Afrocentric Design Is About Self-Love for Christine Platt

rooted in design afro minimalist

The Spruce / Illustration by Amy Sheehan / Photo by Tamara Darden

Although she’s hailed as The Afrominimalist now, writer Christine Platt could barely imagine herself as one even a decade ago. “I was like, 'Oh, I hate minimalism!’” she recalls from when she first tried out the style. “‘Everything is all white, it's so barren in here, I feel so sad.’”

Mirroring images she saw online, Platt was left unfulfilled. But, she still sought the feeling — the freedom — associated with minimalism. So, she reimagined a version that worked for her. Today, Platt’s 630-square-foot apartment, situated in the riverside town of Hillcrest, D.C., is a far cry from the Pinterest boards full of white-washed, scant rooms. Bold portraits occupy her walls, candy-colored books adorn the shelves, and patterned pillows cozy up her seating. 

It’s not so much an act of defiance as it is an act of authenticity. Platt is deeply aware of why minimalism didn’t initially resonate for her — and why it doesn’t resonate for many marginalized and Black communities. “The flipside of being given less than historically is that when you have a chance to have more than, you [collect and hold on],” she says. “Our lived experiences and our journeys and our considerations are just left out of lifestyle work.”

Framing minimalism in a way that honors one’s culture, Platt is now paving the way for others to live happier, healthier, and freer lives at home. It matters so much that she authored a book on it. And perhaps it’s why she met up with me on Zoom while in the thick of writing another one: Platt understands that home can be a powerful, radical vessel for self-love. We chatted about her journey to Afrominimalism, the travels that inspired her, and the secret behind her Instagram-famous couch.

Christine Platt Afrominimalist Home

Tamara Darden

Before becoming The Afrominimalist, you had quite the scholarly journey. What sparked your interest in Black history and law? 

Christine Platt: I grew up in the Deep South. And this is going to sound so old — even though I'm not that old — but this was pre-internet, no cellphones, the whole nine [yards]. So, your world was very limited. When I went to college, I took a Black Studies class, and I'll never forget: it was the first time I was learning about myself and seeing myself on the pages of a book. There's this saying in the South that, 'You're the descendants of kings and queens.' But, you can't make that connection if you don't know your history. It was a super awakening point for me. I was like, 'Oh, this is what I'm going to major in.'

It wasn't until grad school where I thought, 'Okay, what am I going to do with these degrees?’' That led me to law school, where I realized that race intersects with everything. And it allowed me to have a very flourishing career. It was almost like the rose-colored glasses came off with that first African American history class.

Christine Platt on Chaise

Dayo Adedayo

It seems like your initial draw to minimalism didn't have much to do with culture, though, right?

CP: Oh, yeah. It started when I was still employed. I was living my best life. But, I was like, ‘There’s too much stuff in here.’ There was one Saturday where I was like, ‘I gotta get some more bins.’ And I thought, ‘Wait, are you about to buy more stuff to hide the stuff?’ It was this wake up call. I looked online, and there were so few resources in general, let alone for folks of color. I thought, ‘Well, this is what they say to do. Here we go.' It was only once I immersed myself in the process that I realized, this is not going to work for me. I have to make this Afrominimalist, because this is not it!

You talk about seeing minimalism through the lens of authenticity now. Why is that important to you?

CP: Most practicing minimalists I know, their spaces do not look like the Pinterest versions we see. I understand that those pictures look so clean and perfect, but they're not representative of real life for a lot of people. We all have different things that we need, use, and love — and there's no way your minimalist home can look like mine. 

This part of authenticity takes a lot of pressure off. But also, it gets people to understand, 'What am I really doing here?' So many people are trying to emulate the photos and it's a recipe for disaster. This is a practice that is about intentional living, and intentional living is rooted in authenticity — you being genuine and honest with yourself, and therefore with your belongings, as much as possible.

Christine Platt Seating Area

Christine Platt

Speaking of honesty, you detail why accumulating excess is a much deeper issue for Black folks in your book. How did that revelation emerge?

