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Home Again: An Art Director Mixes Past and Present in Her Native D.C.

A Washington, D.C. art director uses her skills to create a home rich in style and character

Every week, our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today we look at the Washington, D.C. apartment belonging to Hadiya Williams, an art director and graphic designer. To make her small living space fit her personal aesthetic, she filled it with meaningful, one-of-a-kind pieces.

You could say that the objects in Williams's home are something of an homage to her hometown. "When I was growing up, D.C. was known as Chocolate City," she says. "I loved it because it was filled with black people from all walks of life, and I had family and friends from all walks of life."

Hadiya Williams (above) has lived in her apartment for one year, and says her environment has had a positive impact on her life. "My space makes a big difference in how I feel every day," she says. "I'm excited to come home."

She left her comfortable network to study graphic design at Columbia College Chicago. "I never intended to come back," she says. "But I underestimated how much I would miss the green of D.C., and all the trees."

She returned to her birthplace to find it changed, but the neighborhood atmosphere of Northeast D.C., near Catholic University, appealed. "There are a lot of brand new buildings, up-and-coming restaurants, and new shops," she says. "This area is filled with artists and creatives."

The other attraction was the 700-square-foot unit Williams found in a newly constructed apartment building. Although she prefers the charm of vintage buildings, she couldn't get over the large windows: "The light is really important to my work and my state of mind," she says.

That said, the home lacks the original details she appreciates in older buildings. The layout is straightforward, the molding is nearly nonexistent. Williams set out to change all that, drawing on her past to decorate her present: "When I was growing up, my mom had African art in the house. Going through the family attic, I found some of her Elizabeth Catlett prints, and I had to have them."

The 1980s Michael Jackson poster is an homage to the wall of posters Williams had in her bedroom when she was growing up. "His music played a huge role in my childhood. That poster was on my wall for a long time—I used to think his eyes were following me around the room," she laughs. Here, she elevates the iconic image to grown-up status by framing it.

Much of Catlett's work depicts powerful African-American women and that set the stage for ethnic art and prints mixed with midcentury furniture and a 1970s vibe. "My mom has a lot of style. Growing up in her home influenced my own style, and decorating in a similar way just felt natural," says Williams.

In her living room, Kenyan mud cloths cover the back of the midcentury-style sofa and chair. "The black and white color scheme was inspired by these pieces and the art," Williams says. "To me, that color combination feels classic, and it will never get old."

The modern pillows and rug are inspired by traditional Moroccan patterns. "I didn't think too much about mixing the prints; I did it mostly by instinct," Williams says. Her gut led her to put the smallest pattern on the floor, and bigger prints at eye level.

Williams loves her book collection, but keeps things uniform by keeping her tomes under glass in Ikea's Billy Series shelves. Tucking the television between the shelves makes it seem more built-in and less conspicuous.

Williams's strategy is simple: Mix new with old to create character. Playing off the black-and-white theme is the wood carving from Cameroon. She purchased it at the Black Memorabilia Fine Art & Craft Show. "It's an annual event, and you can find wonderful items there," Williams says. "I shop at a lot of fairs and festivals for handcrafted items that give a place energy and life."

Other artwork focuses on bold typography, something dear to the graphic designer's heart: a poster for the dance company Les Ballets Africains; a print advertising The Wiz, Williams's favorite musical; and a piece showing a stamp commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation that's created and signed by her one graphic design idols, Gail Anderson.

That font fetish led her to explore letterpress, and her own press sits behind a round work desk in front of the windows. And here the lines between work and life start to blur. Currently, the designer is the visual communications manager for the nonprofit Edgewood/Brookland Family Support Collaborative. She's also designed a number of letterpress wedding invitations. "I love letterpress for the typography impression and the tactile feel of the type on the paper," she says. The press, when not in use, is always on display as a sculptural element.

Left: As a graphic designer who loves letterpress, it's no surprise that Williams's art collection contains pieces with bold typography (or that she keeps a press at the ready). Right: A vintage bench sitting at the entry of the apartment makes a convenient place to remove shoes or temporarily place a purse.

And that's the way it is for Williams—she turns her design eye to everything. "Since I became a designer, I see how things come together more clearly," she says. "I see space differently, and I'm able to pull things like form and lines and pattern together. That goes for my work and how I decorate my home."

And if studying graphic design changed her worldview, then this apartment has changed her outlook on her personal life. "I've lived here about a year, and not only am I comfortable, I'm excited about bringing people to my home and entertaining," she says. "This place has been good for me."

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