As immediately identifiable as Eames chairs and mid-century modern design, the hallmarks of afrocentric interiors are undeniable. "In the past, Afrocentric design has really focused on Africa. It was concerned with images of an African past, in which we would see homes filled with African masks, kente cloth and pieces from the continent that tried to speak to the shared heritage of peoples of African descent," says Jeanine Hays, creative director and founder of AphroChic, an interior design blog and product line.
Hays' reference to an era past underscores her company's aesthetic -- modern, soulful style -- and marks a new incarnation of afrocentric design. "AphroChic builds from what we saw in the '80s and '90s. It re-imagines African-American design within a new modern aesthetic. The focus on Africa as the source of a shared past is replaced with a wider look at the cultures of the African Diaspora as well as pointing to what's present in African-American culture today," she says.
A modern take on African-inspired design is what Hays' forthcoming book, "Modern.Soulful.Style" looks to explore. In comparison, books like "The Spirit of African Design" by Philadelphia designers and stylists Sharne Algotsson and Denys Davis (Hays also hails from Philly) show only a single layer of afrocentric style, with statement pieces such as masks, nail fetishes, Senufo beds and portraiture.
Though pioneering in its day, a 1996 New York Times feature on how African designs began to melt into the mainstream quoted Dr. Vincent Ndoro Vera, a historian and a college administrator in South Africa, who cautioned that afrocentric interior design in America, much like the African art that inspires it, cannot be reduced to a rigid set of themes or exotic styles.
That, perhaps, is where Jeanine Hays has found her sweet spot. Her team has embarked on a cross-country tour to find homes that represent the "cultural design, colors and art that people have brought in their homes today that is a modern expression of our cultures," Hays says. "We are looking to a whole new future in African-American design that is less restricted to large expressions of 'African-ness,' and more about present-day designs that let us fully express who we are at home."
Her tour includes design centers such as New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Hays' first stop? Brooklyn.