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Designing Historical Narratives With AphroChic

 

AphroChic, the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Jeanine Hays and Bryan Mason, is one of the more impressive design couples we have come across. AphroChic was born as a passion project for Jeanine, a former policy attorney, and Bryan, a Ph.D. student, to pursue their infatuation with the intersection of culture and design. To emulate their collective vision, the couple coined the phrase “Modern.Soulful.Style.” – a design aesthetic and process that embraces culture and contemporary home furnishings represented in narrative, modern design.

 

Since its inception in 2007, AphroChic has become a leader in the realm of modern culture and design and has expended their business to provide interior design services and a line of  culturally-inspired home decor products, including a paint collection with Colorhouse. Most recently, AphroChic has been producing the Sneak Peek with HGTV, a house tour series exclusively for HGTV’s Facebook Live channel. Here, the impressively talented design-duo shares the evolution of their business, the birth of their signature style “Modern.Soulful.Style” and their passion for merging culture and modern furnishings to create soulful spaces for clients.

 


 

How did you get where you are today?
J: I am a small town girl from Pennsylvania. I grew up in Harleysville, PA, a town that was so small, it was technically a village with a little over 2,000 residents. Life has been a quite a journey from growing up in that village to becoming an interior designer who now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Probably the most interesting part of that journey was making the move from lawyer to designer, moving a way from a daily job to embrace my true passion – designing spaces where culture is embraced.

 

B: I’m from Philadelphia. As Jeanine said, we’re currently in Brooklyn, and came here by way of DC, to San Francisco, back home to Philly, and are now really enjoying New York. While living in San Francisco, our lives were completely different. Jeanine was working as a policy attorney, writing legislation that was making its way into the Obama White House. I got my Masters at the Graduate Theological Union and then went on to get my Masters in African Diaspora Studies at UC Berkeley. Design was not what I ever imagined I would be doing. But I wanted to support Jeanine’s passion, and after a few years with AphroChic, realized that we could use design as an important lens on history and culture.
AphroChic

Patrick Cline

 

Tell us how your signature “Modern.Soulful.Style” came to be…
J: AphroChic originally began as an interior design blog, and our maxim was modern, soulful, style. We developed the tagline to highlight our focus on blending modern design and culture together in the home. It’s what guides our aesthetic and the way that we approach design. We feel that the most soulful homes are those where culture is shown alongside the modern furnishings that we all love.
“Our content and products are part of an eco-system that supports our larger work – creating spaces with that blend of modern, soulful style.”

 

AphroChic

Patrick Cline

 

How do you stay current and source interesting, new-to-market products and materials to incorporate in your designs?
J: I am a social media junkie. I spend hours perusing Instagram, Pinterest, and some of my favorite interiors’ sites, constantly looking for inspiration. Online is where I come across new products, materials and ideas to design with or create new products. I am also a big believer in offline inspiration and taking “field trips” as an adult. Trips to a favorite museum, a visit to Prospect Park, people watching in the Bronx, riding the subway daily – every trip and moment outside is wonderful for sourcing inspiration and ideas. The world is my playground and I’m constantly inspired by it.

 

B: For me, it’s all about history. I write an occasional series called Design Geek. It’s where I examine the history and development of a specific design style, e.g., mud cloth. When you look at history, you can study something that’s on-trend today, such as chevron, and it has a history to it that is thousands of years old. I want to understand that and bring it into our projects. I also want to share that history with our clients. It’s so important that we are inspired, but that we also inspire them, and inform them of a historical narrative behind a piece.

AphroChic

Jess Isaac

 

What attracts you to certain colors and materials?
J: We love color! We always let our clients know that we are a design brand that embraces color, and will many times guide our clients to explore color as well. For us, color is all about depth. Hues should have a feeling to them, and they should not lay flat but instead go deep. I am personally attracted to colors that have a gray or black undertone to them. The smokier and more moody the shade, the better. That’s exactly what can be seen in our new Brooklyn In Color Paint Collection that we’ve partnered with Colorhouse on – deep soulful hues.

 

B: I like color that enhances an interior. When we started looking at color for our paint collection, we had to narrow it down to 20 hues. We thought a lot about shades that enhance architectural elements at home. Hues that are great for a mantel, accentuating crown moulding, or highlighting high ceilings – many of the things we see in Brooklyn interiors where our company is headquartered. What attracts me to color is how it helps shape the space, and every color in our collection, from Basquiat Blue to Coney Island Pink, does just that.

 

 

Who are some of the local Brooklyn vendors you enjoy working with?
J: In Brooklyn, we enjoy working with and collaborating with brands. We are the kind of design company that won’t just select pieces from local companies. We’ll also create and customize products for our clients. We love working with Flavor Paper. They are wallpaper rockstars and foster innovative techniques that allow your creativity as a designer to run wild. We also work with local companies that are headquartered in Brooklyn, like Etsy, that has a trove of local lighting and industrial designers who are making waves in the borough.

 

B: We are firm believers that no home is complete without art, and in Brooklyn, we source a lot of art for our projects. We are big fans of Tim Okamura, Delphine Diallo, Jerome Lagarrigue, Fabiola Jean-Louis and the list goes on. Around every corner in Brooklyn you can find an incredible artist who is creating groundbreaking work, and it’s great to be in a borough where we can visit their studios and work with them directly to commission pieces for projects.

