It’s hard to find words to describe a neighborhood’s distinct personality — it’s more of a feeling, an intuitive rhythm that the streets, the people, and the buildings sway to. AphroChic has made a business out of capturing that local energy and translating it into design.
When approached by 9J — a fashion-centric concept shop in the South Bronx — about transforming an unused courtyard into a stylish gathering space, they knew this would be a community affair.
Read on to see how the husband-wife duo behind AphroChic collaborated with LOWE’s to design a welcoming outdoor area brimming with South Bronx style.
ELLE Decor: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background in interior design.
Jeanine Hays: We just celebrated AphroChic’s 10 year anniversary earlier this year! We both come to interior design through unconventional career paths. I was a policy attorney working on domestic violence prevention and Bryan was an academic at UC Berkeley. We began AphroChic as a digital space where modern design and culture could be explored.
Bryan Mason: At first, AphroChic was just a blog, but within a year we realized that there was a lack of products that spoke to us as an audience. That was the start of our pillow line, which has since grown to include fabrics, poufs and paint. Earlier this year, we became the first African American design brand to offer its own line of paint. Along the way we also wrote a book, REMIX: Decorating with Culture, Objects & Soul that was published by Random House in 2013.
ED: How would you describe your design style?
BM: Modern. Soulful. Style. AphroChic is a statement on the intersection of design and global culture. It’s a recognition that every design trend is situated historically as well as culturally.
JH: Whether the goal is to create a space that represents culture within modern decor, or by creating an environment that feels welcoming and safe. AphroChic has always been about representing culture in spaces — particularly African Diaspora culture.
ED: Tell us about this space and what the client was looking for.
JH: This project was absolutely unique as we had two clients. This project was a partnership with LOWE’S to showcase their spring and summer dining offerings, and we did it with Jerome LaMaar of 9J, a beautifully-curated boutique located in the South Bronx.
For 9J, we were able to provide them with a space that’s direct extension of the indoor boutique, allowing for wine tastings, album release parties, and even a co-working space.
ED: What were your personal design goals for this project?
BM: We wanted to completely transform it. When we first went to see the outdoor space there was absolutely nothing there. We encountered a mound of dirt and items that had been put in the back for storage.
As much as this was an interior design job, it was also a construction job, as we literally had to have our team build a floor, construct a wall and modular seating that we designed for the space. At the end, we wanted people to step into this new outdoor lounge and feel transported to someplace new, and that was the end result.
ED: Where did you draw inspiration from?
JH: At AphroChic, narrative plays a big part in our design process. It’s all about story-telling. For this project, we wanted to tell the story of the man behind the brand, Jerome. He has a very strong aesthetic, which he refers to as “South Bronx Luxe,” and the outdoor lounge had to reflect that.
Whenever we visited the store Jerome was designing pieces for everyone — a jacket for a Missy Elliott shoot, a piece for Rihanna, something new for Miss Tina, Beyonce’s mother. We were inspired by that, and brought all of his inspired work as a fashion designer into the outdoor space.
To give him a clean base to work with, we went with hand-painted black walls. Jerome had done a New York Fashion Week presentation a year ago that included plants and woven material, and so we brought those elements into the space as well.
The high-bar dining set included woven seating that had a bit of a desert feel. And then plants upon plants were brought in to create an oasis. Potted in white and black planters, we bought in some metallics to add just that little bit of bling, that is completely inspired by Jerome.
ED: What were some of favorite design elements to work with?
JH: We absolutely love the entire space, but we are in love with the tile. Last September we were in Bologna to visit Cersai, and our love affair with tile began. We were excited to find that LOWE’S had a slate hexagon tile available. We knew that it would be our statement piece for the design. The geometric pattern looks amazing and it takes the entire space to another level.
ED: How is the space now reflective of the neighborhood’s style?
BM: In some ways it’s creating a new style and getting people to think about extending their spaces to include an exterior space that can accommodate the burgeoning creative community in the South Bronx. You can see that the neighborhood is growing into a place where artists, designers and musicians can coalesce. Our outdoor lounge seeks to be a place where that community can gather.