The Top Black Interior Designers Today That We Should Be Following

The interior design community is a fast-growing one. Many creatives have cornered exciting niche markets in residential and commercial design spaces. It's a wonder that a multi-billion dollar industry still has a big issue with diversity. In this sector, Black designers make up only 1.5% of the interior design industry (via Zippia), but not for lack of trying. If you pay attention, you'll find that Black interior designers have been having a moment for decades; with big-name celebrity clientele and exciting approaches to post-modern living, there is so much to explore, and we've got a few names to get you started.

Identifying the growing number of Black designers, one of the most notable names in Black interior design – and interior design at large – Marlene Barnett, created the Black Artists + Design Guild (BADG) as a means to foster community within the interior design industry. The self-described member-driven platform counts several individual creatives and agencies amongst its community and offers a directory to reach out to any of them. From Barnett to Saleem Saudah, one of the few Black Muslim women designers in the industry, to designer-to-the-stars, Brigette Romanek, and many more, here are some exciting names making waves in the art and design industry.

Brigette Romanek

When it comes to the creme of the crop of Black interior designers, Brigette Romanek is likely a name you'll hear mentioned in many circles. The highly celebrated interior designer to stars including Beyonce and Jay Z, started her professional career as a singer before pivoting to design. She told Business of Home Podcast, "I liked it. I didn't love it. I don't have to be onstage in front of a lot of people," she continued, "Being an artist, it has to be your voice. That was missing. It was fun but it wasn't something I wanted to devote my life to."

Eventually, the four-time AD 100 listmaker, found her calling in interior design. She launched her company, Romanek Deisgn Studio in 2018. In addition to her work in design spaces, Romanek was a guest judge on Ellen DeGeneres' show, "Ellen's Design Challenge." Thanks to her impressive client list, Romanek's design work has graced many magazine covers, including two (of many) Architectural Digest covers featuring her clients, Ballerina Misty Copeland and Academy Award-winning actress, Gwyneth Paltrow. When asked why Romanek was their designer of choice, Copeland's husband, Olu Evans, said, "We wanted a person of color. There was a comfort level there, a vernacular. With Brigette we spoke the same cultural language. I enjoyed that connection" (via Architectural Digest). For her home, Paltrow knew she needed someone to get her out of her box. The actress told AD, "Brigette's more contemporary than I am, but I wanted to push myself. Plus, I knew it would be fun." Romanek describes her work as a balance between beauty and practicality. "I want to live with beautiful things but they also have to function, you know, they can't just be precious." She told House and Garden South Africa.

Nicole Gibbons

Nicole Gibbons loves color. That's why she co-founded Clare – a digital paint shop that offers color options and provides inspiration to guide you through creating the perfect color palette for your home. In conversation with Studio McGee, Gibbons said of her company, "I've always loved using color in fresh ways and appreciated the role that paint plays in a design project." She continued, "I had a lightbulb moment that the paint industry was incredibly outdated, and I genuinely felt I could build a better paint brand." 

With features in TV and print, including HGTV, InStyle, Elle Decor, and more, Gibbons has built an impressive portfolio as a TV host. In 2013, she hosted the OWN show, "Home Made Simple." Gibbons also shares design and decor tips on her blog, Nicole Gibbons Style. One of her key aims with the blog and her brand is to offer high and low options to match any budget.

With a primary focus on Clare, Nicole Gibbons pivoted to small business owner when she founded the company in 2020. "What Clare created for me was an opportunity to focus on one thing," she noted in an interview with Yelp for Business. She is also one of the few Black women who raised $2 million for her business. When asked why she chose to go all in on paint rather than wallpapers for her business, Gibbons shared that her goal was to create a business with a legacy that stretches beyond her. "The paint shopping experience is fundamentally broken and archaic. To me, that signaled a bigger opportunity."

Marlene Barnett

Marlene Barnett founded the Black Artists and Design Guild in 2018 after noticing the lack of opportunity for Black creatives in interior design and art spaces. Barnett told Brownstoner, "When it comes to black culture in design, we're not even considered." When starting this community and database, the designer aimed to show that being Black doesn't make creative ideas other. "We're labeled for something that we've never been — we don't even talk about ourselves in this way, as 'ethnic' and 'tribal' — and we're put in this outside category." 

