Saudah Saleem’s interiors are infused with saturated color, cultural elements, engaging artwork, and beautiful designs melding styles, textures, and finishes. Saleem recently offered her talents to Housing Works’ Design on a Dime, creating a visual masterpiece that brought attendees back, again and again—including this Downtown editor. Below, Saleem agreed to share everything from her process and design style to tips for fellow designers hoping to soon embark on their first Design on a Dime Experience. We hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did!
Downtown: Was this your first time creating a booth for Housing Works’ Design on a Dime? What was the experience like for you?
Saudah Saleem: This is actually my second year participating as a featured designer at Design on a Dime. Housing Works provides designers such a unique opportunity to share our time, talent and design perspectives as part of this amazing annual fundraising event. We spend months, days, and hours of planning to make our design visions come to life for this one very special evening.
As a returning designer, my experience was vastly different from my first time around. This year, because I knew what to expect, I found myself able to relax a bit and enjoy the process even more.
Downtown: How would you describe your booth? What was the theme?
SS: My booth combined my love of bold color, cultural influence, and fashion with pattern, luxe textiles (like velvets and furs), and sophisticated detailing (did you see the tufting on the sofa or the Mongolian fur on the custom stools?!) to create what I called Soulful Luxe. My goal for the vignette design was to incorporate touches of culture, luxury and a sense of style in a way that was eye catching and reflective of a contemporary lifestyle.
Downtown: We fell in love with everything about your booth. Where did you source everything included?
SS: Wow, thanks so much! It was a real joy to put together. I loved blending African-inspired and modern luxe styles to create this look. I used vendors and brands that I absolutely love. What made creating the space even more special was the fact that, with the exception of a few vendors, all of the pieces I used were from either woman owned/operated or minority owned establishments.
Wallpaper : Mitchell Black
Art: Rachel Stewart Art, Brooklyn Dolly, Minted
Rug & Fur Pillows: Nourison
Teak Slice Coffee Table: Phillips Collection
Black and White Wearstler Pillows: Motif Pillows
Green Velvet Pillows: Arianna Belle
Glass Marble End Table, Red Upholstered Bench, Bluetooth Record Players: Final Cut NJ
Sofa/White Chairs: TOV Furniture
Barstools: Dowel Furniture
Lighting Sconces: Dunes and Duchess
Mirror: Made Goods
Vases/African Accents: Chairish
Brushstroke Lamp: Janna Bek
Brass and Marble Table Lamp, Navy Ottoman with Gold Trim: Mod
Downtown: Can you tell us about your design style and how it influenced how you approached your booth?
SS: My signature design style infuses vivid color and a mix of both traditional and eclectic design elements to create an aesthetic that is inspiring and sophisticated yet approachable.
The spaces I design almost always include bold color, a mix of finishes, and a nod to fashion and culture. While that typically makes for a fun and visually interesting space, this year I wanted to show that using these elements could also create a space that is quite sophisticated and luxurious. I wanted to create a space that mixed modern luxe with curated and cultural elements. Creating a well-appointed space is more than just adorning it with cool pieces, it’s identifying those pieces, their story, their history/meaning and then using them in a way that connects with people. Each unique piece I used in the vignette was curated not only for its physical beauty but also for its ability to resonate and invoke a feeling or mood.
It’s also very important to me to design spaces that are not only beautiful to look at but also comfortable and accessible. I think I accomplished that here.
This year I was blessed to work with some amazingly generous donors. From the fabulously rich red Karma rug donated by Nourison to the gorgeous blue velvet channel back Aviator sofa and cream and gold accent chairs provided by TOV Furniture, my vignette was filled with bold statement making pieces. The stunning graphic black and white print Mitchell Black wallpaper was a crowd favorite and provided the perfect backdrop for the artwork by Brooklyn Dolly and Rachel Stewart Art. Sprinkled throughout the vignette were more nods to culture and fashion, like the stunning oversized African feathered necklace and African glass beads from Chairish, a diverse collection of fashion books that included CHANEL, Seventies Glamour, and The Coveteur, and the pair of Mongolian fur-trimmed ottomans from TUFT.
Downtown: How would you describe the process to a designer who has not yet participated? What advice would you give them?
