12 LGBTQIA+ Design Pros Who Helped Shape How We Live
Design sets the tone for life, and these designers shape the color, pattern, and vibrancy of the spaces in which we reside.
Interior design didn’t become a recognized profession until somewhere around the turn of the 20th century. From the very beginning, members of what would eventually become the LGBTQIA+ community played a pivotal role in the development of signature architecture and interior design styles. The designers on this list hail from decades past and present, but their innovative creations continue to inspire and delight.
Mikel Welch’s passion for design started at a young age. Through perseverance (and Craigslist advertisements), he landed his first clients. However, it was a quick rise to design fame once Steve Harvey took notice of his talents, hired him, and promoted Welch’s work on his show. Welch has designed rooms for well-known clients such as Michelle Obama and Halle Berry. His modern mix of neutrals with dark, rich tones grace shows like “Murder House Flip,” “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” and “Good Morning America.”
Bobby Berk’s journey in the design world started when he moved to New York with little more than the clothes on his back. He worked for Bed Bath & Beyond and also for RH, back when it was known as Restoration Hardware. It wasn’t until he became creative director for furniture company Portico Home & Spa that Berk realized he wanted more creative control. He launched his own online store, Bobby Berk Home, in 2006 and started his design firm in 2015. As the resident designer for Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” he’s one of the show’s beloved “Fab Five.”
Nate Berkus fearlessly started his own design firm at the young age of 24. He became a household name after appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2002. His designs have been featured in Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, VOGUE, People, and O Magazine, among other publications. Berkus has also authored two books and served as executive producer of the film “The Help.” He continues to appear on television, including an HGTV show with his husband Jeremiah Brent; he also produces his own decor product lines, including Nate Home by Nate Berkus at Target and mDesign. Other collaborations include work with Beautyrest and Bloomingdale’s.
Elsie de Wolfe
Elsie de Wolfe helped define interior design as a career and was one of the most well-known designers of the 1930s. Her designs replaced the heavy, dark Victorian aesthetic of the day (which she later said she despised) with light colors and intimate spaces. Wolfe imparted a sense of practicality in her work, ridding rooms of the clutter prevalent during the Victorian era. She was influenced by 18th-century French furniture and designs throughout her career. Though she died in 1950, de Wolfe’s revolutionary design choices—tiled floors, light draperies, pale walls, wicker chairs—persist today.
Jonathan Adler’s love of and obsession with pottery began at the young age of 12 when he crafted his first pieces at a summer camp. His rise to prominence took time and a significant amount of motivation and perseverance on his part. He pursued pottery and became a full-time production potter after cold-calling Barneys New York to pitch his work. Adler’s skills go well beyond pottery, however, as he ventured into furniture and interior design work for the Parker Palm Springs Hotel and a Givenchy Spa, among others. His collaborations include work with The Shade Store, Paperless Post, Soul Cycle, and Kravet.
Eileen Gray studied everything from furniture lacquer to architecture in pursuit of her insatiable interest in all aspects of interior design. At the turn of the 20th century, interior design still wasn’t a well-defined career path or industry, yet she still made a name for herself. Her most well-known work, a vacation home located in Monaco known as E-1027, is still considered a masterpiece that—nearly 50 years after her death—is still preserved and studied.
Billy Baldwin attended Princeton University for 2 years before dropping out and launching a career in interior design. He worked for Ruby Ross Wood, a well-known interior decorator in 1920s New York City, and took over her firm after she died in 1950. Two years later, he started his own firm and eventually decorated the John F. Kennedy White House as well as the homes of famous musicians, actors, and socialites like Cole Porter, Greta Garbo, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. When he died in 1983, he was lauded by The New York Times as the “dean of interior decorators.” His legacy continues at an online shop featuring designs inspired by his life’s work.
Jane Greenwood is managing principal for award-winning New York architecture firm Kostow Greenwood. She graduated from the Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture. Greenwood mentors young architects and advocates for underrepresented voices in the architecture industry, from minorities and women to the LBGTQIA+ community. She’s a co-founder for the Organization of Lesbian + Gay Architects and Designers (OLGAD), where she continues to build acknowledgement for those who’ve gone unrecognized for their creative works.
Los Angeles-based Cliff Fong is known for creating personal and sometimes unexpected environments, perhaps influenced by his having lived all around the globe. The founder of design firm Matt Blacke, he also co-founded an L.A. vintage furniture showroom called Galerie Half. Fong specializes in residential work, including for long-time client Ellen DeGeneres, but has also done commercial projects, including several restaurants. His work has been published in numerous magazines, and he’s appeared on HGTV.
William Haines’ good looks and talent pulled him from obscurity in 1922, when a talent scout from Goldwyn Pictures discovered and signed him as an actor. However, his film career ended in 1935 when he refused to deny his sexual orientation. That’s when he began to build his interior design career that spanned more than 35 years. Along with his partner, James “Jimmie” Shields, he designed for Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Betsy Bloomingdale. Haines died in 1973, but his design collection lives on.
Shavonda Gardner doesn’t shy away from bold, bright prints, even in the smallest of spaces. Her fearless approach to design has led to collaborations with Velux Skylights, The Home Depot, home goods giant OXO, and wallpaper purveyor Hygge & West. You can spot the fingerprints of her design style, a mix of moody and eclectic tastes, breathing new life into old houses. A nomadic upbringing heavily influences her globally inspired designs. As a self-described maximalist, she boldly goes where others fear to tread, namely a whole lot of black interiors and adventurous prints.
A.L. Hu is design initiatives manager at Ascendant Neighborhood Development, and an adjunct assistant professor of architecture at both Spitzer and Columbia. In addition to residential design characterized by bold color, Hu’s bio says they (Hu identifies as nonbinary transgender and uses they/them pronouns) work to “synthesize organizing for racial, class, and gender justice with design.” An accomplished and passionate advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community, Hu is a frequent speaker and panelist addressing gender and sexual inequities in design.