One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned in the past decade is the power that media — at all levels and in all formats — has to affect change. In the early days of Design*Sponge I paid more attention to the style of what we posted, rather than focusing on who was being celebrated (and who wasn’t) and why. I’m not proud of the time it took me to recognize how important representation and inclusivity are, but I’m glad to see that more and more blogs, magazines, newspapers and books are working to ensure that everyone in our creative community is being represented and supported. One of the projects I’m most excited to see launch lately comes from photographer, David A. Land. You’ve seen his work in just about every top interiors magazine and you may also remember him from the most popular home tour we’ve ever run on Design*Sponge — the home David shares with his husband, writer Rumaan Alam, and their two sons in Brooklyn. (That’s their family below!)
This week David launched a new project, Corner & Compass, a website that showcases an incredible range of stories and interiors that celebrate a diverse group of families and creatives. I asked David what the tipping point was for starting a project like this and he said,
I know so many talented, creative people of color who are not well represented in the wider media. And while that’s not me, that is my family. The fact that my own work didn’t reflect my family was something that had to change.
David was kind enough to chat with me about this project and how it came to life — and why it’s so important to celebrate people from different backgrounds, people of color, LGBTQ people and all of the people that make up our diverse and beautiful creative community. –Grace
Your new project, Corner & Compass, is celebrating great design, interesting personalities and the beauty of representation. That is a word that has been discussed a lot lately, but not necessarily (or enough) in design. What does representation mean to you professionally and personally?
David: I remember being that kid sneaking around the bookstore looking for a book about a boy who loved another boy. I just wanted the world to let me know that I was okay, that I could be accepted, that I was welcome. Making a conscious decision to be more inclusive in the work that we put out in the world, making sure that work really reflects the world — that really matters.
What are you looking for with homes and stories you share on C&C — what is your goal?
David: What these homes have in common is a strong connection to culture and personal history. In terms of style or approach, there’s a wide variety, but the common thread is that these places feel lived in and like accurate reflections of the people who live there.
You’ve photographed so many incredible homes and families for large magazines, but with C&C, you’re covering homes and families that are part of communities that haven’t always been fairly or accurately represented in traditional design media. How do you make people feel comfortable during these shoots and ensure they’ll feel respected and represented accurately?
David: I love to talk. It’s one of the best things about this job. Of course, I communicated with these subjects beforehand to explain the project, but still, on almost every one of these shoots, we spent the first hour just getting to know one another. Part of the impetus for me was to develop a project that was self-assigned, where I didn’t have an editor or client weighing in on the choices I’m making. I think that sense of creative freedom, combined with being welcomed into these homes, and meeting and getting to know these people, makes the endeavor feel like fun more than work.
Is there a message or hope you have for the larger design media as a whole about representation in interiors and design?
David: The interior and design business IS extremely diverse. By creating a space to showcase those designers, artists, architects, entrepreneurs, and families of color explicitly, I hoped that people would see beyond what they see in the pages of magazines.
So often we hear magazines and design media say that they have a hard time finding more inclusive stories to tell. Do you have any advice or feedback for publications looking to cover more stories like the ones you’re sharing at C&C?
David: Just dig a little deeper. I hear all the time, “Well, we don’t know any designers of color. We haven’t found the right homes.” But I think you don’t really have to look that far. There are so many people doing so much to celebrate diversity, like Jeanine Hays and Bryan Mason of Aphrochic. Their series, Sneak Peek with Aphrochic, has been incredible and they’ve shared so many incredible homes.
What is your big-picture goal with C&C? Do you imagine this growing into a magazine or book or do you want this to be a project that lives solely online?
David: My initial plan was to do a book, but I found myself overwhelmed at the prospect of going through that process that ultimately I decided that I really wanted to get it out in the world and figure out the book part later. Right now, I am just excited to continue photographing amazing people and homes! I have a list!!!
What do you hope people reading C&C come away feeling or thinking after reading the stories on your site?
David: I hope people will come away feeling inspired. I hope they will look at this and realize that the conversation about interior design is not only about wealthy white people. That home is what we make it — and it takes many forms.