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.
Well thought out… thank you, Bobby! I always thought the term “Master Bedroom” referred as “grand” or biggest room in the house; I now know otherwise!!!
I’m sure a lot of people thought so too! Thanks for reading our story. xx -B
I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s in rural Missouri and never felt like the terms you mention in this article were right. I absolutely love your work and what all of the guys from Queer Eye say on the show and do. Thank you for raising awareness in so many ways that many of us have never even realized needed to change.
And we will continue to share ideas for change and empowerment! Thanks for reading. xx -B
I’m sure the term lazy Susan is problematic. A bit of research shows the etimology is not really known, but the fact that it’s a lazy woman is enough to make it at least irritating if not truly offensive.
Words have so much power in our daily usage and understanding of the world. Thanks for your comment and reading our story! xx -B
This is very enlightening! If we just think about our words, it becomes natural to say things differently and respectfully. You’re right, it’s the small things and building on those for a better world!
I don’t like the term “Master Bedroom” and don’t use it. Nor Butler’s Kitchen. (In my country it’s not a racial issue, just pretentious… though I’m sure the history is rooted in prejudice as you discuss.)
Personally I’m bucking the trend in preferring a closed off kitchen. I’ve had it both ways… and closing off the kitchen is a great idea because though I try to clean it well, there’s often a grimy feel to surfaces that I would prefer to restrict to one small room.
Love to you, Berky baby
EXCELLENT article! Thank you for taking this time to educate us, not just in design, but on race and sexual bias. You obviously have a very talented, progressive team!
Thanks so much for reading! xx -B
Thank you for this article. I to never thought of the master bedroom as anything other than the largest or grandest. Please keep this articles coming. I’m learning and changing.
This is so awesome, I’m a young designer at a remodeling firm and I want to start using these better, more inclusive names in my floor plans. Thank you Bobby for bringing attention to this!
So thoughtful! After moving into our new home, I spent much time and thought decorating the primary bedroom, which my husband now calls The Queen’s Chambers. It must be the purple bathroom . . .
In French it would be ‘suite parentale’ when the room has a private bathroom, otherwise it’s just ‘bedroom 1’ for the biggest bedroom, and ‘bedroom 2’ etc 🙂
Love this so much!! Was surprised the B in “black Americans” wasn’t capitalized but great read and design tips ?
I’m thrilled to see this being discussed, but there’s one thing you might want to change – “black” to “Black”, when used to describe people and ethnicity. The difference has long been discussed by Black theorists but recently major publications have announced their switch. Sources on that below.
Thank you and appreciate your beautiful work!
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We have corrected the article and will be sure to properly capitalize going forward. xx-B
This (and you) are fabulous. I’m a Broker and “master bedroom” will not cross my lips again except to speak of how it’s antiqued and racist. And really heteronormative actually. I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed. Like a broken tile you’ve walked past for a decade. Butlers pantry doesn’t come up much in my practice, but I’m done with that too. Also, it’s Black, not black. Keep it up!!
As a writer who covers residential design, I really appreciate these new terms. I’ve always hated “master suite” and “owner’s suite” is no better. This is very helpful…
Also love QE 5. As the song says, things keep “getting better and better.” Thanks for all you do.
This is so important. It never crossed my mind how discriminatory and potentially harmful these words/phrases can be. It’s wild to realize the words we say hold such deeper meanings than we realize. Thank you for this information!
I immediately thought of Main Bedroom.. Sounds nicer,more pleasant.
Thanks for this interesting discussion!
What a great article, I would have never thought about this. Good stuff, thanks!
Thank you for this. I remember reading something years ago and having an aha moment. We renamed our BR2 as “the studio,” because it’s function is more often for music, fitness and art than for guests, and that way the ‘master’ could simply be “the bedroom.”
This article is very helpful. Thank you for posting! It makes a great point by saying that some of the terms we used are so commonplace that we have never even stopped to consider the connotation. I will be more mindful in the future.
Just to be annoying- there is a small typo in the butler’s pantry section. The last sentence says “some butler’s actually slept in the room” when it should read “some butlers” (plural, not possessive).
Again, greet article. Thank you for helping us realize where we can grow.
Thanks for reading love. The typo has been fixed xx -B
Thanks so much for this. Had already been thinking about needing a new term for the main bedroom and it’s nice to see it put into words with some thought behind it. Another one we’re trying to find a suitable replacement for is “plantation shutters.” (I remember the Knot and Pinterest raising the issue of “plantation weddings” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/05/style/plantation-weddings-pinterest-knot-zola.html) I love the look of these oversized shutters but loathe the name. I jokingly started referring to them as “the-shutters-that-shall-not-be-named,” which caused my husband to call them “Voldemort shutters.” Not exactly broadly applicable! What are you calling them or have any suggestions?
Thanks for your comment and for bringing up another important example. I personally love your husband’s use of “Voldemort shutters”! These can be referred to as Louvered shutters or Wood blinds as well. Hope that helped! xx -B
Great way of doing this, thanks (I mean pointing it out without making us feel bad for getting it wrong)! I’m thinking about how to replace descriptors I have used when trying to get an idea across that are problematic e.g. tribal, boho, ethnic, colonial – they’re all generic, they seem to get across a lot, but obvs not inclusive or diverse and sometimes downright disrespectful. How about an expanding glossary of idea???
Thanks so much for your comment! We’re always interested in what our readers want to know more about. Rethinking design terms has been an important topic for us so we’ll be sure to think of new ones to share. xx -B