CP: The benefit of having done all that work years ago, truly for the love of it, is that I know the history of the Black community, and how it can be representative of BIPOC and marginalized communities in general. I remember telling other Black people, 'Yeah, I'm gonna be a minimalist.' And they were like, 'What? Girl, you're only gonna have 100 things?' It is foreign to us because it is so far removed from our lived experiences — and also what we've been taught is representative of success. You're taught, 'You've got to get the job, make six figures, have the house.' But people get all these things — similar to what happened to me — and realize, 'Oh, I'm not happy. What's going on here?' 

I included those pages so that Black folks and marginalized folks could understand why it's harder to let go — even being the least income earners in this country — why we are the biggest spenders. The response has been wonderful, even from white folks who say, 'I've learned so much.' A lot of professional declutterers and organizers are like, 'I’ve approached my clients differently reading these pages.' I felt like if I didn't include that in my book, it would have been another, 'Hold this and see what sparks joy.' I'm like, 'Everything sparks joy — that's why I got it!'

Christine Platt Bar Cart

Christine Platt

There's also the connection to sustainability. How does that relate?

CP: I can't speak to everybody — but Black folks, historically, are the original sustainability experts. We were always given less than and had to figure out, 'How can I make this last until the last possible second?’ There's a joke that — I mean, we understand that there's an issue with plastic bags and consumption — but Black folks still got all their plastic bags! I don't know what y'all are talking about. It's a lunch bag, it's a shower cap.

The disconnect is understanding the environmental harm. I try to enlighten folks on that. Like getting people to understand ... your grandkids will probably have to grow food out of a bucket. Or the harm of fast fashion. I’ve found from kids to folks who have been set in their ways for decades, once you make that connection, who doesn't want to do better for themselves and leave the world a better place? 

How do different elements of the African Diaspora show up in your home?

It's a big part of my home decor. Obviously the historical pieces and my literature collection — but it's also been a way to support Black artisans and artists. I find a number of wonderful makers on Instagram or markets. I really like incorporating fun textiles — like mud cloth, or wax prints from Ghana and West Africa. It’s very joyful for me.

Christine Platt Side Table

Christine Platt

How does your home help you feel connected to your ancestors?

CP: They're just here. That's the beautiful thing about infusing history and culture into your home — like historical documents, heirlooms, all those things — it really gives this deep ancestral presence, which I find to be very grounding and comforting. 

I also have an altar in my room. These things are all part of what sustains me. It's why you really have to make minimalism your own. So often, we have photographs or something from our grandmother, but it's in a box or in a basement. Those are ancestral pieces you can tie into your home decor that I feel make it really special. 

Do you have a favorite piece of furniture?

CP: I know when I have new followers because they always ask, 'Where did you get your couch?’ It's time for me to do an introduction, because everyone else knows it's not a couch. It's actually two IKEA Kivik chaises pushed together. I was originally going to have a sectional, but the last two inches couldn't fit through my doorway. So, I went to IKEA and got these two chaises to temporarily last through the holidays. But, I ended up keeping them for a full year, separately. Then one day, I pushed them together and I was like, 'Are you kidding me?!' The rest is history.

It’s perfect for when my daughter's friends would sleep over, it's the perfect movie room couch, and I hear from people about it all the time. Like, literally IKEA needs to give me a sponsorship! Because in my DMs, people are like, 'Oh my gosh, we got it and we love it.' I'm just like, 'I know. It's perfect. I know.' 

Christine Platt Chaise Couch

Christine Platt

Lastly, how did the year of isolation affect how you see your home?

CP: It made me love it even more. We spent so much time outside of our home before that we didn't necessarily appreciate or even understand its true benefits. For me, and I'm sure many other people, it connected us with our homes in deeper ways. It allowed me to be grateful to have a place of safety, that I could afford and be comfortable in, that felt familiar and wonderful. I also invested a lot more time and energy into making it exactly the way I wanted. 

It's really hard for me to leave my house. I love it a lot.

Christine Platt

Dayo Adedayo