AphroChic fuses culture and interior design

Personal style goes far beyond the clothes on your back.

How you style your home after graduating from the cutesy designs of your college dorm room courtesy of Target, says a lot about you, your interests and maybe even your cultural background.

For the happily married Jeanine Hays and Bryan Mason, interior design and culture go hand in hand.

“What we feel we do is fill a more global and diverse conversation in the world of design and kind’ve open it up to say that there is a global and diverse conversation in the world of design and everybody doesn’t look the same, or design the same and there is room to talk about culture and heritage,” Hays said.

“The first thing I think that we do is expand the discourse around our communities of color, where it can be a tendancy to pigeonhole what modern design is and what black design is like we all stop at Kente cloth and don’t go past that. So a lot of it is updating that and saying you don’t have to choose between a cultural space that came out of the 60s or a modern space that speaks to who you are,” Mason added.

The two started AphroChic.com in 2007 to escape the stresses of work. Previously, Hays worked as a lawyer in the domestic violence sector while Mason was pursuing his doctorate degree. Deciding to leave their traditional worlds behind, the two set their eyes on the passion they shared: culture and design.

“I think when we started AphroChic, there were not any blogs out there speaking to people of color,” Hays said. “It was all the same person, the same girl, blogs were really oriented towards white women in the home decor sphere. We were like, ‘well what about the people that look like us with an interest in particularly modern design,’ because that’s what we’re attracted to. We wanted to fill that gap and a couple of years into blogging we realized there weren’t that many products either that were geared towards people of color.”

Eight years later, the designing duo have not only put out their own lines of culturally inspired pieces such as wallpapers and pillows but have also designed large pop-up spaces in Los Angeles and New York and have positioned themselves as experts — operating as editors of the Interior Design site for About.com. Hays and Mason have gone a step further in launching their own contributors network with heavy hitter names like HGTV Design star Kim Myles and Lonny contributing to the site with tips reaching over 800,000 readers a month.

Recently publishing a book titled, “REMIX: Decorating with Culture, Objects and Soul,” the couple further dives into culturally inspired spaces. “In our book we have four sorts of tenents of AphroChic style so it’s first starting with color, bringing color into your space, and we also speak about color as a cultural representation because color can evoke a memory of a place or a trip or something you connect with,” Hays said. “Then bringing in elements of pattern, global objects and we realy encourage people to actually travel and experience something and bring back like a carving or pieces from your travels and finally art. A space is never finished without art represented. Once you bring all those elements together that’s when a space is beautifully designed and complete and really reflecting someone’s personal story.

On their frequently visited blog, Hays and Mason have also taken a step further in understanding culture and design through a new visual campaign. Stepping into the homes of people such as Reuben Reuel and Delphine Diallo, the two are not only able to view incredibly designed spaces they are also on a hunt to discover the cultural nuances that connect us all together no matter the background, occupation or location.

“They’re all black, they’re all from the diaspora and really showing these are all modern spaces and they are all bringing culture into these spaces and they are unique, layered and beautiful and just in that simple way say that we do exist and we do have amazing places that should be explored,” Hays said.

“That’s the interesting thing and where it gets to be fun because part of being black is recognizing that everything that you do, for better or for worse, is political. Recognizing what’s the political dimension of interior design and yes, we live in nice spaces and looking at how we see those connections between someone who is a Black woman from London to someone who is a Senegalese woman or a fashion designer who is African American. Finding those cultural touch points, seeing where our experience comes together as well as diverge,” Mason said.

AphroChic provides a platform to highlight culturally infused designs without the gimmick or theme feeling. Often times, Caribbean households are stigmatized to be designed as ones to have plastic-covered couches, white rooms etc. While this is true for some households, Hays and Mason breakaway from these typical norms to expose homes that bring the Caribbean in through art, lighting and color.

“I was explaining to these guys about African American design and they were also African American so they were saying ‘you’re talking about plastic on the couches or plastic runners,’” Mason said. “We’ve all been there. Everything we do has to go beyond the gimmick.”

“We try to go beyond themes, when people think about Caribbean they go ‘oh I should have a blue wall,’ and those things are great but for instance one of those homes in our book belongs to a woman named Malene Barnett. She is of Caribbean descent so her home has these beautiful wood floors stained blue so that they reflect that heritage and she took that color up to the walls. But then within the space you still have a lot of modern elements, so there’s the high ceilings and metallics mixed in,” Hays added. “AphroChic is definitely about being beyond the gimmick.”

Infuse your personal story and heritage into your home with some design advice from Hays and Mason via AphroChic.com. aphrochic.com

Reach reporter Alley Olivier at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at aoliv[email protected]nglocal.com. Follow Alley on Twitter @All3Y_B.

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