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Ajai’s Neutral Living Room Refresh + How Her Design Choices Parallel Her Journey Becoming A Black Interior Designer

Hey there, Ajai here. It is so good to be back as I took a bit of a break after giving birth to my sweet baby boy. Last time I chatted with you all, I was rushing to put together a thanksgiving celebration over at my mom and dad’s (because my due date was also set for Thanksgiving). Happy to say that I was able to complete that thanksgiving table-scape and then later on, welcome our son Jack into the world on November 21st. However, I still missed thanksgiving dinner with the family, as I had an emergency c-section and spent several days in the hospital, so my husband (Jonathan), Jack, and I went straight home to rest in bed. Again, I’m happy to be back and excited to pick up where we left off. Let’s talk about design.

Wall Color | Pendants | Stools

Coming into the new year, I was looking for a bit of a refresh, but one that was more on the renter-friendly side. I got to thinking about colors and how impactful they are when they are working together. They tell such a beautiful story when you get the combinations just right. My husband and I wanted our living room to have more of a contrast, so incorporating more black was the first thing on our to-do list. After getting the go-ahead from our leasing office, we painted our bar area first. We chose a PPG Interior Flat Black paint (in the color Onyx). We even added a black outlet cover to transition into the black paint. To warm up the space and give it more texture, we added two woven pendant light shades over the already existing drop pendants. This would be the place we sat down to have intimate conversations with one another and feel like we were on vacation somewhere moody and exotic. To further play on the moody and textured elements, we used two distressed velvet bar stools we had tucked away in storage, the brass legs on these contrasted well against our black color-blocked wall. But the black wall alone wasn’t enough to transform the space. 

Our living room used to be so many different shades of white. White drapes, white sofa, white ottoman, white coffee table… you get the point. While this hue inspires serenity, in my opinion, it’s best when contrasted with darker hues and colors. Ironically enough, with the wall as the only black accent, my living room began to remind me of my journey to becoming an interior designer. As with much of my childhood, I was on a constant path where representation was not available to me. I’ve been crazy about interior design since my early childhood. It began with visiting model homes with my mother and imagining that we lived there. My mom would ask me what I’d do differently with the space, and we’d sit in those beautifully designed homes, daydream, and redesign in our heads (I’d even go as far as to move small items around the model home (like pillows, throws, and accessories… all that good stuff). I’d watch interior design shows on the sofa with my mom and read interior design magazines, but never really saw anyone who looked like me on any of these platforms. 

Chandelier | Bistro Table | Dining Chair | Curtains | Curtain Rod | Sofa | Ottoman | Chunky Knit Throw | Sconces | Wall Art | Pillows | Coffee Table | Nesting Tables | Patterned Rug | Jute Rug

Though I longed to be an interior designer, my journey began as a communications major, as I did not think someone like me could attain such a career as a designer. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in Journalism, interiors still called out to me. After ignoring the urge for a couple of years, I eventually gave in to my passion and enrolled back into school to pursue my master’s in architecture and interior design. During that time, I hardly ever saw another black woman or person in my architectural and interior design college courses or the design firms I worked in (I actually hardly saw any black people in these places – men or women… I was typically the only one). In addition, this is all in stark contrast to many of my colleagues who have fathers who were architects and mothers who were interior designers, and essentially, parents who were business owners who prepared and guided them to become the designers they are today. They had clear examples of what this looked like and how to achieve it. This actually reminds me of a video named “The Race.” This video is a great representation of life and how some have privilege and some don’t, yet we all still have to run the race. I started in the back, but through hard work I’ll make sure that my sweet boy Jack can have a head start.

Credenza (thrifted and painted) | Black Table Lamp

Back to the living room. These thoughts further inspired me to continue on incorporating more black and brown into the space. We have ceiling fan braces throughout our apartment that allow us to add our own lighting, so I found the most beautiful Stella chandelier over at Mitzi and it truly is a statement piece, continuing to add diversity to the room. I also loved incorporating my Vicky lamp along with a white one I thrifted with a pleated shade, because there is real beauty in the diversity of shapes as well – and these lamp shapes are beautiful and unique in their own right. To further warm the space I sourced a woven jute rug, just big enough to accommodate our 11 foot sofa. I love the texture of our new jute rug, and it works well being placed in such a large traffic area (not that we’ll be having many visitors over at this time, but it is fun to think about a time where we’ll finally be able to have all of our friends and family over without masks).

Sticking with warming the space and incorporating more brown and natural elements to ground the room, I went back and forth about whether I wanted to swap out the white drapes with these linen curtains. This became a real dilemma for me, and eventually led me to reflect on past moments… I thought of how insecure I felt when I’d begun working with clients on a regular basis. During my first job as an assistant designer for an interior design firm in Los Angeles (and as the only black woman/person in the firm), I noticed how almost anytime I suggested a design concept or idea to the majority of clients, my reasoning was questioned, following with questions about my experience and education. I also found that if I pitched an idea first, many clients were not on board, but if my colleague pitched the same idea, it was set into motion and without question.  

