Interior Designer, Sheila Bridges, a Harlem-based Renaissance Woman

by Elysian Magazine

SHEILA BRIDGES, “America’s Best Interior Designer”

This Harlem-based Renaissance Woman feels the soul of the interiors she designs
with a unique aesthetic

When Sheila Bridges embarked upon the redesign of a Cotswold-style estate in Bedford Hills, New York, she must have felt “at one” with the late architect Phelps Barnum, who created the country escape in 1936 for a family of avid equestrians. Nine decades later, with architect David Abelow overseeing a major structural renovation and restoration, Sheila embarked upon her third project for the homeowners with a vision to create a warm, livable, comfortable home—in a massive, 8,000 square-foot home.

“My process always starts with a lot of research and design reconnaissance,” explains the designer who CNN and Time Magazine heralded as “America’s Best Interior Designer.” Combining equal parts history, modern comfort, and whimsey, the result was a magnificently understated residence blending strong but traditional design motifs, color, and texture. From the original stonework surrounding the kitchen stove to the Farrow & Ball wallpaper in lettuce green in one of the bedrooms; retaining the original green wall tiles and flooring in one of the bathrooms and making visual statements to carry the theme of each room (such as the custom-painted Gracie dining room wallpaper that, literally, sets a pastoral scene), Sheila achieved her vision and the expectations of her clients. Even the purely modern kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures contribute to the personality of those rooms, allowing the “bones” of the house to show through with sensitivity and strength.

Philadelphia-born Sheila has been featured in numerous publications, including Architectural Digest, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, among them. She has written two books, Furnishing Forward: A Practical Guide to Furnishing for a Lifetime (2002) and The Bald Mermaid, a Memoir (2013), and for four years hosted her eponymous TV show, SHEILA BRIDGES DESIGNER LIVING for Cable TV’s Fine Living Network. A graduate of Brown University, Parsons School of Design, and the Polimoda in Florence, Italy among her finest achievements is the “Harlem Toile De Jouy” wallpaper she designed to honor her adopted neighborhood, which is showcased in the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s permanent wallpaper collection.

About the pattern, Harlem Toile de Jouy (above).  Initially created as a wallcovering, it then expanded a collection to include fabrics, bedding, plates, glassware, umbrellas, and clothing. “This design (which lampoons some of the stereotypes deeply woven into the African American experience), has been featured in The Studio Museum In Harlem, the Museum of Art and Design in New York City, and the Musée De La Toile De Jouy in Jouy-en Josas, France. I am honored to have my Harlem Toile De Jouy wallpaper included in The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s permanent wallpaper collection,” says Sheila Bridges of her design that is used in fabrics, bedding, tabletop, and clothes.  All are available at Sheila


The inspiring memoir of interior designer Sheila Bridges, The Bald Mermaid comprises engaging and deeply personal vignettes that explore questions of identity, femininity, race, success, and what it really means to have it all. After receiving degrees from two prestigious universities, Bridges became wildly successful in her career as an interior designer, designing homes for high-profile clients and even hosting her own television show. But when she lost her hair due to alopecia, she lost it all: this is her story of coming to terms with what success and happiness mean to her, realizing the cost of freedom, and understanding what it means to stay true to herself in the face of judgment, criticism, and expectation from family, friends, lovers, and strangers.

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