The Brooklyn-based, award-winning multidisciplinary artist started her career as a textile carpet designer before expanding to ceramics, interior design, and more. Barnett is particularly drawn to clay and highlights transparency in her work, which other mediums don't often allow. "Unlike other mediums I've used in the past, clay is flexible in both surface and form. My finished pieces have traces of my fingerprints, and this allows you to follow the making process," her personal statement reads.

Sheila Bridges

For Sheila Bridges, moving to Harlem in 1993 was the beginning of her bid to walk among giants of African American literature, arts, and culture. She founded her company, Sheila Bridges Design, Inc, in the historical city and hasn't looked back. Bridges has been named Designer of the Year by prestigious media houses, including Time Magazine and CNN. She also counts notable figures such as former president Bill Clinton, current Vice President Kamala Harris, and Ivy League institutions, including Princeton and Columbia Universities, as her clients. Bridges' work is a versatile and exciting exploration of timeless designs and expert craftsmanship.

Beyond her interior design work, Bridges has partnered with the iconic Wedgwood England to create a line of fine china featuring her Harlem Toile pattern. This partnership, announced in 2022, marks the first time the potter company has collaborated with a Black designer in its 260+ years in existence. The award-winning designer said of the collaboration, "As a black woman in Harlem, I wanted to address stereotypes that are commonly associated with black people but approach the images in a way that also felt celebratory" (via Wedgwood). Ultimately, in all her work with her company and her collaborations and partnerships, Bridges is invested in telling a different kind of Black story. "Not many people are telling our stories, or if they are being told, they're told from a lens that is very different than our own. I think, particularly as Black women, it's important for us to share our own stories. And so for me, that's part of the legacy," she told the Washington Post in 2022.

Shavonda Gardner

Shavonda Gardner is a small home design expert. Her motto can be summed up as loud and proud, regardless of size. Unafraid of a more maximalist approach, even when dealing with cozier interiors, the queer designer is determined to bring out the boldness in even the most reserved client. Her tagline is, "Just because you live small, it doesn't mean you can't have big, bold style!" and she lives by that. Gardner's interest in small homes began when her family downsized from a large, spacious home to a much more compact bungalow. The resulting years have challenged the designer to explore how you can live big, even in a tiny home.

As an army brat, Gardner moved homes a lot as a youngster, so the idea of making even the strangest place feel like home became a goal of hers. "I was always really interested in what home looked like, what it meant, the different ways that people live," she told Business of Home. And although she started as a designer, Gardner has built an impressive following on social media, with 170,000 followers on Instagram. She now dedicates her expertise to providing design and home inspiration for the maximalists at heart.

Forbes + Masters

Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters are the Principal Founders of the award-winning and highly sought-after design company Forbes + Masters. The two designers didn't start off as business partners. In fact, they first crossed paths when one replaced the other on a commercial project. From there, the two began to assist each other on individual assignments. Thus, a budding friendship began after spending time supporting each other's work and noticing the overlap in their interests and goals, which led to the two designers deciding to join forces. "We get our hands dirty. We help our builders create furniture prototypes, create our own stains, and sometimes paint and create our own 'wallpaper,'" The duo said when speaking to Modern Luxury Interiors about their partnership.

In fact, it was this hands-on approach that inspired their latest venture: Wallpapers. The two have described their projects as having a similar common thread of boldness and high texture, and they imbibe that in their new endeavor in partnership with Mitchell Black. "By creating a wallpaper line, we wanted to encourage customers to explore character-filled elements. Wallpaper is a simple and effective way to do that. Each of our wallpaper designs has its own personality and can add character," Forbes told Atlantan Magazine. However, their experience doesn't stop there. Forbes and Masters are responsible for sprucing up the homes of some of the most notable public figures, including NFL players and Real Housewives. Though based in Atlanta, the two travel around the country, bringing life and soul to spaces in need.