I could sense clients did not believe I knew what I was doing, and no matter how much time we spent together on the project, they just weren’t able to trust in my work. I noticed a drastic difference in how my colleagues were approached by these same clients and accepted immediately regardless of experience, knowledge, or their educational background. I would mention what I was experiencing to my colleagues, and was always told it was just in my head. This experience continued as I went on to work at the next two design firms, and eventually became the reason I decided to launch my own design studio. I wanted to be able to vet clients thoroughly, and only take on those that trusted me based on my work ethics and artistry – not physical appearance. Jordan Peele said it best, “part of being black in this country, or being a minority in this country, is about feeling like we’re perceiving things that we’re told we’re not perceiving. It’s a piece of the condition of being African American, certainly, that people may not know. They may not realize the toll that it does take – even if the toll is making us doubt ourselves.” To this day, I still have moments where I suffer from imposter syndrome. All that to say, I decided on the linens curtains. I also swapped out the brass curtain rod and rings and opted for a black rod. This led me to painting the plugin brass sconces matte black to make an even bolder statement in the space. These black accents go with everything, and add a sophistication and elegance to the room. 

While designing our living room, I kept envisioning how we’d be using the space in the new year. I knew we’d be spending time with our little one cozied up on our sofa. I imagined us toasting to our little guy’s milestones at the bar, and having intimate and quiet dinners at our bistro table (and chairs:)). I also envisioned how I’d be sharing the new updates with my Instagram audience. One thought led to another, and this thought led to the “influencing” aspect of Instagram and how minorities in the interior design industry are not valued the same as our white peers. A personal experience of mine sums this all up: I made a stop-motion video where I had all of my furniture move into the frame along with all of my throw pillows and throw blankets, then received compliments from a major brand. Only for this same brand to ask me for my video with no intent to pay me. This brand posted my video to their account, and then later paid a white home account to make the same exact video for them (a carbon copy of the one I’d created), in addition to gifting her items (valued at several thousands of dollars). All while never crediting me or mentioning where their inspiration derived from. They shouted her out on their page and in several newsletters – using my video and design concepts. 

Luckily there are some brands willing to fairly compensate regardless of a person’s appearance. I’m happy to work with brands like Juniper Print Shop, where I got my lovely 31 x 47 meditation print from (the one hanging over the back of our sofa). Mitzi is also a brand I love working with – they reached out when my following on Instagram was not large, and this is my second time working with them – it’s always such a pleasure. But back to the living room.

The living room is finally starting to come to life the way I envisioned it. There’s still a calming sense of tranquility provided by the white pieces and now with the additions of black and brown all tied in together via my layered Loloi II Layla Collection Area Rug, there’s a real pop (which I love). The black and brown pieces have joined in beautifully with the white pieces. My living room was starting to remind me of our neighborhood in Georgia. My husband and I were the only people of color that lived in our neighborhood. In fact, when we purchased our home in Atlanta in the North Druid Hills area, on several occasions were asked by our visitors (contractors, Amazon delivery agents, uber drivers, etc.) “I didn’t expect to see you all answer the door, they let you all move into this neighborhood?” What they were referring to was the long history of segregation and redlining (that still impacts people today) that would make it impossible to get a house in sought out neighborhoods if you were a minority (neighborhoods like the one we’d moved into). At first, we were put off by this question, but after being asked several times we learned to just smile and say “yes.” This experience was enlightening and further explained why it was so difficult for us to get this home, even with good credit, a sizable down payment, and steady incomes. 

The sellers were on board the entire way through (because the house sat vacant, as the sellers lived out of state) but after finding out from one of the neighbors that we were “colored,” buying from them became much more of a hassle. Nonetheless, we prevailed last year and purchased our first home. 

This year is such a unique one because it is my first time designing as a new mom, in the midst of a persistent world pandemic, and a time of heightened awareness about social injustices. As I spend a great deal of time at home, I’ve been provided a chance for reflection and understanding. I began this year as I always do; choosing a word for the year to define my actions and intentions. Last year’s word for me was “transformation” and boy did it come to fruition. My husband and I purchased that home in Georgia, redesigned and sold it, then moved back to Los Angeles (to be closer to family), became renters again, and first-time parents. This year the word I chose was “authenticity,” and in an effort to be more authentic, I decided to share a bit more about me and my journey. Though I was very reluctant to share these thoughts and experiences, I wanted to keep my promise to myself – I also wanted to shed light on how it can be to navigate as a minority in this field of work. I’m not blaming anyone for their privilege, it’s not their fault. It’s just moments like some of the difficult ones I shared that make me question my career choice and have me beating myself up over my passion and following my dream. 

In the end, this article is being posted to share pieces of a story of a black woman in the interior design industry and to shed light on the inequalities that still take place this very day. And yes, my living room inspired all of these thoughts. That said, I love the new black and brown additions to my all-white living room, and they all needed the other to create the perfect living space. My home decor friend (Aminah) said it best, “Black, white, and brown… are these colors great on their own? Yes, but honestly they’re much more impactful when combined. The sooner we learn to work together and stop segregating, is the sooner we can build a better nation for EVERYONE,” and build a better living room. 

**Design and Photos by Ajai Guyot


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117 thoughts on “Ajai’s Neutral Living Room Refresh + How Her Design Choices Parallel Her Journey Becoming A Black Interior Designer

    1. Yes, thank you for sharing your experience as a black designer. The more people learn about experiences like yours, the more people can evaluate and be aware of their/our own hidden biases.

      Congratulations on your cute baby. Beautiful family, beautiful place!

