As a college student in the 1990s, I was unconsciously accustomed to being one of the only Black Caribbean designers in the room, and one of two in the architecture department.
My heritage wasn’t apparent until I discussed my design views with my professors. I relied on my intuition, which didn’t dovetail with what my professors deemed “acceptable tasteful design.” In architecture, “taste” was cloaked behind the mask of research, evidence-based design, philosophical studies, and psychiatric analysis; intuition in form-making was unheard of. Design institutions, like many other institutions in America, were not originally made to include me and my story. I wasn’t supposed to be there at all.
Representation and taste go hand in hand. Taste, as it is largely understood in Western architecture and interior design today, has roots in European society. It coincided with England’s emerging class system, which started in the 18th century, and reached its ultimate form by the turn of the 20th century in Victorianism. The idea was to distinguish the bourgeoisie, who could afford interior design, from the lower classes.
Good taste is now as it has been for the past 300 years—a way to reinforce class systems. Take Sir John Soane’s home built in 1753. With a strong Greek influence, it is a time capsule for the original ideas of luxury. This home (now museum) is a shrine of ornate gold, velvet, porcelain, and crystal, housed in pillars of marble. Though it existed long ago, it remains a potent symbol of power that some decorators still try to emulate today.