Saudah Saleem

As one of the few known Black Muslim designers in the US, Saudah Saleem makes a statement just by being herself. She told Arab News, "There are few visible Muslims in the interior design industry in the US. As such, my hijab style has become sort of my calling card." But instead of seeing it as something separate from herself, the award-winning designer is inspired by it. "I have always felt that being stylish and maintaining a Muslim identity are not mutually exclusive," she explained to Arab News.

Saleem, a mother of five, infuses practicality in her work and prides herself in creating a space that can function even in its beauty and luxury. "I like to use pattern, unexpected color combinations, and a mix of both elegant and eclectic design elements to create an aesthetic that is both sophisticated yet approachable," the designer said in her personal statement. Saleem and her work have been featured in publications such as Ebony, Traditional Home, HGTV Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and more. Her portfolio boasts a variety of home transformations that include office spaces, living rooms, bedrooms, and entire home makeovers, predominantly carried out in her native Baltimore.

Courtney McLeod

For Courtney Mcleod, designing a home is about engaging all the senses. "Prior to revealing a room, I love to light a Diptyque-scented candle. I want all my clients' senses to be invigorated when stepping into their new space," she told Business of Home. The founder of the award-winning Right Meets Left Interior Design, McLeod has been included in many "Rising Star" and designer watch lists — publications such as Elle Decor, 1st Dibs, and more. McLeod attributes her diverse educational and professional background as part of what has helped her grow her business. Starting her career in Finance, the designer made the bold decision to follow her dreams. "My passion for design had always been bubbling over the years, and I realized it was time to pursue this creative passion. So, I took a step out of character and quit with no plan," she said in a conversation with Net-a-Porter.

It was then that McLeod decided to gain some skills. She opted out of attaining a full-time degree in favor of taking multiple courses at prestigious institutions like Parsons School of Design, Pratt, and the New York School of Interior Design. "The strategic, analytical, financial, and communication skills gained during those years have allowed me to differentiate myself in a crowded design field," McLeod told Net-a-Porter. "I always say my superpower is my balance between these skills and my creativity." 

Rayman Boozer

Celebrated designer Rayman Boozer is one of Architectural Digest's 100 Innovators for 2023. He is also the Principal Designer at Apartment 48, founded over two decades ago in New York City. When it comes to inspiration for his work, Boozer looks to travel and film to create a layered yet cohesive energy unique to each space he designs. "I push for a bohemian, world traveler vibe where the layers of colors and patterns reflect my favorite brands and locales. I've also used film and television, like The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Durrells in Corfu, as springboards for more complex design narratives," he said in a profile in Out Magazine.

Whether he's designing a communal space for Verizon Media or an Upper East Side townhouse, two things you can be sure to find in Boozer's work are color and texture, with a mix of pieces and accents from different eras. "You need things from different periods to make it seem like you live here!" He told Architectural Digest. Boozer is also a champion for full representation. He observes that though there is progress, the art and design industries still have a long way to go when it comes to inclusivity and equal access. "The industry has recently championed queer male designers but has been far less inclusive of designers of color, female designers, and others under the LGBTQ+ umbrella," he told Out Magazine.

Carmen Rene

Carmen Rene was inspired by her aunty's home in the 90s. It was a space that successfully mixed grandness and opulence with edginess – including slot machines and a mermaid coffee table (via Apartment Therapy). Rene believed that anything was possible and that, along with her degrees in fine art and architecture, has informed the kind of designer she is now. Rene is the Principal Designer at Aquilo Interiors, based in Oakland, CA. The company believes in the sacred values of Soul, Precision, and Wonder. In an interview with Maison et Demure, the designer said, "My creativity is guided by the desires of my clients," Rene explained. "I start by determining what excites them the most and factor that into my design to create something truly unique." 

While that is true, the Oakland-based artist dares to push the envelope of what her clients like. As her designer's statement notes, "I believe interior design is a personal journey where we can bend the rules to chase our wildest dreams." It's no wonder her fellow designers, Forbes+Masters, described her as having "The ability to create spaces that look like they've been built over time while still implementing bold and edgy elements" (via Apartment Therapy).