 

AphroChic

Jess Isaac

 

How does designing make you feel?
J: Design has always been my passion. I love the process of bringing an idea to life and giving someone a space in which they can create. It makes me feel fulfilled – that process of bringing a vision to life.

 

B: It makes me feel surprised. No two AphroChic spaces are ever the same. Each one is a direct reflection of the client we’re working with. I enjoy that surprise of creating something new each time. And it’s wonderful when the client feels that they have been completely represented in the design of the space.

 

AphroChic

Patrick Cline

 

What’s your business mantra?
J: Modern. Soulful. Style.

 

B: Everything at AphroChic is about the blend of modern design and cultural style.

 

Tell us about the launch of HGTV’s Sneak Peek With AphroChic…
J: The show has been an amazing journey. Sneak Peek is the first program that we’ve produced with HGTV. The concept is a marriage between television and social media. It’s the first program where viewers can see a house tour live through a social media channel and react in real time. We’ve always been an online brand, so this idea of blending social and television in the online realm really intrigued us.

 

B: The 10-episode series has been a joy to create. From identifying diverse and beautiful homes to feature, to being able to talk with families and homeowners about what inspired their style. We are storytellers in all that we do in design, and Sneak Peek allows to bring a story to a live audience. We are also very proud to bring about a show that cuts the chord of you will. Our viewers don’t need a cable subscription to watch our show. Anyone can access it at any time on the Facebook House Hunters page.

 

HGTV Sneak Peek AphroChic_Patrick Cline

Patrick Cline

 

How do you incorporate your digital content and shop into your overall interior designer business?

B: AphroChic has always been a digital brand. We started online as a site that was bringing a diverse discussion to the design industry. We wanted to highlight culture in the world of interiors, and did through our content and products. Over ten years, we also grew into a full-scale interior design brand, working mainly on commercial projects. And that online DNA we’ve always had is still with us. Our content and products are part of an eco-system that supports our larger work – creating spaces with that blend of modern, soulful style. We can bring items like our paint into a project. We can develop custom colors that meet a client’s needs. And through our site and social channels we can also tell the story of that project, bringing them behind-the-scenes on Instagram, giving them links to what we used to bring it to life on the website, and sharing with them the news of any features of it on Facebook. The digital supports the design process.

AphroChic

Jess Isaac

 

As a husband-wife team, how do you delegate tasks between the two of you?
 J: Bryan and I have been together for 21 years and how we live both in our life and in our work is a partnership. There’s not as much delegation, or specific roles. We create together, brainstorming ideas for a project, developing original content, and coming up with ideas for the shop. When people are around us then can usually sense that we’ve been together a long time, and have truly grown up together. We like to think together, create together, and everything really is a fusion of the both of us.
“We spend each day together and we love it. We enjoy each other. None of this feels like work, it’s just our life together.”

 

When you start a new project, how do you get to know your client and the space? 
B: We approach our work with clients like a relationship, because that’s what we’re going to be in, whether it’s for a few weeks or a few months. We want to understand who they are and what they want to convey. We begin with a questionnaire that poses some questions that take clients by surprise many times. We want to understand what they like – a favorite song, a favorite smell, a favorite color. We want to understand how they want a space to feel. Many of our clients are commercial clients, so we want to understand their objective for a space. If it’s an outdoor space, we want to understand how they are going to use it. For a recent client, it was important to understand that they needed a multi-functional outdoor space perfect for co-working, but also for yoga classes. The more we understand about the client and the brand, the better the creative process and final outcome.

 

AphroChic

Jess Isaac

 

In your opinion, what’s the secret sauce to getting your work published?
J: It’s really important to have something unique to say. That’s something I share with people all of the time. It’s important to dig in and identify what you can bring to the table. How are you helping to develop a new conversation? Once you identify that unique element, then it’s getting the interest of the right publisher who wants to help you share that perspective.

 

B: Getting published is a journey. You work on an idea, you connect with a publisher, and once they approve of it, that’s where the journey begins. When we worked on REMIX: Decorating with Culture, Objects and Soul, that was an 18-month journey. We sat daily for a better part of the year, next to each other on the sofa, me working on a section, and Jeanine adding in the design layer. Or Jeanine writing a paragraph, and me adding in the historical layer. Like she said, we had that unique thing to say – bringing to the table a discussion on modern design and culture. Because of that, we had a vision for our book. We knew what we wanted every section to look like, who we wanted to feature, and that strong vision helped us create a strong work that has sold close to 10,000 copies.

 

AphroChic

Patrick Cline

 

How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?
J: Marry your best friend. We spend each day together and we love it. We enjoy each other. None of this feels like work, it’s just our life together.

 

B: We probably watch TV more than any couple we know. The Sports Network, Netflix, Hulu – we like it all. During the days, we’re not afraid to take some time off and watch a show to take a break, or go out to a museum in the afternoon. Or, simply walk through the city. Those breaks and moments to refresh are key to any kind of balance. It’s something that many people don’t give themselves – a break from time to time.

 

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