Hayes, Cecil N. 1945–
Cecil N. Hayes 1945–
Florida-based interior designer Cecil N. Hayes has been hailed in the pages of Architectural Digest as among the leading 100 architects or designer in the world. Hayes’s work reflects her deep appreciation for African art forms and their link to contemporary design aesthetics. Her client list includes several high-profile people, for whom she has created modern but warm interiors with elements symbolizing a respect for earth, water, fire, and air in traditional African cultures.
Hayes was born on April 25, 1945, in Malone, a small town in Florida’s Panhandle, but went to high school in Fort Lauderdale. Artistically gifted, she knew little about interior design as a profession while growing up, and saw teaching as her only career option. Upon graduating with a degree in art education from Florida A&M University in 1967, Hayes took a job as a high school art teacher in Alma, Georgia, as part of a federal program to integrate the schools and their staff. She lived in the nearby southeast-central Georgia community of Waycross, but there were no apartments for rent there, and so her first lodging was a rented room in a house owned by an older woman. “I asked her to see the closet and she pointed to the penny nail in the door,” Hayes recalled in an interview with Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service journalist Audra D.S. Burch. Hayes eventually moved into a tiny house located behind the town Dairy Queen, and deployed her artistic skills to redecorate it on her less-than-opulent salary. It turned into a pleasing, warm space, and Hayes began to consider a career change.
In 1971, Hayes quit teaching and enrolled at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale to study interior design. She was one of the first black students at the school, and graduated at the top of her class in 1973. Hired by a Plantation, Florida, interior-design firm for $80 a week, Hayes gained enough experience in two years to strike out on her own. Cecil’s Designers Unlimited opened for business in Plantation with a Small Business Administration loan of $6,000. The space had a storefront window which Hayes used to display her own drawings and accessories, and during her first year in business she landed a wealthy client from the posh Jacaranda section of the city. Hayes outfitted a 4,500-square-foot home on a budget of just $1,400, a feat that was so impressive that she earned local media coverage.
Hayes’s business found new clientele and won bigger budgets over the next few years, but a black woman in the world of interior design was still a relative rarity. As a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, the professional organization with a rigorous qualifying examination, Hayes had access to fabric, furniture, and flooring showrooms open only “to the trade.” When she took her clients to such places, the reception was sometimes a cool one, and she eventually went into the custom-furniture business with her husband, Arzell Powell. “I started doing more custom designs out of fear of the design center,” she explained to Burch in the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service profile. “People would meet me at the door and ask, ‘May I help you?’ Translation: Are you in the wrong place? Or I would walk in with my client and they would begin talking to him or her, never considering that I was
Born on April 25, 1945, in Malone, FL; married Arzell Powell (a furniture maker). Education: Florida A&M University, BA, 1967; Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, BA, 1973.
Career: Alma, Georgia, high school art teacher, 1967-71; Santa Stevens Interior Design, interior design associate, 1973-75; Cecil’s Designs Unlimited, owner 1975-; Powell’s Interiors, Inc., partner and consultant, 1983-.
Memberships: American Society of Interior Designers.
Awards: Designers and Decorators Guild, Distinguished Designer of the Year Award; Design Center of the Americas (DCOTA), Visionary in Design Award, 2002; Designers and Decorators Guild, African American Achievement Award, 2004.
Addresses: Office —Cecil’s Designers Unlimited, 6601 Lyons Rd., C-4, Coconut Creek, FL 33073.
actually the designer. It was very uncomfortable.” Started in 1983, Powell’s Interiors, Inc. functions as the manufacturing division for Cecil’s Designers Unlimited.
Hayes’s impressive mix of custom pieces and African art and patterns began winning her a roster of well-known clients from the world of sports and entertainment. She has created interiors for actors Wesley Snipes and Samuel L. Jackson, as well as professional athletes Ty Law, Penny Hardaway, and Derek Brown. Hayes’s work on Snipes’s 7,000-square-foot home made the cover of Ebony magazine in 1997. Hayes met Snipes through his mother, Marion Snipes, but won the commission only when she presented him with a plan that met with his approval: unlike many who hire a design professional, Snipes had a very specific vision of what he wanted his Mediterranean-style home to become. Hayes worked for months on the design plan, after a two-day meeting in which the actor presented his elaborate philosophies on the subjects of light, angles, and mood for living spaces. Snipes disliked squares, for example. “Squares create 90-degree angles, and 90-degree angles create dust and positive ions,” he explained to Ebony writers Lynn Norment and Vandell Cobb. “It messes with our sinuses, messes with your clothes. So you change the angles and the air can move the dust particles from stagnation in the corners.”
