Though interior design might not be the first thing you think of when you hear the names Beyoncé or Cecily Tyson, Black style icons have had a profound influence on fashion, art, and culture around the world. From Celia Cruz’s bold and unapologetic fashion pairings to Marvin Gaye’s 70s retro-hippie soul, trailblazers in Black cultural history have made waves that extend to all creative categories—interiors included. This Black History Month, what better way to celebrate the diversity and accomplishments of these icons than to integrate their vibes into your living space? We rounded up seven icons of Black history, then tapped creatives from their region (state in the U.S., country if outside the U.S.) to envision a room decorated with them in mind. Read on for inspiration.
Cicely Tyson was—and continues to be—an integral figure in African American culture and arts. She was synonymous with stellar fashion moments, spanning six decades of expressive glamor with the likes of red carpet gowns adorned in rich textures and bold colors. When approaching a living room for interior design with Cicely in mind, incorporate silk embroidered pillows atop a cream mohair velvet sofa, coupled with two vintage chairs in one of her signature colors – navy or oxblood. Balance the seating area with a Taznakht rug from Morocco, and a marble coffee table with coffee table books dedicated to Harlem arts culture. To complete the space, add a gallery wall of family photos in gold ornate frames to jazz up the walls colored in a Goodnight Moon hue by Clare paint. Make sure your space smells divine by adding the signature scent Goddess by The Black Home to set a luxurious mood. —Neffi Walker
Neffi Walker is the founder of The Black Home, an interior design company and retail store located in Newark, New Jersey, that highlights Black beauty and culture through design.
South African singer-songwriter Miriam Makeba’s style unites pattern, craftsmanship, and heritage in a way that is traditional, like her music, but which also looks forward toward a global audience inspired by the soul of Africa. Bringing this spirit into your space means looking wide, embracing the past, and celebrating hope of the future. Begin by setting a strong base. Warm tones—like coral and tangerine—paired with white or black, keep the scheme at once grounded and modern. Then, introduce cross-cultural items that speak to Makeba’s ability to transition between her own Swazi-Xhosa upbringing. Clashing bold graphic patterns, like those inspired by traditional South African Xhosa beadwork, or integrating patterns found in Swazi grass weaving can channel this multi-dimensional style. Finally, include elements like woven Swazi side tables and graphic photographic prints of historic African cities. It’s all about finding the right rhythm, like she did, and bringing it together in a voice that feels global and local all at once. –Garreth van Niekerk
Garreth van Niekerk is the cofounder of Always Welcome, a South African design cooperative based in Johannesburg for owner-run design studios that create furniture, homeware, and lifestyle objects.
The late Cuban-American singer Celia Cruz always performed with vivacious style and eccentricity. To channel the AfroLatina, mix textures. Demonstrate her unyielding personality with ruffles and layers and add a sculpture as an element of surprise to tie a space together. Layer pillows, shams, and throws on multiple layers of duvets, quilts, or coverlets to style your bedding or sofas. Cruz often wore primary colors with her bold style, reminding us of moody, monochrome spaces. Matching wall and trim paint in your home office can give a cohesive and striking look. Place colorful book spines the same way Cruz would use jewelry accents. –Shareen Bailey
Shareen Bailey is the Principal Interior Designer and Owner of Green Shareen Design, an interiors firm with a sustainable living and eco-friendly approach.
Bold and audacious do not even begin to describe the aesthetics of the legendary musician Fela Kuti. His style was a maximalist’s dream; a beautiful chaos full of soul and personality. To channel Fela in your interior space, feature highly saturated colors painted in parallels, daring patterns, and newspaper prints. This mix and match might come across as mindless to the untrained eye, but it channels both Fela and his alter ego, Anikulapo. Use playful prints for accent pieces, such as throw pillows, curtains, or blankets. You can’t go wrong with layered textures and patterns. Remember to hang framed art and mixed media in clusters, in a salon style. –Banke Ajagunna
Banke Ajagunna is a founder at Decor Nigeria, a Lagos-based tech-enabled Interior Design Company that designs spaces that are functional and have aesthetic appeal.
To channel “The Queen B” or “Mutha” in an interior space, start with bold custom furniture sourced from artisans around the world. Integrate design-forward furniture with shapes and silhouettes that have strong lines and are constructed with mixed materials, like wood, metal, stone, and leather. Elegant stately neutrals for wall colors would give the space room to breathe and transform with ease, as the seasons change and creativity morphs. Original art is another way to channel Mrs. Carter. Set over-sized abstracts with wildly vivid colors in floating black frames. Last, create a custom home scent that embodies the essence of who you have been, who you are, and who you are. –Christopher Charles Evans
Christopher Charles Evans is the Owner and Principal designer of Texas-based Christopher Charles Interiors at Indigo Red, a luxury design firm focused on bespoke, creative interiors.
Grace Jones is a beacon of powerful, androgynous and unapologetic style—and has been for decades. To channel her, think moody jewel tones juxtaposed with bold metals. Use a tight weave fabric on clean lined furnishings with sinuous curves layered with the soft sexy texture of a mink throw and silk accent pillows. Accent fabrics should be unpretentious and honest; graphic prints, such as mud cloth from Mali, are highly advised. Fiddle fig leaf trees in baskets and an extensive fine art collection should be the order of the day for accessorizing. Complete this sultry aesthetic with dramatic lighting and uncensored accessories that will undoubtedly make you laugh, cry, or clutch your pearls. –Karen Booker
Karen Booker is a principal designer and creative director at the Karen Booker Design Group in Kingston, Jamaica, which combines traditional interior design with a contemporary look.
Channel the soulfulness of Marvin Gaye in your home with a modern, retro look. Bringing in the “eclectic hippie” decor from the 70s can be done by incorporating some vintage elements to your interiors. Consider adding an accent wall using paint or wallpaper with warm hues, such as brown, yellow, orange, or green. Don’t be afraid to opt for printed wallpaper for a groovy effect. For furniture, wicker and rattan pieces are nostalgic to the era. Bring in this trend by adding a rattan chair, stool, or cabinet to your living room or bedroom. Curved or modular couches are a great addition to create a conversation area. Add texture with decorative pillows and a throw blanket. For lighting, choose table or floor lamps with chrome detail, a dome or funky shade or glossy finishes. Lastly, add a record player to enjoy Marvin Gaye vinyls while relaxing in your newly revamped home. –Rebecca Margao
Rebecca Margao leads The Shed DC, a garage-turned-furniture shop that offers a curated collection of new, gently used, and custom items that reflect Washington, DC-based consumers’ personal style.
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