A new page in African-American decor
'Homes of Color' focuses on house design and decorating in the black community. It features often-overlooked African-American professionals.
While house-hunting in the Washington, D.C., suburbs five years ago, Corriece Gwynn and her husband regularly scoured the shelter magazines for decorating ideas and inspiration.Skip to next paragraph
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Then one day she turned to him and observed, "John, you really don't see any black people in these magazines."
"Well, why don't you do something about it?" Mr. Gwynn, a Washington attorney, suggested.
Eventually, she did, by using her journalistic background to launch Homes of Color: The Magazine of African-American Living & Style. Its mission: to capture the spirit and vitality of the African-American homeowner.
"I really envisioned it to be very similar to an Architectural Digest or an upscale magazine, but with a social twist," she says.
The twist is that the magazine targets underserved African-Americans, but not in a closed-door sort of way.
"The name of the magazine is meant to be more inclusive than exclusive," she says. "I wouldn't want to call it African-American Home, for instance, because that excludes people."
First published last summer, the magazine runs as an insert in the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Gwynn has plans to expand to other major metropolitan newspapers as the magazine grows. There are also paid subscribers in virtually every state, thanks mostly to word of mouth, especially among African-Americans. And the publication has a website, too: www.homesofcolor.net.
Gwynn, who calls the magazine a spinoff of her day job as the managing editor for a legal and business publisher, plans to beef up publicity efforts for Homes of Color. The magazine, however, has already enjoyed a lot of media attention.
A black shelter magazine - what's up with that? reporters want to know.
Home & Garden Television (HGTV) has called, intrigued by the magazine, and talks of exploring a relationship of some kind.
The cable giant is interested in learning more about African-American architects and designers, which pleases Gwynn.
"There are black children who grow up in this country who have never even seen a black architect, who didn't even know that blacks designed buildings," she says.
"It's not just about exposure, it's about access. And in order to create access you've got to let people know that you're there and can produce quality work. As a result, we'll always do features on architects, on interior designers, and artists, and gallery owners, and that's because I feel the African-American professionals in these areas tend to be overlooked."
The first issue carried a long article on Washington architect Charles Cassell, the son of Albert Cassell, best known for his work on Howard University's campus. On the cover and inside were interior shots of an Elk Grove, Ill., home that belongs to a friend of Mrs. Gwynn's.
Visiting this home in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 set the publishing wheels in motion. At the time, Gwynn was on a business trip and stuck in a downtown Chicago hotel until flights resumed.
Her friend invited her out to the northern suburbs, where they wound up discussing the magazine idea and started brainstorming about a photo shoot on the property.
The pictures that ultimately ran don't show the homeowners, nor give any hint of their ethnicity.
So how, then, is African-American decorating different?
"I get that question a lot," Gwynn says, "and I always say there is no difference because African-Americans have a very eclectic approach to decorating styles. Some prefer contemporary with a little flavor of their heritage thrown in. Others want classical or neoclassical or Early American or whatever."
Despite this eclectic approach, Gwynn acknowledges small discernible differences exist in African-Americans' decorating preferences.
One difference - pinpointed by Roderick Shade, a designer and coauthor of "Harlem Style" who is interviewed in the latest issue - is a desire for more color, especially color accents.
"We [blacks] definitely have a tendency," Gwynn says, "to use a lot of pieces that enhance who we are, whether they be photographs of family members or masks or fabrics."
Because readers take differing approaches to decorating, the magazine avoids sweeping characterizations or stereotypes. Rather, it celebrates the variety of African-American homes.
Although most African-Americans reside in urban environments, the editors are careful not to promote a particular way of living as superior, be it urban, suburban, or rural.