Behind The 2012 African-American Top 20 List

As we head into May, I want to start introducing you to some of the designers on the African-American Top 20 List (#AATOP20 if you're on twitter).  My goal is to give you a little insight into their lives, along with their perspective regarding our influence on interior design.  It's my hope that it will help you understand more about the industry and how you can carve out a place for yourself in it.  All the designers represented are unique and have come to be successful in the field via many different paths.  Some are Yale educated and others self-taught.  Some are in the twilight of their careers, while numerous others have only just begun.  All are established, talented, and happy to share with you their experience as an African-American Interior Designer.

The Hidden Hand
In the Book, Rules of Civility, Katey Kontent makes reference to the interior design of Tinker Grey's Manhattan apartment as having been done by a hidden hand.  A reference which acknowledges that the space was put together by someone with taste and skill in the area of interior design, but who was not known.  As I interviewed the designers on the list, I found that several have worked on in design firms that have won numerous awards, as well as on design projects that have been published in shelter publications both locally and nationally.  More interesting to note was that even though they held positions such as Senior Project Manager or Luxury Design Specialist, their names would never be associated with the project.  Hidden in plain sight - they were there,
...but you would never know it.

Images Marian Akinloye of MA Designs formally of Drake Design Associates

The Faith Walk
The decision to go it alone is always a difficult one to make.  Working for a firm, especially an established one, provides so many great opportunities for a young designer.  Once you've worked your way up and learned all that you need to learn, you can't help but to think about striking out on your own.  But that type of move takes courage.  Truth be told, some designers would rather stay cocooned in a corporate situation where the projects are assigned to them, than have to recruit their own clients.  Of course there are pros and cons to both, but many find it hard to survive outside the walls of a well-run design firm.  For this reason, we chose designers who are running their own firms for the list.  In a way, it was to say thank you and to acknowledge the bold move to go it alone.

As we compiled the 2012 selections, we found that there was room for more designers on the list.  We went back and forth about the number and in the end, decided to stick with 20.  We've agreed to add 5 new names in 2013 and are busy vetting those nominations now.  Compiling a list such as this is a lot of work, I really must say.  In 2011 when we first published the list, I was like many of you, I had only heard of about 5 of the names on the list.  One of the biggest issues was that we were taking recommendations via word of mouth and there was little else to go on.  Their web presence was practically nonexistent and many of the sites had not been updated since they were first put up in the 90s.  We had to painstakingly research all the designers and understand that they were better at interior design than graphic design.

In the end, we trusted our guts and brought to you the designers who were doing outstanding work in the field.  These authors, public speakers, television hosts, and philanthropists have passionately dedicated their lives to the art of building beautiful living spaces.  They have worked hard to perfect their craft and now stand as a beacon of light to generations of designers of color.


  1. Anonymous08 May, 2012

    Can't wait to see who made the list and be inspired by thier accomplishments and talent. Also looking forward to your presentation at ADAC on the 15th.


  2. Love the room pictured above, the colors are perfect and the fabric choices is rightous. WTG MA Designs.


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