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Publication Date: 2017-12-05

Design Insights

Designer Sheila Bridges on Bringing Color to History

Harlem-based designer Sheila Bridges is known for quirky color and pattern mixes that make traditional spaces appealing for today’s families. Here, Bridges talks about her passion for Iceland, her favorite new color palette, and her next challenge.

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Photo: Dana Meilijson

You have a gift for creating stylish and colorful family homes, especially in historic townhouses. How do you bring light and energy into a period house and make it work for a modern family? 

Sheila Bridges: Brownstones can be tough to design because there is often only natural light coming in from the front and/or back of the house. I usually take cues from the existing architecture, but then try to introduce a range of interesting colors and new textures, including wallpapers, textiles, and art, that will lighten and brighten the space while also complementing the architectural detail.

Your Harlem Toile collection, which includes everything from wallpaper to bedding, has become iconic, and is a perfect example of blending local influences with traditional forms. What tradition do you hope to reinvigorate next?

SB: I originally designed Harlem Toile De Jouy because I couldn’t find a toile wallpaper I liked for my own home. Since then, wallpaper has become the medium of choice whenever I have an idea I want to express artistically. Thanks to the new technologies now available, I don’t think I will ever run out of ideas!

Bridges' vibrant Iceland home, which was originally photographed for New York magazine. Photo: Chris Mottalini
The bathroom in Bridges' Iceland home, which was originally photographed for New York magazine. Photo: Chris Mottalini

You purchased a home in Iceland recently. Why there? What inspired you in designing your new place? 

SB: I went on a birthday vacation with friends to Reykjavik a few years ago and was immediately enamored with the Icelandic horses, and inspired by all of the natural beauty of the region—everything from the North Atlantic ocean, glaciers, waterfalls, volcanic rock formations, and the northern lights. The colors and textures of my home reflect all of those things.

Photo: Dana Meilijson

Your color sense is known for being striking and slightly offbeat. What colors do you find intriguing at the moment? 

SB: Last year, I was intrigued by teal and burnished gold and copper. Right now, I’m obsessed with graphic black and white, offset by mossy greens and aubergine.

Photo: Dana Meilijson

Your memoir, The Bald Mermaid, is intimate, hilarious, and informative, and covers everything from your experience with alopecia to your problems and inspirations as a designer. Are you planning a follow-up? 

SB: Writing books (I've written two) takes so much discipline, time, and motivation. I really poured everything I had into The Bald Mermaid, so I'm not yet motivated to do another. Check back in a couple of years and maybe I will be ready for the next few chapters.

Photo: Dana Meilijson

Is there an upcoming project that especially excites you?   

SB: Yes, I’m actually designing and building my first house in the Hudson Valley, after selling the farm I had for many years. I’ve renovated plenty of homes in the past but have never actually built a completely new house from the ground up for myself. I'm really looking forward to this process and plan to blog about it (I’m calling it Fifty Shades of Hay), so people can come along for the ride!  

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