You can’t help but feel uplifted when you look at a space dreamed up by Toronto-based designer
Brenda Danso. From her playful pops of color to ultra-cool metallic finishes, this local creative isn’t afraid to take a design risk (or two). With a masters in social work and a background in mental health, Brenda creates interiors that are not only beautiful, but also help improve her clients’ overall wellbeing. We sat down with the designer to talk about what’s inspiring her, what the future of design looks like and her latest project: a community for other Black Canadian designers to come together and support each other.
H&H: How would you describe your design style?
BD: “You’ll see that there’s a cross between contemporary and modern aesthetics, and then you’ll always see the spaces looking fresh, bright and airy with pops of color. For my entryway, it’s bold because when you walk in, I want you to get a little bit of that wow factor. You’re excited to see what’s next. I wanted my living space (below) to feel really relaxed, so I have a lot of muted colors because that’s where I like to unwind and be creative.”
H&H: Can you explain more about the connection between personal wellbeing and design?
BD: “With my mental health background, I really feel like design is therapy, and the feel of your space has an impact on your wellbeing. I love being able to connect with people on a deeper level.”
H&H: Who are some interior designers inspiring you and why?
BD: “I’m a huge fan of Ali Budd Interiors — she’s Canadian! She uses a lot of black and white in her designs. Her spaces feel fresh and modern, but there’s always some great details. I also love Ablige Interiors Inc. because she’s done everything independently, and it’s been nice following her journey. She has a similar design style to Ali — very contemporary with some bold pops and beautiful detailing. I love how strong and motivated she is.”
H&H: What inspired you to start Black Canadian Interior Designers?
BD: “Initially when I started designing and decorating, I was curious — you want to know if there are other designers and decorators that look like you, so while I was looking, I probably found a handful in Canada, but it lead me to the Black Interior Designers Network in the U.S. I wanted to start our own chapter, but it wasn’t until recently — with the Black Lives Matter movement being reignited and the conversation starting again — that I didn’t want to wait any longer. At this point, I’ve found over 20 designers so far, and I know there are more out there.”
Designer: From top left: Micheal Lambie, Michelle Martel, Alicia Ruach, Crea Henry, Amanda Lwanga & Nike Onile
H&H: Why is it so important for these spaces to exist?
BD: “It starts as a support for Black Canadian designers by providing that platform to create a more inclusive environment. Just knowing that you’re not alone — these experiences that you’ve had, other people have had it who look like you, so how can we then come together and support each other? It also serves as a directory to highlight diverse talent.”
H&H: What has the feedback been like?
BD: “It’s been positive. It’s nice seeing a community of Black designers coming together because it’s almost like you’ve been working by yourself and now you realize, ‘Oh my goodness, there is representation out there, I just didn’t know.’ It’s built a closer community. There’s been a positive outpour of love. Interns and new graduates who are of the BIPOC community have been really happy because it’s just like, ‘Wow I didn’t know that there was more designers who look like me.'”
H&H: What are the next-steps for this network?
BD: “My business partner Iman Stewart and I want to start mentoring designers from the BIPOC community because we recognize that need is there. We want to go into the schools to talk about design as a field. We’ve recognized that when we were in school, we didn’t have that information, so if we can go into the schools now and present ourselves, not as Black Canadian interior designers, but just to present that information, I think that would be really valuable. We’ve also been developing a mentorship program online for new designers.”
H&H: What do you want the future of design to look like?
BD: “The future of design would be about diversity but diversity outside of the Western world, where when you talk about African design, African architecture or Afrofuturism, people will actually know what those things are. We’ve been so used to seeing Eurocentric design that that’s really all we’re familiar with. There’s such beautiful architecture outside of what we’re used to, and the world needs to be more exposed to it.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Author: Victoria Christie
Janelle Gokule Interior
Brenda Danso, BD Interior Design