  1. This story is so important. The room also looks beautiful. And I mean it as a high compliment when I say I think they are worthy of separate posts (at least!). I felt like the importance of the experience as a black designer was being minimized somehow by being tucked into a living room design. More Ajay, please!! And by the way I want the name of the firm who appropriated your video concept!

    1. I personally disagree about separating the posts because, like it or not, there are plenty of white readers who would never click on a post that was *only* about experiences of systemic racism, you know? Sometimes the only way to get white people to listen is to weave racism into the kind of content that they (we, I’m white) can usually read without having to engage in uncomfortable but important topics. I say this as someone who has had to do a lot of unlearning about all this stuff, you know? I think it’s an effective strategy in addition to being authentic to how the design actually came to her, which Ajai identified as an important theme for her!

      1. I dunno about that. Have you seen the anti-racism posts over on Cup of Jo?! That audience is mostly white-ish and they read it and learn from it and ask for more!

        1. I get what you’re saying, but I guarantee you there are some people skip the antiracism posts there and only click on her things like pretty houses or fashion or dating or book recs or whatever. And maybe this is a way to reach and influence them, when the specifically antiracist content is something they’d be more likely to skip. 🤷🏼‍♀️ Like “do both” sure fine but def *not* “keep the antiracism out of the design posts” ya know?

        2. That’s so great that people are asking for more of those articles (On COJ) however the people who most need to read about these experiences and these articles are the ones not clicking on them when they are titled that. I think Caity put it so well.

      2. It is NOT Ajai’s job to educate any of us on racism, let alone in separate “educational/anti-racist” specific posts. That Ajai shared some of her personal experiences very thoughtfully in a design post is both generous and also allows us to get to know her better. Thank you, Ajai. Keep doing you!

        1. Yes, but I do believe that when BIPOC people generously share their experiences with us, it does help us put a human face on the suffering racism causes. I think sometimes racism becomes too nebulous or abstract for people, and it really helps to know about specific examples of what people face. I don’t believe it is enough to just command people to change or tell people they are immoral, or racism is wrong and we need to hurry up and get rid of it. Sadly, this is just not the way humans are. Showing love the way Ajai did in her post and gently revealing the discrimination she has faced is going to be so much more effective, and in the end, isn’t an effective strategy to creating equality the most important thing?

        2. Hear! Hear! Beautiful heart felt post and great design content. Ajai, my heart breaks to know of some of these things that came to you and other people of color. I am white, (and hopefully one of these days we won’t have to designate ourselves, white, purple or pink!) and one of my dearest friends is a black women I met 10 years ago in an YWCA pool Aerobics class. She was stand out in everyway but had a back injury that kept her out of the regular work force. She was going to school for data entry, hoping she could work at home. When I mentioned I was a designer we had lots to talk about. Eventually I was invited to her home and this
          “no-nothing about design” lady blew my socks off. So much talent in her little finger! One of the crowning achievement in my life was encouraging her to go to design school. Which she did and now has a thriving business using her many talents!
          Because of some of the very things you have spoken of she is shy of actually hanging her shingle in that arena but she loves hands on upholstery and she does take on many kinds of design jobs, all from word of mouth that has led her to doing things that she loves and earning her living in the Design field. Her own house is a work of art! She has so many unique and gorgeous ideas that i have never seen implemented in any other venue.
          My point is that over the time that I have known her I have heard many stories similar to yours which shock me and have enlightened me. I am so happy to follow you and see how you embrace your Design life with your lovely family. Thanks for your courage!

      3. Virginia,
        Gigi, black woman here, I was introduced to you over on another post. I believe it was the one about the EHD mentee. I just want to say that your willingness to learn is inspiring. I came here to post exactly the thought you posted above. Although I may not always agree with you, we can reason together openly because you face bias head on. I’m going to try to do the same.

        1. Aww thanks Gigi! It’s taken a long time for me to feel educated/prepared/confident enough to be able to speak out and push back to try to effect change, so I really appreciate being seen for it. ❤️ And yeah it definitely was Key’s post just the other day!

      1. Yes, let us know, maybe we can all collectively sign a petition or write an avalanche of letters demanding they change their awful behavior and DO BETTER and properly compensate you!!

  2. Beautiful and very well put. I really enjoyed your writing and the topic. Your experiences are who you are and hearing your experiences is powerful. Thank you for your beautiful writing and for sharing your voice.

  3. Congratulations! Beautiful family. Hope you are still taking lots of time to yourselves after your short leave.

  4. This is a lovely room and you are a beautiful family; congratulations on the birth of your precious child.

    1. Hi Ajai, Sometimes someone will write in such a way that it really lands and the clarity and truth is medicinal. I felt “walked thru” the process to some degree, and experienced a felt sense from the inside out, of the weighted load and impact of racism on your inner process and expression. I see how much energy and endurance it has taken to navigate this in your chosen field of work and in your life. I appreciate your courage and strength and am so glad that you are here designing. I also felt the significance that creating and design have on life and living. Every design choice holds so much-it is not superficial work!! Your space is so peaceful and gorgeous. I thank you for your willingness to share with us. Best of luck with your lovely little one.

