Every year, Dwell with Dignity hosts a hotly anticipated fundraising event, Thrift Studio LIVE. The shopping experience features vignettes crafted by local interior designers. All of the furniture and décor is for sale, often at a fraction of the original retail price, and the proceeds benefit Dwell with Dignity’s mission to redesign and transform homes for families transitioning out of poverty. In 2020, due to the pandemic, the nonprofit hosted the event online. This year, Thrift Studio LIVE is shoppable both online and in person at a West Village pop-up.
This spring’s event has another significant layer: designers of color are taking center stage. Dwell with Dignity’s clients are overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic. Historically, however, the nonprofit’s design team has largely been White. Dwell’s Development & Equity Board is working to involve designers of varying ethnicities in the nonprofit’s mission and to champion diversity and inclusion within the Dallas design industry. Each Thrift Studio LIVE event will now spotlight a designer of color.
Award-winning interior designer, author, and trendsetter Nikki Chu helped select the first featured designer. Her pick was Zara Taitt, senior interior designer and executive of operations at Jan Showers & Associates. Taitt grew up in Irving, but her family is from Barbados. She credits her Caribbean heritage as a source of inspiration for her colorful design aesthetic. You can see it in her Thrift Studio LIVE vignette, which evokes a tropical bohemian feel–a tranquil palette of blues, greens, creams, and yellows. The colorful rattan, carved wood, and soft textile pieces are all available for purchase. Schedule an appointment to shop through April 30.
We caught up with Taitt to learn how she developed her signature style, what inspired her to pursue a career in interior design, and what changes she’d like to see in the Dallas design world.
You went to UNT to study interior design. How did you know that you were passionate about design at such an early age?
My father was in the home industry–he was an engineer. He was bringing home blueprints, and seeing floorplans was the first thing that piqued my curiosity. I also took an intro to interior design class in high school, and that’s what sealed it for me. Before that class, I didn’t know this was something I could do. So without it, I don’t know where I would be.
After earning your degree, you joined Jan Showers & Associates. In the 16 years you’ve worked with Jan, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve taken away?
So many things, but the best is to follow my first instinct. I follow my gut and intuition, and it’s usually right.
How would you describe your design style today?
My biggest thing is color. It comes from the Caribbean influence I grew up with–seeing colorful houses that were blue and pink and turquoise. With clients, I understand that [using color can be] kind of scary, but we look at enough swatches and think about the big picture. It’s really important to have some fun with color.
How did you get involved with Dwell With Dignity?
In 2014, I helped Jan with her space for Thrift Studio. And then over the years, we’ve donated and been involved as Dwell has grown. I joined the board this year and got even more involved. My responsibility is to bring more diversity to Dwell with Dignity and showcase designers of all different ethnicities.
Why do you think this industry has such a lack of diversity?
I think it’s a lack of exposure, when it comes down to it. That high school class I took was huge for me. I did not grow up with my parents using a designer. Families that can afford to use designers, their kids grow up seeing that [as a career]. I think it’s all down to exposure–letting elementary, junior high, and high school students know that this is a possibility. And seeing people in design who look like them in magazines, on Instagram, and on social media.
Many of the families Dwell with Dignity works with are Black and Hispanic. What impact does it have when they see themselves represented in their design team?
Over 70 percent of the families that Dwell services are African American. I think it’s important for their designers to have similar experiences or commonalities, and to include pieces designed by a person of color, whether it’s a bowl or a book or a fabric. And [it’s important for] the children in those homes to see things made by somebody who looks like them. It can impact them and show them what their careers could be, whether it’s interior design, architecture, or landscape design.
How can the Dallas design community better champion creatives of color?
I’d like to see a continuing effort to feature designers of color. And that doesn’t just mean interior design. That means architects, photographers, artists, textile artists. Again, it’s just exposure for creatives of color. And that includes Hispanic, Indian, Asian…more diversity in the industry as a whole.
What about the public? How can they offer support?
Purchasing something always says a lot–when people speak with their dollars to support creatives of color. If you can’t buy, share things. Just like you’d share anything else that you like: post on your Instagram or talk to your friends. It’s all about word of mouth.
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring designers?
Go for it. I believe there’s no better time than now. Don’t let anything stop you, ask lots of questions, learn all you can, and just go for it.