Interview with Chalon Clark
Photos by Angela Flournoy
Interior designer Chalon Clark transformed her childhood home from an old-fashioned and serviceable shelter to a vibrant abode imbued floor-to-ceiling with her signature “modern funk” aesthetic and her family’s rich cultural heritage.
What was your experience with home design before this project?
I’m a lawyer by trade and am still practicing law as a commercial litigator, but in 2021 I reconsidered tasks on my bucket list as I started to lose loved ones and coworkers due to the pandemic. What dreams could I be leaving on the table? So I opened my design service, Your Design Redefined, and my first project was my parents’ home in Dallas, Texas. They trusted me and my husband to tear up their entire house!
My parents hadn’t updated their house since they purchased it in 1992. It still had the same pink carpet and green surfaces. What’s funny is that I made many of the existing design decisions at the tender age of ten. My mom isn’t interested in design at all, so she let me design the whole home. I guess I did well for a ten-year-old—but now, thirty years later, it is not cute anymore.
What were some of the early challenges you faced when redesigning their home?
It took months to help them move out because they had thirty years of stuff in there: Barbie dolls, doll cars, my sister’s old stuff, and a lot of mine. Then we gutted the place—we took out all the floors, cabinets, and bathroom fixtures. After that, my husband and I basically rebuilt the house.
Did you change the layout of the house at all?
I didn’t care for the pass-through—a big square cutout in the wall between the kitchen and living room. We tore that wall out completely and opened up the space. That was probably the biggest transformation, because that alone made the house look so much bigger.
What was your overall design concept for the renovation?
I just wanted to modernize the space. So many people have builder-grade homes, and that’s exactly what this was. Adding some custom lighting, custom floors, vibrant paint, wallpaper, and texture can turn your home from builder grade to custom level. I think a lot of people miss that part: “How do I make this mine and not like every other house on the street?”
I turned my sister’s old bedroom into my dad’s man cave. We made it dark and moody to match. I wanted to personalize the space because my father’s roots are in The Bahamas, so I had a hand-drawn map of The Bahamas custom made. It was so amazing to see his reaction. He immediately started pointing out all the different islands where our grandparents were from. I also included posters of his favorite movies and other personal touches.
I turned my old childhood bedroom into a room where my children could spend the night. I thought about what it was like to be a kid. At the time, all I ever wanted was bunk beds, so I added some while being cognizant of the space and ensuring that four grandchildren could sleep there comfortably. I also added stairs instead of a ladder and trundle bed for my newborn nephew while leaving room for play. Then I put my old toys back in the room, like my Barbie DreamHouse from the ’80s, implementing them in a modern way.
I kept the room light and bright to give an illusion of space, because it’s a small room. I kept the walls white and the beds a very light gray and included small pops of color in the decor, like pictures of Black girls like my daughters studying and reaching for the stars with inspirational quotes.
How do you design rooms that are both personal and elegant?
When I design for clients, I include features like streamlined furniture and restored antiques with consideration for their own background and interests. The key is to incorporate these different elements stylishly. I leaned the design for my parents’ home more transitional [balancing traditional with contemporary features] for that reason.
How did you incorporate your signature modern funk aesthetic into the project?
My aesthetic is all about streamlined design with clean lines and a bit of hardness, but the difference is that I am not a beige-and-white-and-light-gray person. I infuse the culture from my background into my design: I’m African American, my family comes from The Bahamas, and my husband’s family is from Jamaica.
I think something that’s often missing from home design is a person’s cultural context. I call it “culturally competent” design. You’re going to see colors, fabrics, and textures in my designs that mean something. For example, cultural clocks or African juju hats with an understanding of where they came from.
I think minorities are often excluded from the design industry because there is nothing that is really calling to them. Nobody is really serving them. But culture is just as important to design as being stylish.
What can people with diverse backgrounds do to implement culturally competent design in their homes?
Add in some accents of cultural pieces. For instance, pair an heirloom sofa with something modern, like Z Gallerie pillows. Think of it as salt on your food: just a sprinkle here and there.
Also, put in your personality. Don’t just go buy things because that’s what’s on trend. Designing without personality leads to a home where you don’t feel represented, where you don’t value the things you have. It leads to a place that is not a sanctuary for you.
How did your parents feel about the results?
It was so nice to see their reaction at the end of the project. We documented the whole process of revealing their new home, and it felt so good to give back to my parents some part of what they had given me. They especially loved the dining room, which has beautiful vaulted ceilings. My parents had always intended to put a chandelier in there, but then piano lessons, new cars, and all these other expenses came up. Thirty years later, they never had their chandelier. So to be able to hang their first chandelier in there and see the dining room reach its full potential—that’s the first time I shed a tear.
Can you share some of your upcoming projects?
I’m in the beginning stages of designing a product line for a company called BT Furnishings. I love chaise lounges, so I may be working on a leaner, more modern take on these pieces for them, but with my own touches of funk—like a pop of a colorful pattern.
Also, my husband and I purchased a 1940s villa in Jamaica that we are completely renovating. It will be called the Island Spot Villa under the Island Spot brand, which is named for our Jamaican restaurants here in Dallas. We hope to open it to guests in fall of this year.