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Harlem Toile: In Sheila’s Words

By The Inside

After many years searching for the perfect Toile for her own home, Sheila Bridges decided that it quite simply didn’t exist, so she created it.

Harlem Toile rewrites the iconographic narrative of a classic decorating staple and challenges constructs of representation and beauty, all while retaining its romantic appeal. The pattern, which lampoons some of the stereotypes commonly associated with African Americans, ultimately celebrates their complex history and rich culture which has often been appropriated.

“The pattern represents a different perspective and offers another visual point of view that is rarely shown in the patterns that are available in wallpapers, fabrics, and now furniture,” said Bridges. “Like art, it is interpretive and up to the viewer to determine what they see based on their understanding of racial stereotypes that have been commonly associated with African Americans throughout history.”

Sheila shared her inspiration behind each of the pattern’s vignettes:

This scene celebrates my love and ownership of horses and our agricultural roots in the South, but at the same time addresses the stereotype of our superior athleticism as I am outrunning/pacing the herd.

My friends and I spent most of our free time in the street riding bikes, jumping rope and crushing on neighborhood boys. In that order.

This is inspired by Philly native and former 76er and Harlem Globetrotter Wilt Chamberlain blocking Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s famous skyhook.

Afro, curly, kinky, bald, wavy, straight, braided, dreadlocked–our beauty should be affirmed and celebrated.

The dancing scene addresses our entertainment value historically as black people — from minstrel shows to modern day. It is also a nod to the notion that Black people love to dance and are great dancers.

A couple enjoying a picnic with watermelon and fried chicken-two foods commonly associated with African Americans. The group in the background are gathered at a table — are they eating, playing cards or planning a coup? It’s up to your interpretation.

The Inside recently launched a collaboration with Sheila Bridges, and her iconic Harlem Toile design is now widely available on furniture for the very first time — and in five new colorways.

Shop the collection here.

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