SS: The whole process can be a bit daunting initially but the benefits of participating are beyond rewarding. There are lots of logistics to be considered (contacting vendors, arranging shipments and deliveries, creating a cohesive look from goods donated from a variety of sources). My advice to incoming designers would be that although, as designers, we pride ourselves on staying true to our initial visions, with DOAD, you have to allow yourself to be flexible in the process. We rely heavily on the generosity of donors. As such, there may be times when the product you want to use is not available. Those instances require you to think on your toes and stay flexible. Always keep in mind a plan B or an alternative look you can execute.
- Start soliciting for donations early on. If there’s an item you really want to feature in your vignette or a brand you’ve been dying to work with, go for it! Reach out to vendors and share Housing Works’ amazing mission on ending AIDS and homelessness. You’d be surprised how many people want to give back and are willing to generously donate to such a great cause.
- Think ahead! As you’re planning the install of your space, try to anticipate both the best, and the worst case scenarios. Always have a plan B!
- Pay attention to the deadlines!
- Don’t hesitate to reach out to designers and creatives who’ve previously participated.
Downtown: Can you share any of the war stories in getting the booth actually set up? How much time do you have to get it all done?
SS: Although we plan for months leading up to the event, we have a very short period of time to actually install our spaces. We are allotted a total of 13 hours to essentially transform a completely empty box into a fully designed, curated, and styled space. So, it’s a bit chaotic, and it’s definitely an all-hands on deck sort of situation. In addition to calling in help from tradesmen, I called on friends to help with everything from unboxing to making runs to the flower district for fresh florals.
Downtown: Do you have any behind the scenes stories you can share?
SS: I was born and raised in NYC, but I’m based in Maryland now. So juggling the everyday duties that come with being a mom of five and the logistics of planning a long distance design and install with so many moving pieces can be a challenge.
Attendees get to see the perfectly styled spaces on opening night, but know little of the behind the scenes craziness that goes on just hours before the big night. During the install, I was fielding calls from everyone from the school nurse, my toddler wanting to FaceTime me to show me her latest unicorn drawing, to my college-aged daughter looking for advice on what to wear. Meanwhile, the wallpaper installer informed me that the wallpaper I’d been waiting all day to have put up wouldn’t be able to happen until day two of installation, throwing a monkey wrench in my plan to have the bulk of the installation of my space installed on day one times right?
Downtown: What is one item in your booth you wish you could have taken home yourself?
SS: Oh my goodness! There were so many pieces that spoke to me in my vignette. I would love to have taken home that gorgeous blue Aviator sofa from TOV! The rich color, tufted detail and the Lucite feet were giving full on luxe vibes.
Downtown: What were a couple of your favorite booths and why?
SS: Designers really bought their A game this year! There were so many amazing thoughtfully designed spaces. A few personal favorites were:
- Anthony George (gorgeous textiles and wallcovering.)
- Halden Interiors (serene, modern organic feel with cultural influences and so much texture)
- Bailey Li (Her space spoke to the truly transformative powers of a designer’s ingenuity. Her custom-painted metallic finished walls were stunning. Every piece in her space had a unique story of its own yet she was able to visually connect each piece to one another.)
- Beth Diana Smith (the way the lighting twinkled against the pieces in her vignette felt absolutely magical. Loved the jewel tones juxtaposed against those brass accents.)
Downtown: Would you participate in DOAD again and if so, why? Do you have an idea of what your booth would look like?
SS: Absolutely! It’s such an amazing opportunity to give back. I haven’t started working on what my booth will look like next year, but you can always count on me for a modern mix of color, pattern, and curated global pieces!
Downtown: What has been one of the most rewarding aspects of participating in DOAD?
SS: One of my favorite parts of this event is the beautiful relationships cultivated with other designers as we work alongside one another. Yes, we are all focused on presenting our best, but there is also this collective spirit of support and comradery amongst the designers. Lending one another a helping hand, sharing resources, giving styling advice, and even splitting dinner orders are all part of the experience that makes this event so memorable.
The reward is two-fold. There is the beauty in the bond that’s created with fellow designers, and then there is the reward in know that this beautiful experience we’ve been blessed to participate in directly impacts and benefits the lives of so many. This year, more than $1.1 million was raised in support of this effort. Talk about giving back!
Downtown: What is next for you?
SS: It’ll be a busy summer. I’m currently working on client projects in NYC and Virginia as well as planning to do another design event in NYC in August.