has been in business since 2003, and her award-winning designs have garnered praise from NBC, San Diego Home and Garden, FINE, and more.