Sheila Bridges: Designing Woman

One of the best-known interior designers says that more young blacks should consider her profession.


Sheila Bridges is the founder and CEO of one of the most prominent interior design firms in the United States. Named "America's Best Interior Designer" by both Time magazine and CNN, she is perhaps best known for having designed the Harlem offices of former President Bill Clinton and his staff.

Her signature style combines a firm grounding in the traditional with her wide-ranging taste for contemporary art and design -- an enticing mix that has attracted high-profile clients ranging from Sean Combs and author Tom Clancy to Princeton and Columbia universities.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Bridges graduated from Brown University before completing a postgraduate degree in interior design at Parsons School of Design. She also studied decorative arts in Florence, Italy, and to this day cites overseas travel as one of the biggest influences on her work.

She founded Sheila Bridges Design, Inc. in 1993, and in 2007 she launched her own line of home furnishings with Sheila Bridges Home, Inc. She is also an author, having released Furnishing Forward: A Practical Guide to Furnishing for a Lifetime in 2001, which was one of Amazon's top 20 decorating books for nearly a decade.

In addition to her design work, Bridges is widely known for her work in television. A frequent contributor to the Today show, she has been a featured guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Nate Berkus Show and has been profiled by ABC News. She also hosted four seasons of the series Sheila Bridges: Designer Living on the Fine Living Network. Bridges has been profiled in countless national and international publications, including virtually every major design magazine as well as Black Enterprise, Essence, Vanity Fair, In Style and the New York Times.

The Harlem-based designer spoke with Holly McWhorter for The Root.

The Root: Did you always know you wanted to go into design?  

Sheila Bridges: No, I had no idea. I studied abroad my junior year in Rome, and I think that's the first thing that really opened up my mind to the possibility of being a designer. In Italy I was really struck by the way the decorative arts are considered professions of real value -- unlike here, where typical status professions like medicine and law are much more encouraged. And I flourished there -- there were so many things I found inspiring.

TR: You also have your own line of home furnishings. What inspired you to expand into that alongside interior design?

SB: Because I do high-end residential work, I've always designed custom furniture and furnishings for clients. If someone wants to buy a sofa, we usually design it and have it made so I can be sure of its quality. But custom-made furniture is pretty expensive, and I wanted to create things that people who might not be able to afford my interior design services can have access to, so I've put my own spin on a few items that are more affordable.

The Work of Sheila Bridges

Bridges does not believe there is a "black" style, but she has used African motifs in her work.