  5. Love this room, and I also love the thought process behind it.
    Congratulations on your new family as well.

  6. Oh Ajai!! Thank you for sharing. I’m glad you are here talking about this.
    AND also letting us tour your gorgeous living room! It is beautiful and I couldn’t agree more with the ending quote!

    Congrats to you and Jonathan on the birth of Jack! That photo of the three of you is so precious. I know it wasn’t the point of the post but when I read about your birth I just wanted to cry – I had a rough birth with my first that ended in a c-section and hospital stay and it was really traumatizing for me. I felt like I was expected to get over it all quickly but the healing (physical and emotional) has been a long journey for me. I don’t know what it’s been like for you, but just in case you’re having a hard time with it like I was, I just want to let you know you’re not alone and this fellow mama is sending you lots of love!

    1. Hope you’re doing better, Vera! Took me a long time to deal with my own birth experience. Important to know you’re not alone!

  7. LOVE what you have created in your space!!! Thank you for this very insightful, eye opening post. Question – what frame did you use for your meditation print? Thanks for the great pillow source too! Congrats to you both on the precious little.

  8. I so appreciate your authenticity and candor, and I can relate to your interweaving of your “Black designer” journey with your choices to incorporate more color. Looking forward to more projects!

  9. Thank you for sharing, Ajai, and I’m sorry you and so many people have to deal with this exhausting and sometimes dangerous prejudice. I don’t deal with what you do outside of work, but I’m a technical woman in the male dominated tech field, and until recently most people I interacted with assumed I was in marketing or HR. I am definitely second guessed far more than more junior male colleagues, and until recently paid less too. I’ve been so happy to see radical attitude changes among people under 35. I’m sure gender bias is changing faster than racial bias, but here’s to evolution on this front – it can’t come fast enough!

    1. I agree! The younger up-coming generations really have a handle on this and better attitudes will prevail!

      I worked in male dominated industries and was often the youngest jn my oosition too. Both the construction industry and occupational safety and health fields are minefields for women.
      Unfortunately, I admit to resorting to batting my eyelashes on occasion, in order to simply get the job done! I think of it, in hindsight, as industrial prostitution. 🙄

    2. I’m also in tech, and working pt for a nonprofit that helps folks with marginalized genders survive/thrive in the software industry…

      It definitely feels like all the flavors of being marginalized have in common this not-being-taken-seriously. Then there’s this continuum where microaggressions “just” wear you down, and then it gets more explicit and/or violent from there.

      Thank you Ajai for sharing your story!! It can be really hard to relive it and then have the possibility that readers will also not take you seriously, so know that I see your bravery and vulnerability and appreciate you.

      AND your designs are fantastic. If I knew a way to take away people’s impostor syndrome I would… But like I say to folks who volunteer with this nonprofit: just remember, it’s not you – it’s them


  10. Thanks for sharing Ajai. I got chills while reading…which I do here and there when it’s deep, courageous and love centered (because real Truth is always centered in love) Truth being spoken.

  11. Ajai, thank you for your brave and authentic post. You are a beautiful human and a very talented designer. You belong here, and EHD is better for your presence.

  12. I absolutely love how you wove your experiences of racism in the industry (and beyond) into this post about your gorgeous evolving living room. So perfectly done.

    I have two design questions!

    1) WHERE did you get that amazing hook-rack-thing by your entry door? Is it DIY? Vintage? I’d love to see a closer up. We need a massive amount of storage and I’ve never seen that many hooks executed in a way that looks that good yet could be filled the fuck up if needed, haha.

    2) What are you thinking about all the light colours as your baby grows (and idk your plans but potentially your family grows)? Are you future-proofing any of your fabrics or your big decisions, or just seeing how it comes? I have two kids, 3.5 and 16m, and I am really taken by the look of light layered neutrals with pops of darker neutrals, just as you’ve executed here, but I worry about the light stuff and the little ones. You seem like you’ve probably given this some thought. 🙂

    1. Thank you for asking about the hook rack in the entry. I’m curious about it, too. It’s like an oversized spool holder and seems awesome the way it’s being used!

    2. Regarding 2), that couch is SO DREAMY. It looks like maybe it has slipcovers? I wonder if I could pull off having something like that with my baby and preschooler…. we keep food away from the upholstery but despite my best efforts the 4-year old is often covered in marker or hummus or something.

      Ajai, this was such a great read, thank you!

  13. This was a wonderful post. Your living room is perfection and the experiences you shared were poignant and, I hope, motivating to readers, like me, who could be doing much more to address the inequities you highlight.

  14. WOW! Stunning room and courageous storytelling! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and space with us, Ajai. And congrats to your beautiful family!

  15. I absolutely love the design. You are very talented, and I am totally now getting brown pillows for my living room. The mix, design, and styling are all spot on. Good, good stuff.
    Congratulations on welcoming your son! Hope you are enjoying all of the baby snuggles, and hope you are recovering well from your surgery. Hope you are also leaning heavily on those who can help you. I always tell people that no man has ever had major surgery where one of his organs was cut open and a tumor removed, and then he was handed a newborn about an hour later to care for. It’s major surgery (!) and takes a while to recover.
    My heart hurts that you have faced so much racism. (OOOooo, and I’m so angry about the brand that stole from you) Thank you for sharing so openly, and it is a good reminder we all need to keep working to make sure all of our children don’t face the same.

