In honor of Black History Month, the Astek team is spotlighting Black architects, designers, and creatives throughout history up until the present; whose contributions and influences are still felt in the interior design, print, and wallcovering industries today.
Paul Revere Williams
Paul Revere Williams (b. 1894) was a gifted architect and a pioneer in his field. Williams began designing homes and commercial buildings in the early 1920s. By the time of his death in 1980, he had created some 2,500 buildings, most of them in his hometown of Los Angeles. His portfolio ranges from small homes to opulent residencies for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, among other celebrities. He also designed some of Los Angleles' most iconic commercial structures, including the Theme Building (1961), a Space Age structure built next to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) now synonymous with the LA cityscape.
Williams was the first Black architect to become a member of the American Institute of Architects (1923) and the AIA's first Black fellow (1957). Learn more about his trailblazing career here.
Aaron Douglas (b.1899) was a prolific painter and a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Douglas' illustrations paved the way for a new visual language steeped in African heritage. His style blended the geometric and angular forms of Art Deco with the linear rhythm of Art Nouveau and the visual language of African culture. He'd later be credited with pioneering the style Afro-Cubism. Among his most important works were his large-scale murals for nightclubs and cultural institutions, including the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library and Fisk University. Painted in his distinctive style, he depicted slavery, emancipation, and the contributions of Black Americans to American culture.
His legacy and influence can be seen in fine art, design, and interiors to this day.
“One of the most promising newcomers in the highly competitive field of fabric design is a youthful, multi-talented New Yorker, Joel Robinson (b. 1923), whose strikingly original textiles have won Good Design awards for two successive years and are now sold in leading department stores and modern art galleries across the nation,” Ebony magazine proclaimed in 1952. Robinson was the first Black American to receive the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) Good Design award (1952 and 1955) and be included in the museums's corresponding exhibitions. Robinson's Ovals design, an optical pattern of elliptical forms inspired by architectural drawings, revolutionized pattern design and the textile industry.
Learn more about Robinson's career and influence on mid-century design here.
Norma Merrick Sklarek
Norma Merrick Sklarek (b. 1926) was a woman of firsts. She was the first Black woman to become a licensed architect in both New York (1954) and California (1962), the first Black woman to become a member of the AIA (1959), and its first Black female fellow (1980). Sklarek made a career out of building large commercial and civic projects like the iconic Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, The California Mart, San Bernardino City Hall, the Mall of America, the embassy of the United States in Tokyo, and Terminal One station at LAX.
In 1985, she cofounded her own firm (Siegel, Sklarek, and Diamond) which was the largest woman-owned architecture firm at the time.
Sheila Bridges (b. 1964) is a creative force in the interior design, product design, and wallcovering worlds. Her many accomplishments include opening her own interior design firm (1994), being named "America's Best Interior Designer" by CNN and Time magazine (2001), hosting her own television show (2003), and making Essence magazine's list of the world's most inspiring women (2006). Arguably her most famous and influential design is Harlem Toile de Jouy. Part of the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum's permanent wallpaper collection, Harlem Toile de Jouy reinvents the classic French style and replaces pastoral scenes with images of young men playing basketball, a couple dancing to a boombox, and girls playing double dutch.
See all of Bridges' design work here.