Meet the Harlem-based interior designer and hear about what’s inspiring her right now.
To say that Sheila Bridges (@harlemtoilegirl) is a legend in the world of interior design would be a massive understatement. In the 28 years since she founded her own firm, she’s been named America’s Best Interior Designer by CNN and Time magazine, she’s created spaces for Ivy League universities and former president Bill Clinton—she even has one of her wallpaper designs included in the permanent collection of the Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian’s design museum. That’s how iconic Sheila is.
The wallpaper in question is her spin on Toile de Jouy, the lily-white fabric popular in France in the late 1700s that often depicted white people doing quaint, pastoral things. “I love toile, but when I was designing my own home, I couldn’t find a wallpaper version that spoke to me personally, so I created my own,” she says. Her cheeky spin features Black people doing stereotypical activities (double Dutch, playing basketball, dancing in front of a boom box) in the classic toile style. It’s gorgeous and cultural commentary. She’s since expanded the print to furniture and curtain fabric, clothing, tableware, and more—much of which is displayed at the Smithsonian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and sold at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Turning old-fashioned ideas on their heads is what has kept Sheila’s designs relevant and ever-evolving over her three-decade career. She loves taking classic pieces, recovering them in modern fabrics, and pairing them with contemporary art to craft a look that is both vintage and modern.
“I love toile, but when I was designing my own home, I couldn’t find a wallpaper version that spoke to me, so I created my own.”—Sheila Bridges
Sheila took on the task of building her own new home in upstate New York, where she splits time when she’s not at her other homes in Harlem or Iceland. “Every home I’ve ever lived in was designed for someone else’s needs; this one was all about making a space ideal for me and my puppy, Loki,” she says. The designer moved into her 1,500-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath home shortly before the pandemic. “Spending all of that time at home really helped accelerate my interior design process,” she says, and made the space feel “like a true safe haven during anxious times.”
Rather than obsessing over fellow designers, Sheila draws inspiration from museums, fashion, and flower accounts on Instagram. “Sometimes the most unexpected places give me more ideas than looking at someone else’s room.”
Who’s Influencing Sheila?
“I follow tons of art museums: the Cooper Hewitt, MoMA, the Met, the Guggenheim, the Brooklyn Museum, etc. But I also love to check out up-and-coming artists like Diedrick Brackens, a weaver who makes the most beautiful tapestries.”
“I met Vanessa, a 20-something travel writer, at a hot springs in Iceland. All of her posts are gorgeous. During the pandemic, when I couldn’t travel, it was nice to be virtually transported.”
“Frances is a potter and florist who creates the most spectacular floral arrangements—not only does she grow her own flowers, but she also creates the vessels she puts them in.”
By Sarah Z. Wexler | Feature photograph by Manu Rodriguez | Dining room photograph by Frank Frances | Instagram photos: Artwork by Diedrick Brackens, Flying Geese, 2020; Vanessa Wilkins; Frances Palmer
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Drew + Jonathan Reveal, Drew & Jonathan’s home and lifestyle magazine.