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Five Designers for You: A Design Week Recap

Sunday, November 07, 2021

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On the eve of the final day of Design Week JA 2021, the annual event hosted another informative webinar — Five Designers for You. On Tuesday, October 26, artist Malene Barnett, Nicole White Designs Interiors CEO/Principal Designer Nicole White, If Walls Could Talk interior designer & managing director Joelle Smith, BYCHARI designer Chari Cuthbert, and interior designer Chantelle Clarke joined moderator and event conceptualiser Novia McDonald-Whyte to discuss their growth, success, unforgettable moments and yes, all things design.

Barnett spoke to viewers from Philadelphia, where she is pursuing a master's degree at Temple University. Though Barnett is the founder of the Black Artist and Designers Guild, she's more than an artist. She is also an “activist and authority on the cultural traditions and practices of art in the African diaspora”. With a Jamaican father and a Vincentian mother, Barnett is rooted in the Caribbean and the region's ancestral artistic expressions.

Barnett is “equal parts anthropologist and activist”. She praised her parents for nurturing her creativity from an early age and supporting her creative journey. In undergrad, she studied textile design and fashion illustration. She parlayed this into a brand that produces ceramics, paintings, and carpets. Barnett is proud to share her “African heritage with a global audience” with everything she does. Speaking of global audiences, Barnett's work has appeared on the pages of New York Magazine, Elle Décor, HGTV Magazine, and House Beautiful, to name a few.

White presented next. The South Florida-based interior designer is no stranger to Design Week JA or the pages of SO. It seems that every time we engage with White, she has big news to share. Last time it was her work landing on the cover of House Beautiful, and during Tuesday's webinar, she shared that she signed a lease for office space the day before. She has over 15 years in the business and is now moving from her home office. White mentioned that on the surface, designers such as herself seem to have overnight success, but that's far from reality.

According to White, this year is the season of “reaping a lot of the seeds that I've planted over the years”. White is known for her kitchen designs and longed to be featured in House Beautiful. She spoke it into existence. One of the most poignant pieces of advice that she shared for budding creatives was “lean into your original skillset”. For White, that's her renovation prowess and knack for using bold colours and textures, imbuing each project with a bit of her Jamaican culture. This year White was also featured in Elle Décor, Veranda, and Traditional Home magazines.

If Walls Could Talk Managing Director Joelle Smith, did not know that designing was a career path she could pursue while in high school. After graduating with a degree in linguistics, she worked as an investment advisor for 12 years. But in 2007, Smith could no longer ignore the lure of interior design, and so started a business. She was cautious and, as she became trained, slowly built her clientele.

In 2015, she went into interior design full-time. A few years later, she was a part of the 2019 cohort of the Branson Centre, where she pitched a virtual design portal. Her idea wasn't appreciated, but life has a funny way of working things out. A year later, the novel coronavirus pandemic struck, and now it's integral for businesses to connect virtually. Now Smith can work with clients across the Caribbean who don't even need a tape measure, just a smartphone. Clients snap photos of the space they want her to design, and the software translates the images into dimensions, and she's ready to make her clients' walls talk.

It was 2:30 am in Melbourne, Australia by the time viewers welcomed Clarke. Clarke was raised in England by her Jamaican parents and moved to Melbourne for a job opportunity — she's a social worker by profession. But she was exposed to interior decorating at an early age by her house-proud mother. According to Clarke, her childhood home was a point of pride for her as well. “It made me feel good about bringing friends round,” she shared.

Throughout the years, she'd repurpose furniture items and do projects for others. However, when she purchased a property in Australia's garden city, a hefty financial undertaking, Clarke was inspired to decorate it herself. And the results are breathtaking. She has effectively increased the value of her home, located in Australia's second most expensive residential city. By doing design courses and studying the work of her design heroes, Clarke is on her way to becoming a prominent interior designer.

Cuthbert meanwhile left Jamaica in the early aughts to finish high school in Florida. She studied photography in college then worked in TV production in Las Vegas, but it wasn't what allowed her to bolt out of bed each morning. She got an opportunity to move to Hawaii and, while there, became a wedding photographer. The connecting factor here is that Cuthbert has a keen eye and can quickly identify beautiful things. She's always loved jewellery, a passion instilled by her grandmother, who always wore “eclectic pieces”. As photography re-energised her creative spirit, Cuthbert was inspired to start a jewellery company, in her living room, called BYCHARI. After three years in Hawaii, she moved to Los Angeles to grow the business and easily access manufacturers.

The business was born at the same time that Instagram was gaining popularity. So she struck while the iron was hot and began posting her work on the platform. And as Instagram has become prominent, so has BYCHARI. When the call came from Meredith Koop, Michelle Obama's stylist, requesting a custom VOTE necklace turned around in less than 24 hours, Cuthbert made it work. The VOTE necklace went viral, resulting in the designer appearing on many television news programmes. The lesson here is that not only does opportunity knock once, but it may also require burning the midnight oil.

Five Designers for You was a celebration of Jamaican talent, black women, design, and sheer gumption. It was a much-needed dose of inspiration. With this year's webinars breaking viewership records as they enjoyed participants from across the world, there's no telling what the next few years will bring.

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