Grace Bonney


What Is The Importance Of Black Representation In Interior Design?

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved photography. My dad’s uncle gave him all of his old photography equipment which lived in a cardboard box in our house. I used to love to dig through that box, looking at all the old cameras and trying to see if I could get them to work. I even had a makeshift darkroom I would set up in our bathroom to develop black and white prints. That process of creating something from nothing - out of silver and chemistry - is what got me hooked on photography. 


I couldn’t have guessed then where that passion would take me. It’s been a windy path, but here I find myself extremely fortunate to be making a career out of two things I love - photography and design.But for me, there was never any barrier, any notion that I couldn’t do exactly what I wanted to do. I’m a white man and there were plenty of white, male photographers to look to for inspiration or as an example of who or what to be.



Most of my work now focuses on interiors. I’ve photographed scores of homes on assignment and the majority of these homes are inhabited by and designed by white people. Most of my editors are white people. Most of the stylists I work with are white people. It is something I have always been aware of, but even more keenly so since my husband, who is Indian, and I adopted our sons, who are black. When I look through the pages of my portfolio, I don’t see my own family reflected back at me. I don't see my neighborhood or my community reflected back at me.



Design isn’t something that should be reserved for one type of person. I look at a lot of magazines. I love to pore over the details of how people create their homes. Where things come from, how they were made. I get so much inspiration from seeing how designers and homeowners put things together. But every time I look through a magazine, I am reminded of what’s missing.



What’s missing is the world that actually IS. Magazines are a construct that fail to reflect accurately who we really are. When I was a kid, realizing who I was, I remember sneaking around the shelves of the local bookstore furtively searching for a book about a boy who loved another boy. Representation matters. It validates us and let’s us know that we are ok. We can be accepted. We are welcome. 

Diversity is not important for diversity’s sake. It’s not a number or quota that should be filled. Diversity is important because when it is missing, a barrier is created. When my kids look through my work, do they see a place for themselves in this world? When a young person who may have an interest in design looks through an interior magazine, do they see a place for themselves? 

The Sunday essay series asks experts in the design industry their perspective on Black History Month