Black History Month - Harlem Style

Monday, February 16, 2009

In recognition of Black History month, we thought it would be fun and relevant to briefly review a period in American history which ushered in the concept of "Harlem Style"...

What is Harlem Style? Quoting Roderick N. Shade, author of Harlem Style: Designing for the New Urban Aesthetic, Harlem Style is always, "modern, worldly, fashionable, hip...with a distinct and identifiable ethnic twist." It can include exposed structural elements or faux Louis furniture, minimalist bedrooms or bric-a-brac-stuffed dining rooms ... and is almost an eclectic mix of them all.

The Harlem Renaissance emanated from the emerging post WWI black identity ... black American soldiers returning from abroad with a new sense of self and home and, in part, participated in the emergence of a new black culture in this New York neighborhood. Given these experiences, European influences were also important to the renaissance taking place. Harlem quickly became the "black capital of America", and all metiers of the arts were embraced and influenced by emerging artists.

Rejecting racism and colonial influences, African-American artists and intellectuals went beyond merely imitating the styles of Europeans and white Americans, and instead celebrated the unique black experience with dignity, pride and creativity. Asserting their freedom to express themselves on their own terms, they explored their identities as black Americans, celebrating the black culture that had emerged out of slavery, as well as cultural ties to Africa. This exploration profoundly influenced all aspects of their quest to redefine their American experience.

Broad use of dramatic color, ethnic and historic artifacts along with European excess brought a new energy and glamour to middle and upper class styling.

Contemporary black-American designer Sheila Bridges has emphasized Harlem styling with some of her design inspirations.

Bridges, who was named “America’s Best Interior Designer” by both CNN and Time Magazine, designed Harlem Toile de Jouy, “to remind people of the many stereotypes that have historically been and continue to be associated with African Americans living in rural parts of the country as well as urban parts of the country like Harlem” .



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