Follow the Pattern is a brand new column from furniture maker and upholstery expert (and Home52's Resident Design Wiz), Nicole Crowder. Nicole is here to show us how to breathe new life into old furniture, reuse and repurpose materials, take chances with color and pattern—and develop a signature aesthetic. Today, she spotlights four of her favorite Black women pattern designers.
Pattern design permeates our homes quite literally, from floor to ceiling, across art prints, wallpaper, textiles, and rugs. We may not always be conscious of it, but we encounter its imprint on our lives and culture everyday. However, along its lifecycle from a designer’s hand to the product that adorns your home, the name and face behind its design often get lost. And as I’ve tried to trace back some of my favorite patterns—the ones I instinctually turn to as an upholsterer and designer—I found that often the face was that of a Black woman.
Recently, I had the pleasure to sit down and speak with Annicia Durka, the design director of Woven Fabrics for P. Kaufmann, where she has now worked for two decades. For years I had gravitated towards using P. Kaufmann fabrics in my chair designs, but only recently learned—through a serendipitous exchange on Instagram—that Annicia's hand was behind so many of the gorgeous textiles in their collections.
“It’s a very anonymous field,” she said in a recent Zoom call, “I’ve been to many trade shows and had people ask: ‘Wait—so, you’re that woman who designs textiles for P. Kaufmann’?” Though her talent may not always be front-facing, Annicia counts herself fortunate that the company values the vision of its designers—and provides the space for their ideas to be amplified and brought to market. “It’s hitting that sweet spot of what we know will sell and having the space to be creative and fun.”
At P. Kaufmann, Annicia’s role is multifaceted and expansive, but largely comprises designing prints and patterns, and determining colorways. She builds her fabrics through an organic process that is a combination of pairing fabric swatches of varied textures like boucle, wool, and softer materials via a moodboard, sourcing the right yarn, and playing with inks and dyes to achieve the ideal color stories. But the most essential part of the process, according to her, is to “not get in your own way, and instead let the process go through you.”
That spirit of experimentation also guides the ethos of Baltimore-based surface designer Aliana Grace Bailey. “I have always been told that people have an emotional response to my work and that they want to experience my art in their lives. Focusing on pattern design involves a lot of me reflecting on how my art interacts with the world, our everyday experiences, and how people want to feel.”
Aliana’s patterns and textiles are an abstract watercolor world awash in saturated teals, fuschia, marigold, and purples—a modern psychedelic of swirls in indigo and coral, blending together like liquid into repeater patterns. “I approach my work as a surface designer similarly to the way I approach my fine art practice, which is a big source of inspiration: the photographs I take; my paintings; weaving—I love collaging it all together. Just about every design I have ever made is a collage of experiences, materials, and hands-on artmaking,” she explains.
Through my recent conversations with these surface designers, I’ve also found that there is a common thread of spiritual depth and connection to intuition that guides the design process.
Similarly, a cursory scroll through the Instagram feed of Hadiya Williams, owner of Black Pepper Paperie, reveals a connection to, and inspiration from, Southern Black and African motifs. For as long as I have known Hadiya and encountered her work, she has been deeply inspired and motivated by her ancestral roots. Stark black and white lines contrast and burst against a backdrop of wooden bowls and ceramic clay work that spans jewelry, graphic design, and large-scale installation.
Some years ago, Hadiya and I participated in a group exhibit called Black Makers Mart, held in partnership with the Woodlawn Pope-Leighey House, a former plantation-turned-historical museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Each of us was assigned to reimagine one of the many rooms throughout the estate. Hadiya brilliantly reimagined the dining room as a spiritual gathering space where her ancestors could be honored, a remembrance of chattel slavery and its long shadow, and where the story and timelines of their journey be amplified—all via the imprint of surface and pattern design. Custom ceramic plates and wooden serving bowls were handmade and painted in Hadiya’s signature black and white line patterns that speak to what Hadiya has coined as “Lineal Modern.”
Hadiya explained that to me recently: “Lineal meaning in a direct line of descent or ancestry; relating to or consisting of lines. My partner and I recently came up with this term because it describes my work so well. I hand-paint, hand-draw, or cut paper to create these shapes, line work, and patterns that always feel connected to something deeper—like a direct line of descent or ancestry. The idea of the visual and spiritual being housed in one term is so perfect.”
Keeping in theme with African-inspired pattern design, but leaning into bolder bursts of color, is German-born Nigerian designer and pattern maker Eva Sonaike. I’ve always adored the rich and layered prints that Eva designs by hand that adorn everything from fabrics to wallpaper, lampshades, rugs, even make-up bags. A spirit of joy is celebrated in Eva’s contemporary patterns and juicy colorway: Saturated pinks and purples marry vibrant greens and blues and yellows that jump out in patterns that take their influence from African clothing and European antique furniture detailing. Based in London, Eva taps into British manufacturers to produce items that exemplify her ethos of “Bringing Color to Life”.
That sense of enhancing life through color and pattern is just another thread in the spool that connects these designers. It also extends to my own approach to upholstery work, which is inspired by my heritage, my family’s deeply Southern roots, as well as an awareness of my inherited claim to bold color and print. Because in the end: the surface of an object is blank until you give it something to say, and through surface design, the products we fill our homes with, can truly speak for who we are.