In January 2021, the classical idea of a designer showhouse will be turned on its ear with the unveiling of the Obsidian Virtual Concept House. The Black Artists + Designers Guild (BADG), in cooperation with the magazines of Hearst’s Luxury & Design Collection (ELLE Decor, House Beautiful, Veranda, and Town & Country), will imagine and present online an 11,000-square-foot virtual home in Oakland, California, conceived by a group of 22 BADG members led by architect Nina Cooke John and ELLE Decor A-List designer Leyden Lewis. The aim: To envision a home of the future (in the year 2025, to be precise) for a multigenerational Black family. Here, Lewis gives insight into how the project came about and what it means to him.
ELLE Decor: What is the mission of the Obsidian project?
Leyden Lewis: First, to begin answering questions like, Is there a Black aesthetic? If so, what does it look like? Then also to create a place that embraces the dream.
ED: What dream is that?
LL: To imagine how Black people live. When we dream about living, people tend to dream bigger than what’s available. This is a moment for us to show our own people that those dreams aren’t out of reach. Obsidian is designed with an anchor family in mind, but we’re not putting limitations on the definition of the word family. It doesn’t mean “nuclear.” But it’s a big house, so this family certainly has means, and they’re educated.
ED: Why did you choose Oakland for the site?
LL: Oakland has a long history with the Black Panther movement, and it’s a nexus of innovation and technology for the United States.
ED: What do people need to understand about Obsidian before exploring it?
LL: This is not a showhouse—it is a concept house. That distinction is key. The core principles are innovation, sustainability, and Black family practices. We’re anticipating changes in how a house functions.
ED: Tell us about the overall schematic of the house.
LL: It’s not a compartmentalized home in that no room has a set designation. The kitchen isn’t just for cooking; perhaps it’s also a place to braid your hair. The bathroom is for bathing and grooming, but also potentially for birthing. It’s almost Wakanda-like, where robot technology will change the shape of a given room to the needs of the moment. In the bathroom, you can plug in settings to make it a grotto, for instance. Can you imagine it?
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