This Black Designer Is a Pioneer in His Community, and Doing so Colorfully

A photo of David Quarles IV in his kitchen beside a photo of his yellow wallpapered wall

The Spruce / Photo Illustration by Amy Sheehan / David Quarles IV

Acknowledging the contribution of Black interior designers to the design and decor spaces is crucial to moving forward and giving all voices, regardless of their backgrounds, the space to be heard. We’re highlighting talented Black interior designers who are thriving in the industry today.

David Quarles IV, the designer behind the eponymous firm, uses interior design to give his younger self a voice. Designing from a place of happiness and using bright colors everywhere he goes, Quarles IV's Dominican and Creole background gives life to everything he does. He especially found design inspiration in those he was raised by: his grandmother and father.

What made you decide that being a designer was your calling?

When I was little my grandmother would change out her home every season and I was inspired by that. And then, on the weekends with my dad, we would build homes or build parts of homes like garages — anything like that. And so I always got exposed to that, mainly seeing him at the dinner table drawing out his plans for the next day and then over the weekend seeing us build what was in his brain. It was just like "Oh, we can make a reality in spaces from our imagination." So, my grandmother and father had a big role in my becoming a designer.

How would you describe your style and approach to designing spaces?

Free. I feel that we have been so indoctrinated to follow the trends, which there's a place for the trends, I love them, but it's like once you see so many, it's starting to feel like an Instagram algorithm. I will like one design and then that's all I'm seeing so I'm feeling like design is becoming like that. I really like to have a design — whether it's going to be from the client's perspective, or mine — really reflect what I'm feeling or what they're feeling as their ideal life.

What life do you want to experience? Everyone wants to be free, everyone wants to feel like they're understood and that their voice is heard. So why not make that be translated into how your home is designed? If it starts there, then you can start emulating that a little bit more in your daily life. And so my design style is free.

a kitchen with green tiles, white color-flecked counters and colorful glassware

David Quarles IV

Do you have any design inspiration, whether it be from your culture, other cultures, or anything else in between?

I'm very much known for my use of color so there will always be something yellow. Yellow is going to be present whether it is in a tile or a curtain or even a lemon somewhere.

My cultural inspiration comes from going back down to New Orleans and visiting the Dominican Republic when I grew up. Seeing the colors of the houses, specifically in Santiago in the Dominican Republic, and those houses looking just like the houses that are on Bourbon Street or in the French Quarter — every inch, every detail of the millwork is painted. And I just have always gravitated toward love and color.

A living room with a black couch and colorful pillows

David Quarles IV

What’s a design project that you’ve done that’s stuck with you throughout your career?

It’s a restaurant called Pantà. The chef came to me because he very much wanted a hodgepodge of culture. He became a chef in Barcelona and became a new him but he has a lot of Memphis pride. And so we merged the culture in Spain and Memphis into a space. I couldn't go to Spain so I went to Puerto Rico to see the architecture because Black people, Black bodies, built those buildings that the Spaniards may have designed. They couldn't be built without the history of those who built it. And so I'd started looking at how things were designed there, how they were built, the colors that were used, but also factoring in Antony Gaudi, a Catalan architect, who is one of my favorite architects and just happens to be the chef's favorite as well. 

And so from there, I got my design together and fused it with Pantá's "Pantone" of Memphis' colors — like the blue and gold of the Grizzlies. The bar manager said that he wanted it to be a place that felt like the artists of Harlem would go to relax, but also discuss new art, new ideas, what was going on politically, what was going on socially — that sort of feeling. And so, for those who may not have been accepted as artists in the Black community growing up, this was their space. That's what we created and it's been almost two years that it's been open 

What’s your favorite design project?

The restaurant. Whenever imposter syndrome comes back in and makes me doubt myself, I go there. We also built it at the end of quarantine so the contractor and I had to fast-track it. We did it in three weeks. It was an existing restaurant, but we had to flip it: change the whole mood, do custom drapes, custom chairs, and everything like that in three weeks. So I go there as a reminder that I was able to design like nobody's business and also do it in three weeks.

A gray living room with colorful print on the wall, brown leather chair, and plants

David Quarles IV

And so, for me, being Black in design is being able to tell a story that was built over. You can only put so much wood clad over the history of what a structure really is, of who built it.

What does it mean to you to be Black in your industry?

It means being part of the pioneering team. In Memphis, there may be three or four Black interior designers, and we still kind of struggle to be the ones who are chosen.

When I finished college, I hoped to be hired at the design firm I had been interning at for a long time. I was turned down and told it was because the firm's clientele wasn't used to people who look like me. I was crushed and erroneously reasoned that everyone felt like that. It wasn't until the pandemic hit that I realized I needed to do something for myself and that's when I opened up.

Being Black in design is saying that we don't have to play sports, we don't have to be funny all the time, and we can own a business. And so, for me, being Black in design is being able to tell a story that was built over. You can only put so much wood clad over the history of what a structure really is, of who built it.

What’s your favorite part of your own home?

My kitchen because it's the first space that I fully renovated from ceiling to floor. It's also somewhere that I have my wallpaper in and was able to make all of the decisions not based on necessity, but based on the actual design.

I feel that the kitchen is the lungs of the home, it gives breath, and the dining room gives life so those are my favorite. I was able to break down walls in my kitchen and put in a skylight, according to the moon's path, so I can watch the moon as I cook, or just lay down on my floor and watch the moon as it passes over. That's why this room is my favorite because, when it's a full moon, I can turn the lights off in the kitchen and it's just filled with moonlight. So it's my happy place. Yellow is the permanent or prominent color from the refrigerator down to the floors. So yeah, the kitchen is my favorite right now — sorry to the other places.

A yellow tiled kitchen with a skylight

David Quarles IV