There is a beauty to conversation. To sitting down and talking through the issues that concern us and which shape our daily lives. And though we don’t think of them as physical things, conversations need space in which to happen. A place that nurtures openness in dialogue and encourages intellectual discussion. At the 2017 BKLYN DESIGNS trade show in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, AphroChic worked to offer such a space with a very specific conversation in mind. The DESIGN AGAINST HATE LOUNGE was an exercise bridging the gap between art, social justice and interior design. Named for the initiative that we began at the outset of this year, the lounge was intended to be a space that inspired conversations about how the creative energies that produce both art and design can be transformative elements against hate within today’s society. Mostly we wanted to know if, once we had provided the space, the conversation would come, and would people really have something to say?
The answer, we are happy to say, was yes. Our experiment was a successful one, as a layered an energetic environment was formed to host discussions on designing a better world through architecture, interior design and product design that focuses on the betterment of society at large. Bringing together thought leaders in the design world like Genevieve Gorder and Gbenga Akinnagbe, the space was one for reflection and open-minded discussion. And the elements within the lounge all supported that.
Every piece in the space was a conscious decision. A mix of color, pattern, art and global objects – all elements of the AphroChic aesthetic – made it a place of warmth and welcome. Layers were immediately part of the installation. The first being the walls, that were painted in Hunterfly, a shade from our Brooklyn In Color paint collection. We named the color in honor of the Hunterfly Road Houses, home to a free African American community in Brooklyn in the years prior to the Civil War. The shade seemed fitting for the event, and created a perfect backdrop for the color story that we were aiming to tell. Atop the color, a gallery wall featuring cultural pieces added pattern to the mix. Baskets by Rwandan artisans were mixed in with abstract paintings by Mexican American artist, Rodrigo Valles.
Furnishings with unique lines and tufting brought texture and interest to the environment. The red Chester Claret Red Sofa from Article was the star of the space. An exciting statement piece that also offered texture in its material. Topped with a Silhouette Petite pillow and Haze Lumbar, the scene was one of ultimate comfort. In conversation with the clean mid-century lines of the sofa, Zara Gold chairs from Wayfair added a sense of polish to the space with a gold finish. For contrast, a curved Elliptical Coffee Table and side table by Brooklyn-based brand, Ot/tra became a unique element. On top of the table, work by another Brooklyn-based design firm, Emogayu, added a delicate touch with a handcrafted vase.
The remaining finishes in the space were all about warmth. In the Design Against Hate Lounge, this was expressed through elements like lighting and rugs. The Patagonia Natural Moroccan Rug from Well Woven became the perfect element for layering. As Moroccan pieces continue to have staying power, layering it with a rich cowhide offered unexpected contrast, making both pieces shine in the interior. A complement to the neutrals in the room, the natural shade of the modern geometric rug, and elements like wood lighting offered a sense of completion in the space. From Lamps Plus a walnut floor lamp and brass table lamp were the perfect finishing touches.
Once the stage was set we had only to start the discussion. Our first panel talk was entitled, Designing a Better World: Architecture, Interiors and Representing Social Justice in Physical Spaces. The panel included Genevieve Gorder speaking about her work against hunger with Oxfam alongside architects Clay Miller and Ivan O’Garro who spoke of their work with hospitals in Burundi and Haitian orphanages, respectively. The panel played to a packed house as the three spoke meaningfully of their work, the communities and challenges that they encountered and their firsthand experiences of the ways in which the construction and design of physical spaces can either challenge or reinforce established power structures.
The next day we presented another talk, Products for the People: Activism and the Global Marketplace. This time we paired actor and furniture designer, Gbenga Akinnagbe of ENITAN, with Nasozi Kakembo of xnasozi, and Ariel Basalely of ELIKO for a discussion on the social impact of product design and the meaning of everyday objects. It was an engaging talk in which Moroccan rugs became works of abstract art and hoodies became emblematic of not just a moment, but a movement. Again the discussion drew a crowd and questions for the panel turned into a second conversation and then a third.
In the end, the point of the DESIGN AGAINST HATE LOUNGE, and the larger initiative which we continue, was not to design a space or even to hold a pair of discussions. The point was to inspire action; to show the ways in which every creative mind and artistic hand can be turned to the business of creating a better world for everyone.