Residential Lighting: How do you define cultural design?
Jeanine Hays: When we started blogging about cultural design, it was about embracing the personal style — how to express who you are in your home, particularly in modern spaces. Our idea of cultural style is to grab onto the authentic — pieces that tell the story of who you are. Our homes had African-American art that our parents collected over the years. Those family heirlooms are the kind of cultural pieces that speak to a personal heritage.
RL: What conveys ethnic and cultural heritage best in design?
Bryan Mason: Color, art, pattern, global accessories — any one of those can be used to begin telling a story. But to make the most direct statement, we gravitate toward art. For example, if you try to express culture in your space through color, there’s little difference, really, between the red used to evoke India and the red used to evoke China. But pieces of art have a long history culturally and politically.
RL: How can we find resources?
JH: Wildwood has developed table lamps with patterns inspired by African Kuba print, Navajo weaving and Moorish architecture. Our shop at www.aphrochic.com has a line of pillows featuring Ikat, Suzani and Kuba patterns with deep meaning and heritage. Etsy has some great artists. Go to galleries and museums of African-American art to become familiar with the artists.
RL: Are there sensitivities to note when creating ethnic looks?
JH: What kind of space are they trying to create? If someone says, “I’m of African heritage, and I’d love to bring in mud cloth and Kuba prints,” help them bring those prints in, but not in a way that’s generic. Look for a berber rug with geometric patterns that speaks to African design or lighting with ethnic prints. Maybe a couple has traveled to Morocco. You could show some pendant lighting that has a Moroccan feel. It’s about listening to the client, making sure that you’re hearing what they want to reflect about themselves.
BM: Make an effort to be knowledgeable. For the pieces you carry, understand them and be able to convey their history and their story. People love stories. We love to know where something comes from. We like to know that there’s a history behind the things we pick up. Being able to tell that story is a great selling point.
RL: Any thoughts on lighting?
JH: Lighting can be sculptural and can offer a way to express personality, a specific point of view and even a cultural heritage. Delightfull has a light collection inspired by contemporary African-American jazz, Nina Simone and John Coltrane.
BM: Remember that lighting goes back to the function of the room. In “Remix: Decorating With Culture, Objects and Soul,” we have a home of a woman who was a great lover and collector of art, so she created stage lighting specifically to light the art. To evoke a mysterious place, like Casablanca, you might need dimmers. For a tropical or beach feel, you want something brighter. So in addition to looking at the sculpture of the lamp and what it has to say from a cultural or a stylistic aesthetic standpoint, it’s helpful to look at the quality of the light and how that connects to the meaning and purpose of the room.