Hayes, Snipes asserted, proved herself up to the challenge. “She didn’t know what I was talking about at first,” he told Ebony, “about having the spirit and the vibe correct, and how they affect the emotions. But as it progressed, she started to really dig it, and you can tell that she put her heart and soul into it.” Snipes’s home includes a waterfall fountain in the foyer, an aquarium filled with African cichlids on the way to the patio, and many African and Asian elements. Hayes found Nigerian carvings, Haitian contemporary art, and copper accessories, and covered some walls in grass cloth. The spectacular result helped put her on Architectural Digest’s top 100 list of designers and architects. The list is an international one, but in both 2000 and 2002 she was the sole African-American professional included on it. Her fellow listees included Getty Museum architect Richard Meier and Michael Graves, whose mass-market line is carried by Target Stores.
Hayes’s business is located in Coconut Creek, near Pompano Beach, and several employees among the dozen there are family members. The firm does both residential and commercial interiors, but she won a plum commission for the interior of a new African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale. The archives and research facility was only the third of its kind in the United States, and was destined to become a cultural landmark for Broward County.
In 2002, Hayes created an exhibit for a textile fair at Florida’s Design Center of the Americas (DCOTA). Her installation, “Influences of African Legacy Revealed,” was a walk-through lesson on the ties between contemporary design and traditional African elements, such as rich, dark specialty woods, earth-tone palettes, and vibrantly patterned textiles. “I really wanted people to see that the African art form is not ‘ethnic,’ that it is stronger, deeper than that. Ethnic is insular, within a culture; African forms extends far beyond the culture,” Hayes told Burch, the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service writer. “Beyond the influence, the exhibit also shows ways in which African art and furnishings can mix with other kinds of decor.”
Ebony, November 1997, p. 194; September 2003, p. 94.
Jet, March 25, 2002, p. 33.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, April 29, 2002.
Palm Beach Post, February 17, 2002, p. 1K.
Cecil’s Designers Unlimited, www.cecilsdesigners.com (June 29, 2004).
“Cecil Hayes: Biography,” The History Makers, www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/biography.asp?bioindex=226&category=artMakers (May 10, 2004).
Although the terms "interior decorator" and "interior designer" refer to different professions, they are often used interchangeably. Technically, an interior decorator focuses on a room's surface—its color and decor and the artistic arrangement of the objects within it. An interior designer is more of an architect, concerned with the design and structure of the room. Nevertheless, the two fields have merged, and anyone interested in a career in interior decorating needs the same kind of training and experience. In the United States, this begins with a 4-or 5-year degree program from a school accredited by the Foundation for Interior Design Education and Research. These programs typically include course work in interior design, art, architecture, and technology. After graduation and 2 years of work experience, the aspiring interior decorator is qualified for the state licensing examination administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification.
As one prominent practitioner comments, being an interior decorator is "more than lingering over fabric swatches or doodling out designs." An interior decorator must know as much about business (including budgeting), engineering principles, materials science, drafting, and building safety codes as about color and arrangement. The interior designer has to be able to take accurate measurements of room areas, angles, elevations, and the like. A critical skill is the ability to envision and make drawings to scale to ensure that furnishings and other objects fit in the space being decorated. It is also a good idea for designers to develop strong computer skills, especially the ability to use CAD (computer-aided design) programs.
see also Architect.
Michael J. O'Neal
Ball, Victoria Ross. Opportunities in Interior Design and Decorating Careers. Lincolnwood, IL: VGM Career Horizons, 1995.
Gibbs, Jenny. A Handbook for Interior Designers. New York: Sterling Publishing, 1997.