Spotlight on Black Interior Design Trailblazers
This being Black History Month, we thought we’d do some research on Black interior designers who had a significant effect on the world of interior design. Since Decorating Den Interiors’ designers are predominantly women, we decided to focus on Black women pioneers in interior design. We also salute three of our own.
Beverly Loraine Greene
Born in Chicago in 1915, Beverly Loraine Greene, became America’s first licensed Black female architect in 1942– a full 50 years after Taylor began his own career. Facing discrimination and lack of opportunity, Greene moved from Chicago to New York where she got her break as the first architect, black or white, hired for the Stuyvesant Town housing project in Manhattan, a development African-Americans weren’t even allowed to live in at the time. Greene soon left the job to receive her master’s degree from Columbia University. Among her most celebrated contributions include the arts complex at Sarah Lawrence University and the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France. Greene only lived to be 41 years-old but her contribution is enduring. The woman of many firsts’ funeral was held at Unity Funeral Home in New York, a building she helped design.
Norma Merrick Sklarek
Routinely called “the Rosa Parks of architecture”, Norma Merrick Sklarek, was a monumental figure responsible for some of the most audacious designs known today. Born in Harlem, Sklarek became the first Black female architect licensed in New York in 1954. After working in public works and for two architectural firms in New York she became the first Black female member of the American Institute of Architects in 1959. A year later she moved to Los Angeles where she became the first Black female architect licensed in California in 1962 and the first female Black fellow of the American Institute of Architecture in 1980. Beyond her feats and firsts, Sklarek is best known for Terminal One at Los Angeles International Airport, the Pacific Design Center, and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
Cecil Hayes was the first Black interior designer to be embraced in Architectural Digest. The elegance of her designs mirrors who she is as a person. Hayes was also named in Architectural Digest “AD 100.”; is considered one of the top designers in the world is quite an achievement. In 1971, when Hayes enrolled in the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, she was one of the first Black students. She graduated in 1973 at the top of her class. Hayes’s first job after graduating was in an interior design firm. After only two years, she started her own business. Back in those times, this was a first. Cecil is the author of three books and the owner of Cecil’s Designs Unlimited in Coconut Creek, Florida (Source: adglighting.com). In 2002, she was featured on the History Makers: The Digital Repository for the Black Experience.
Decorating Den Interiors’ Black Pioneers
Our company’s top three design awards, judged by an esteemed panel of international interior design journalists from throughout the U S and Canada, were Black interior designers in 2022. Monique Holland (center), of Washington D.C., was judged Designer of the Year. Holland’s design associate Erin Jenkins is pictured to her left. Sisters Barbara Elliott (far left) and Jennifer Ward Woods (second from left), of Stone Mountain, Ga. were First Runner-Up Designer of the Year. Lynne Lawson (far right), of Columbia, Md. and her design associate, Laura Outland, were Second Runner-Up Designer of the Year. Lawson and Elliott/Ward Woods have both been Designers of Year and Franchise of the Year previously.
“We are extremely proud of the diversity in our family of interior designer,” said James S Bugg, Jr. president and CEO. “In addition to being leading designers in our company, these women are leaders in sales achievement. They also are wonderful mentors to others.”