Designer Interview

Sheryl McLean Takes Us Inside 'The Shaman’s Chamber'

Sheryl McLean is the President and Creative Director of McLean and Tircuit, specializing in high-end residential, multi-family housing, and commercial interiors. She recently contributed to the Obsidian Virtual Concept House by Black Artists + Designers Guild (BADG), designed to highlight the living and dwelling experiences of Black families.

McLean spoke to STARK about the space she created, her artistic process, and how the interior design community can better highlight and celebrate Black voices.

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'The Shaman's Chamber' by Sheryl McLean
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Sheryl McLean

Designer

This room is a stunning and eclectic mix of ideas – how were you able to balance so many colors and styles while keeping it cohesive?
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Sheryl McLean | Pizzazz in Chocolate Runner

The colors used are primarily colors in nature. I find that they play well together. When I use more intense saturation of color, it becomes important to focus on balance through the use of texture and pattern.

Where did your foundation with this space begin? Did it start with a single design element and grow from there, or did 'The Shaman’s Chamber’ concept come first?
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Sheryl McLean | Shaman’s Desk

My designs developed out of my curiosity of what I felt was needed right now during these challenging times. More than anything, the idea of connection to my ancestral past, a mindfulness of the present and dreams of a better future is what The Shaman’s Chamber represents.

I started with recurring colors and patterns I observed in the textiles, architecture, and artifacts from villages in West Africa. They reflected different elements in nature - some known to have healing properties and spiritual powers.

Where did ‘The Shaman’s Chamber’ concept come from? How do the individual design elements, like the rugs and the artwork, lend themselves to this concept?
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Sheryl McLean | The Shaman's Chamber

The Shaman in many indigenous cultures is known as the Dreamcatcher. They provide protection from nightmares and guide you to your ancestral and guardian spirits. They are known for the healing of your physical body, mind and soul.

In the bedroom, I designed an e-book wall which allows you to experience the virtual reality of visiting your distant homeland or any of your favorite or historical destinations. Like the shaman, the e-book wall acts as a dreamcatcher, allowing you to be fully connected and to experience the dreams of your past & present.

Always being mindful of the connection to our collective histories, I designed furniture pieces, honoring the traditional African artistry by reproducing the markings and carvings from present day African American artist such as Malene Barnett to the ancient Hausa tribe in Nigeria. I used the traditional African hair braiding technique to bind together a custom leather & hair-on-hide rug used in the bedroom.

 
So much of our history was stolen or hidden from us. My space is a reminder of how great and advanced we are as a people.
In what ways does the room highlight the dwelling and living of Black families? Are there certain design elements you chose to purposely emphasize parts of the Black experience?

So much of our history was stolen or hidden from us. My space is a reminder of how great and advanced we are as a people. To have a holistic space that is an expression of the African Diaspora in combination with modern day design, materials and advanced technology is befitting a people who designed and built the great pyramids and were in so many cases the unnamed discoverers in science and medicine. The world evolved around many of those foundations and have developed advanced industries, machineries, science, and technology but have not credited its developments to the basics they acquired from African history. I dedicate my space to the Black family in its entirety.

Can you speak to the importance of the Obsidian House, of an entire house being conceptualized to showcase the living and dwelling experiences of Black families?

For so long the mainstream tried to keep Black expression in a narrow box with only stereotypical versions of design (African prints & ancestorial artifacts). This is an opportunity for everyone to see and experience the beauty and strength of a collective Black community coming together from all parts of the world and to celebrate our creativity, uniqueness, love for family, and shared humanity.

How can the design community work to highlight and celebrate Black voices and the Black experiences?

The print media until recently showed very little interest in showcasing product designs and interior designs of African Americans. I have heard the explanations of not having enough interest in the public domain or that the designs are too ethnic. Yet I found it ironic that some of the best and more successful designs are filled with the colors and patterns of African textiles. Being limited to only a certain point of view is not my problem to solve. I would encourage the design community to expand and grow by being totally inclusive and to celebrate the contributions of African American designers.