  16. Oooh, Ajai and Jonathan, congratulations on welcoing your pure joy, Jack!!

    I’m so sorry you experienced what you did around the way you look, not valuing your expertise, not respecting nor recompensing your ideas and work. Trying to buy a home?! All of it is not okay! 😒

    You wrote “…feeling like we’re perceiving things that we’re told we’re not perceiving.” This is called gaslighting and is attributed to abusive behaviour.
    This. Is. Not. Okay. Either!

    Onto your designing… I love all the natural fibres and texture you’ve incorporated!
    The space ‘feels’ peaceful and calm (does a tiny human live there?!).
    White’s really not my thing, but I could pretend that never spill anything, don’t make messes and that I don’t have a scruffy dawg (I do) and daydream about the sofa staying white. Dream only for me, never gonna happen in my real life!
    It looks like a comfy, puffy cloud to sink into and rest.
    You must have far superior cleanliness habits than me to have a baby and still have a white sofa! Kudos, Ajai! 😊

    May the world catch up soon and realise that talent and skill have zero to do with the colour of someone’s skin. xx

    PS: Arlyn would likely be shocked by your cushion “chopping”! Ha!!🤣

  17. You have created such a warm, cozy home. What a peaceful place to ride out the pandemic snuggled up with a tiny baby! I’m so sorry for the way you were treated by the business who stole your concepts (and by others). Rude!! You clearly have talent and a great eye for design and should be fairly treated and compensated for your efforts. Keep going! Keep designing! You are good at it!

  18. I have to say that out of the many thoughts and articles and news stories I’ve read on systemic racism, your story spoke more to me than any of the others. Thank you for being brave enough to share it and help me to better understand.

    Your apartment looks beautiful – warm and inviting, and that couch looks perfect for newborn snuggles. Enjoy every second!

  19. Thank you for sharing – so very authentic and real. This is both a beautiful room and thought process. Congratulations on your precious boy! EH is lucky to have you.

  20. Thank you Ajai for this meaty, thoughtful, and inspiring post. I appreciate you sharing your experiences and the courage it took to do so. The artful weaving of your experience in the industry and the evolution of your space is really brilliant. Congratulations on the birth of your son – I hope to see more of your work and hear more of your voice on the blog!

  21. Thanks for sharing your experiences and your beautiful home, Ajai. Your space is lovely and looks like such a warm and comfy place to cuddle up with a newborn. Congrats on the birth of Jack as well! My firstborn is also named Jack. He’s now a sweet (and tall) 10 year old!

  22. Congratulations on your sweet baby boy Ajai. And thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us. The last quote from your friend Aminah is very poignant…there is still so much work to be done. You clearly have talent and have created beautiful spaces!

  23. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Ajai! I’m happy to have your voice as part of the EH group and looking forward to continuing to learn from you!

  24. Ajai, this is a beautiful room and beautiful post. You are an amazing writer and designer and I am wowed that you wrote this deeply thoughtful, painful, and educational post just a couple of months post-partum! Your living room is beautiful and serene and I hope you have many, many happy moments there with your sweet family.

  25. This is a gorgeous space – kudos. What you are doing is very brave. Much braver than most of us will attempt to do ever. Please know that you have my admiration. Keep going.

  26. I’m so impressed with your apartment. My family and I lived in a rental apartment last year that had a similar layout and I could have definitely taken some tips from you. It looks like such a cozy, stylish and chic home!

  27. This needs to be read by everyone! Thank you for sharing your experience. I would imagine most people who treated you this way claim they aren’t racist at all, but these subtle, often unconscious acts are just as detrimental as open hostility. I’m so sorry this is your experience and the experience of so many others. I am committed to trying to recognize these unconscious thoughts/actions in myself and correct them.

  28. This is gorgeous! I wasn’t sure how you were going to turn that plain box apartment but you definitely showed what talent can do. Thank you for telling your story. It is important your experience is shared, and not brushed off as a rare event when it is all too infuriatingly common. Congratulations on your little person!! What a great space to spend those coming sleepless nights!

  29. WOW I am in awe of this beautiful piece of writing. Who knew that interior design could be such a potent and powerful metaphor for the power of unity and the beauty of the human race as ONE HUMAN FAMILY! I have literally never thought of that before but contrast in color, in materials, in style or time period create the very best designs IMHO, and wow, if we can get behind that concept in our homes why can’t we see how much beauty and benefit is awaiting us if we fully embrace the diversity of our fellow human family?? I just LOVE how you describe your new choices as bringing “diversity” into your living space. So lovely! Theses concepts of the beauty in diversity, unity in diversity, and the oneness of humanity are central teachings in my religion, the Baha’i Faith. There is a beautiful children’s book I have (and frequently read to my two white children), which is about how God created the garden of humanity to have many different colors, shapes, and sizes. Just as the gardener knows a beautiful garden contains many different plants (because a garden with all the same colors and plants would be boring), God loves and is pleased by our many colors. The book shows people of all different races, and the book tells us to “think like the gardener, when we see people different from ourselves, let us fill out hearts with love, and see all as part of the beautiful garden of humanity.” I would love to send you a copy of this book for your baby! My kids love it! It is appropriate for followers of all religions and spiritualities (it has no Baha’i dogma, unless you consider the concept of love and unity religious dogma lol).

