Some design terms used are so common, we’ve never given them a second thought. We say them in our daily lives as designers, but when we examine them closer, we realize their origins are rooted in terms that fail to be racially inclusive. So.. it’s time to educate ourselves and make some room for improvement.
While many aspects of interior design have changed and evolved over time, certain terms remain deeply rooted in our lexicon. And in an industry where Black designers and architects are underrepresented, it’s more important than ever to evolve the language used to be more inclusive. We can all improve (including the team here at Bobby Berk), and it doesn’t happen overnight. But it can start by taking the time to think about how the words we use may be received by someone with a different perspective than our own. Practicing empathy (even in design) is the best way to make the world a more just and accepting place.
Keep scrolling to learn the design terms to reconsider (and how you can re-phrase them), along with a brief history of how design has changed along with social progress.
HOW RACE & SOCIAL CHANGE Have Influenced Interiors
Interior design, especially residential design, has constantly shifted over the years, as the needs, desires – and roles – of homeowners have changed. Design in the 19th and early 20th Century included a strong delineation between formal and informal areas of a home. Parlors, dining rooms, and sitting areas were all formal (and more ornately decorated spaces), while kitchens where highly utilitarian (and completely separated from other areas of a home). It’s no coincidence that this design trend occurred when racial segregation was the norm, and people of color were relegated to informal areas and service roles. A particularly large home may also include spaces specifically for domestic help – servant’s quarters and butler’s pantries – that were in sperate parts of the house or attic.
As the women’s liberation movement pushed for social change in the 1960s and 70s, home design began to change as well. Spaces that had always been considered ‘domestic’, and thus the domain of women, were opening up, literally. Kitchens started to become more integrated into the rest of the home, with more open floor plans and less emphasis on formality. And as more time has passed, the idea of an open floorplan has become the standard in contemporary interior design.
Design Terms To Reconsider
Builders, architects, designers, and realtors are all beginning to embrace new terms in design., and we think it’s time we all start as well. Here are two specific examples of names for rooms that have a history rooted in racial inequality (and our suggestions for how you can refer to them).
The term ‘master bedroom’ first appeared in the early 20th century, and was used to refer to the bedroom reserved for the master of the household (almost always a man).
Why It’s NOT INCLUSIVE
Besides the male connotation associated with the word (which completely excludes women), the term ‘master’ has deep connections to slavery.
What to Say Instead:
Primary Bedroom, Main Bedroom
Originating in Europe, a butler’s pantry refers to a room or pass-through between the kitchen and dining room in a large house, primarily used to store silverware and serving items, and prepare to serve. Some Butlers actually slept in the room as well to keep watch over the silver.
Why It’s NOT INCLUSIVE
A butler, and all other domestic help, were almost always Black in American households. Thus the term furthers the idea of a racial hierarchy in a household, and society at large.
What to Say Instead:
Service Area, Pantry, Pass-Through
MORE Resources For Racial Equality
Every change starts with the smallest of shifts and with this post that is what we want to do. We want to bring about more awareness and help to change the design community and a way that will also shape and change those apart of it.
We still have a lot of learning to do and while there is no right way to go about it as long as we are all headed in the same direction we are making a change for the better. To help you continue to learn and grow we’ve compiled a list of other posts with more information on how you can educate yourself, donate to causes fighting racial injustice, support protestors, as well as shop Black designers, artists, and brands. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and any other terms or phrases that we commonly use that we could change.
Be The Change: Organizations & Resources To Fight Racial Injustice – A list of resources to help you get started in pushing for change.
Ways To Educate Yourself (And Others) On Racial Issues – Books, movies, articles, and podcasts to help you gain understanding.
24 Ways To Support Black-Owned Businesses – Shoppable fashion, home decor and wellness products from black-owned businesses and brands.
Pride Began With A Protest: How Gay Rights Are Connected To Black Lives Matter – The history of Pride and the black trans activists that helped lead the fight for equality.
Highlighting Black Interior Designers And Their Work – A visual round-up of the work of prominent Black interior designers.
24 Pieces of Art From Black Artists (That You Can Buy Now) – Colorful and neutral prints, illustrations, and photography you can shop from Black artists.
5 Ways You Can Help Support The Black Lives Matter Protestors From Home – Suggestions for offering your support to the protestors marching for justice.