    This post is long, but I just have so much to say about this! Regarding redlining, I am so glad you were able to persist in buying your home, and I actually think it could be valuable for us if you were to write a post about this issue and how buying a home and renovating may have changed things for your family financially, as we know that generations of Black families have been locked out of the wealth building that comes from owning real estate. Also, I am so sorry that you experienced this discrimination in your field. As a woman, (but white/Jewish), I frequently have found myself having to prove myself not only to male colleagues but male students or employees who think they “know better than me.” In the past, I used to question myself and my judgement or decisions but having experienced some success in my field (theatre and grant writing), I feel more confident shutting that type of behavior down. A really interesting book to read that delves into these power dynamics is the book “The Power.”

    I find this also happens with contractors. I have to to carefully watch them and repeat myself so they don’t do things I don’t want because “they think it is better and they know better.”

    So many congratulations on your new baby and becoming a new mom!! And here’s to moving forward, bit by bit, day by day, to dismantling racist stereotypes and thinking in our country.

  30. Your home and sweet boy are both beautiful, Ajai — and thank you for sharing your story with us. Such a painful example of the far-reaching effects of systemic racism, and how the work of justice begins at home.

  31. I was reading hoping that you’d post a picture of your newest family member. Congrats! Beautiful family! Love the changes.

  32. Your story and design updates are both beautiful! I love that Mitzi light fixture. The hits of black and brown are such a nice contrast. The linen curtains and layered rugs add such nice texture. Congratulations on your child and welcome to parenthood!

  33. We live in Atlanta and boy does your experience here ring true. Congratulations on little Jack; thank you for the awesome walk-through of your design; and please post more!!!!

  34. Your post is making me cry- because I know what you’re saying is true! And I hate that it is true. I agree with your friend that black, white and brown together are beautiful. You are a talented designer. I love the changes to your living room: even though it was beautiful, it now has a richness and depth that make it even more so. I went to design school (twice) and there were very few black people there. Why should that be? I’m so sorry that you experienced- let’s call it what it is- discrimination and bias- in working for firms with white clients. This is what we are trying to do away with. Talking about it is hard, I’m sure, but it brings it to light so we can acknowledge it and work on resolving it. It makes me mad to hear anyone say “it’s a long road to equality.” No- it shouldn’t be any road to equality at all. All people are equal already.

    You will do very well as a designer (you already have)! Don’t quit!

    Your son is beautiful and he has beautiful parents.

  35. Beautiful design, and powerful post. Re: plagiarism – that brand should be called out. It’s hard to feel like you can speak up when you don’t have power, but maybe that other instagrammer could have chosen to be an ally instead of participating in the theft of your work.

  36. Thank you for sharing so much of your life with us. I appreciate the vulnerability and authenticity it takes to share your experiences. Your design aesthetic adds so much tranquility, peace’s, and thoughtfulness. I love the added textures and warmth, it looks amazing!

  37. Beautiful space! I can relate to your story as a woman, because sexism has a lot of the same issues – questioning my decisions, pitching ideas that were ignored until a male colleague pitched the same idea. I really give props to black women in America because damn, it must get so old.

  38. What a beautiful space and thought-provoking post. Thank you for creating opportunities for us to learn and grow and to be inspired.

  39. Thank you for telling your story. It is so important to have people of color in all walks of life, so children realize the possibilities.

  40. I just want to say thank you for finding the courage and energy within yourself to write this insightful, heartbreaking, and thought provoking post. I hope it fills you up to live into your intention of authenticity and I also want you to know that you are TRULY giving back something wonderful and needed by sharing your experiences. As a white person, I am reading and listening to everything I can find to expand my understanding of systemic racism. The way you wove in your personal experiences was so moving. You no doubt only gave us the tip of the iceberg of the discrimination you have experienced, and yet I really walk away from this with a much better understanding of the weight of having to constantly deal with it. I know it puts more work on the people of color to have to share these painful stories so that I can be better educated and so I want you to know that I genuinely appreciate your willingness to do so.

    Also, your home is so beautiful and congrats on baby Jack!

  41. Thank you for your authenticity. I absolutely agree that black, brown, white are beautiful all on their own but together anything is possible.

  42. Other people already expressed all the feelings I got reading your article – except for one: the excitement I felt when I read this about your bar area: “This would be the place we sat down to have intimate conversations with one another and feel like we were on vacation somewhere moody and exotic.”

    Setting up a place in your own home where you can feel like you’re experiencing exactly the type of vacation you enjoy — brilliant! This is the most useful design idea yet that I’ve discovered by reading Emily’s blog. I can’t wait to play around with it for my house. Thank you!

    And I hope that by fall(is that when babies can sit in high chairs? — its been 32 years; I can’t remember), Jack and more family members will be joining you and Jonathan at your lovely vacation spot.

  43. Hi Ajai, as a person of color (not in the design field!), I appreciated hearing your story. I know how much it takes to share stuff like this and have it be judged publicly. And the more people are open to talking about it, the more I feel like I can share my experiences as well, so thank you. I had never heard that Jordan Peele quote either, but it perfectly describes my experience as a Latina in America. Although I’m in a completely different field, I have also questioned whether I belong or whether I should pursue my passion, so this really resonated. Your voice is such a breath of fresh air! I want to hear more from you, especially the stories about your family. I recall thinking that I wanted to do something similar as you did for your parents in that Thanksgiving post. Please … more posts!!

  44. Congratulations, that looks like the best couch for nesting with a new baby! Thank you for sharing the whole design process. Adding in the contrast and getting rid of the brass makes the whole room feel fresh and current, not a rehash of what someone else has done, and shows why representation matters. Would you mind adding a link to the most beautiful kettle I have ever seen!

  45. beautiful spaces and beautiful post. hoping for nothing but the best for you and your growing family.

  46. This is one of the most impactful and important posts I’ve ever read here.

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  47. Ajai, thank you so much for this post. It moved me, inspired me, and made me feel so grateful for your bravery, incredible talent and eye for design (this is exactly what I needed to take my all-neutral-off-white living room to the next level), compelling writing, and most of all authenticity. Huge congratulations on bringing Jack into the world- he is ADORABLE, you look gorgeous, and I have a feeling you’ll be able to show him this post one day and know that he will be SO proud and feel so lucky to have you as his mom and a person in this world. Thank you!! xx

  48. Beautiful living room, and beautifully written post. Thank you for sharing that all with us, and congratulations on your little boy!

  49. Your family is beautiful, and so is your living room! I feel privileged to read your story, even the painful parts. The video being coopted and re-shot by a white influencer is particularly egregious but all of it sounds so hard. I (white) am working on learning more about all the layers of systemic racism and sadly nothing you wrote was shocking but it’s all so wrong. Working together and stopping segregating sounds great to me. I look forward to seeing more of your work!

  50. You are so talented. Beautiful work and beautiful words…especially the last 3 sentences. Chills. I hate what you’ve been through…thank you for sharing your experience so we can all learn.

    btw- saw a repost of your amazing stop motion video on the Arhaus gram….. ????

  51. Such a pretty space! And I always like when product links are provided.

    I really enjoyed how your “stories” were intertwined. And it wasn’t “accusatory” in tone but more reflective and, I think, more impactful.

    As a white person, stories like yours make me pause and see the world through someone else’s eyes.

    But again… enjoyed the design. 😊

  52. Loved this post! The space is so beautiful, and I loved reading your story Ajai! Thank you for sharing!

  53. I’ve had people suggest that I should enter the interior design field, but as a Black woman I have avoided it for the very reasons you expressed. Congrats on your courage to overcome the obstacles and expose the very real institutionalized racism; being suspicious, dismissive or distrustful of minorities’ abilities discourages talented Black designers.

  54. Great writing. Great design. Great growing family. Authentic for sure. Keep em coming, Ajai!

  55. Beautifully written and designed. Thank you for gracing us with your home and your story…

    Thank you, too, for highlighting designers and brands who are ethical (i.e., NOT whatever horror show of a company stole your ideas and paid someone else to bring them forward) and truly diverse… it helps so much to broaden our universe of what is out there, what is possible, what we can all thrive in supporting…

    Every blessing to your beautiful family!

  56. Your brave story is a part of our long overdue process to “start working together, stop segregating and building a better nation”. Thank you for sharing your journey and experiences. Congratulations on your beautiful baby boy and on your refreshed living spaces. Looks lovely and like a wonderful home for your family.

  57. Your son – how adorable. Your living room is pretty awesome too. Congratulations on the birth of your son.

  58. Congratulations on becoming a mum!!! You guys make such a cute family : ) First off let me say that I love your work! Your living space is so warm and inviting. Switching gears – Thank you for opening up – that can’t be easy. I am both shocked and horrified at what you experienced in both the design field and in buying a home. I can’t even image it – it’s hearing these stories that hopefully will make people think twice about why we respond the way we do. Thank you.

  59. Ajai – I LOVE your design style! And I was MOVED by your story. Thank you so much for being vulnerable enough to share. I promise, as an older white woman, I will be thinking about your story for the rest of my life. I have been examining my “privilege” for many years. But you gave me some language and insights into your personal experience that will allow me to speak to myself and others with more clarity.

    And I swooned over your sofa!I can just imagine you cuddling up with your husband and baby in the arms of that beauty!

  60. Love your designs. But I must tell you I want to punch out the company who stole your work. Thank you for sharing. It’s been a year of learning for me. I spent 6 months of Fridays holding up Black Lives Matter signs with a group of friends ages 70 to 100. I have so much more to learn.

  61. Congratulations on your beautiful baby boy! And I absolutely LOVE this room – I actually scrolled through the images first and just wanted to cozy up in there with all the layers and textures – clicked on the rug source too because I am very into that whole rug situation. Then I actually read the words and teared up. You are clearly in an industry where you belong. The fact that people doubt you based on your appearance is disgusting and yet totally, depressingly, un-surprising, given this country’s long history of racism and general horribleness. The fact that people doubt you’re doubted is just full-on gaslighting. I always find design blogs to be the kindest space on the internet (low bar, but still), maybe due to largely female readership, maybe due to shared hobby/interest, so I hope here, at least, other people (even if they’re us white ladies who, frankly, keep disappointing me) will be willing to listen, and more than anything – appreciate the amazing work! Looking forward to your next post …

  62. Your baby is beautiful, your room is outstanding and you have gone above and beyond to share your story. Thank you for everything.

  63. Well written, and we need your voice. And it gets tiresome as a minority to be the one burdened with making it easier for the majority to understand. So I appreciate that you are willing to give some of your energy to this, when really, your energy should all be able to just be put into the work

  64. Ajai, this was such a powerful read and I’m so grateful to you for sharing it here. I can relate in so many ways and have felt so many of the ways you have felt along your journey. I’m so happy you were. Rave and pushed yourself through, challenging yourself and the system and forcing yourself to be seen and heard. We need more representation in this field and so many others and I’m thankful to Emily all the time for helping and sharing her platform for us to shine, be a part of and build such a talented support system.

    Also, love, love, LOVE your living room and congratulations on baby Jack!

  65. Thank you so much. I love the refresh and can’t wait to switch out my curtain rod accordingly. You’re also a gift writer – thank you again.

  66. Thank You soo much for sharing your story. Your work is amazing. You are doing a great job. And Many Many congratulations on your baby.
    Have a Nice Day!

  67. Ajai, firstly, massive congratulations! He is just too precious <3

    Thanks so much for sharing your stories. I'm black myself and the experiences you described are all too familiar. Made for difficult reading at times, because I just get so sick of the constantly being treated inferiorly and then gaslit. Considering how much has been written about gaslighting in the past couple of years and its impact, it's a wonder to me that white people are yet to realise that gaslighting is pretty much a constant feature of black people's lives that they have to deal with on the daily. Anyway… /rant

    On a separate, from the moment I laid eyes on your bedroom the first time around I knew I needed to replicate that style and feel in mine! It's been a while in the making, but the new bed and mattress arrived just this morning and I'm excited to make it all happen 😀

  68. Ajai, Thank you for sharing so deeply. It is important for us all to hear these stories. I am so sorry for what happened to you! I’m so sorry we live in a world where people still act like that. May we bring the change.

    Congratulations on your sweet baby boy.

  69. Thank you for sharing so vulnerably. It’s sad to hear AND an important story to be shared so thank you. This part hit me hard. “part of being black in this country, or being a minority in this country, is about feeling like we’re perceiving things that we’re told we’re not perceiving. It’s a piece of the condition of being African American, certainly, that people may not know. They may not realize the toll that it does take – even if the toll is making us doubt ourselves.” tears. I hear you. I’m an Indian American and in the architecture field (and hate how CRAZY FEW black people are in my field). It really hurts when you just know that you or your loved one are being mistreated because of skin tone but no one will believe you.. usually we just move on but I just know it and this reminds me not to doubt myself and stand the eff up. Thank you for going after your dream and representing.

  70. First, kudos for persisting to be what you want to be–and succeeding! It is obvious that you are very talented, and I wish you well. LOVE the black bar! But I confess that I clicked on this piece because the title seemed off. This is solely a grammar issue, so please forgive my nit-picking the editing. Did you want to say that you always wanted to be a black interior designer? If so, then peace. But perhaps the title could have read something like “How a Black Interior Designer’s Journey Parallels her Design Choices.” Maybe that is more correct. And maybe I am way over the edge and should quit parsing the language. But many of us are trying to get it right–not just the language, but the conversation, the culture, the opportunity–everything, and sometimes we need someone to tell us.

    Btw…I’d love to know who the company was who took your idea and ran. I believe in second chances, but they need to know how wrong they were. Sometimes customers are the best people to let them know.

  71. Ajai, I love how you transitioned your apartment with the black and gray accents. It’s so lovely. You’re the kind of designer that can with just a few tweaks create a room that your clients will be so happy to live in. Never doubt your abilities, they will only improve and refine over time.

    I love lamps/lighting of all kinds. Your choices were very fresh and personal. (One tip on lamp shades is that the part that holds the on/off switch is never to be visible. The lamp shade needs to come down to cover that part by using a shorter harp or a longer lampshade. Experiment a bit and you’ll notice the improvement.)

    Can’t wait to see more of your rooms!

  72. Thank you for writing this post and sharing your experience Ajai. Being open and honest about who we are, and what makes us different is incredibly hard. You are so brave and thoughtful. By writing a story about designing your living room, you’ve conveyed a much bigger and more important message. On the topic of being yourself and sharing your story … I think that’s what will set you apart and make clients want to hire you. Bravo. Best of luck. I’m following you on insta now because I can’t wait to see more of your gorgeous work.

  73. Thank you, Ajai! Wonderful post that opened my eyes quite a bit. We have a long way to go, but thank you for sharing your story.

  74. Wow! Love everything in this room. I’m about one hot minute from scrapping every I have to match your style. Love, love, love!!!!!! And, congratulations on your beautiful family!

  75. Thanks for sharing your story Ajai and congrats on your new child! Also a soon to be first time mother so would love to see more tips around designing with a new life in mind.
    Loving the browns and whites in combination with the black, striking yet so soothing

  76. This is a very well written and powerful piece. I’m so glad I came across it! Thank you for sharing.

  77. I love your rooms. I will say the headline annoys me . She didn’t become a black designer. She’s a black woman who became a designer.
    Also, I 100 percent believe you that you’ve suffered racism. But don’t think only black people feel imposter syndrome or have their suggestions questioned in meetings. White women do too (and probably some white men).
    It must be terrible hard figuring out when people ‘doubt’ you because of race or when they are just jerks or misogynists.
    Keep up the good work!

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