We sat and drank Moroccan tea in the center of her home, an ambiance that appeared as though it was majestically designed for royalty and regaling. I was surrounded by the influence of color, welcoming and expressive, from the collection of African masks on the wall to the chic 20-foot hand-painted multi-hued accent backdrop that rests behind the chaise lounge. The house had its own language, each room illuminated with combinations of patterns, textures, and metallic paints, providing a most conclusive charismatic draw. As I wandered through, I could not only appreciate its beauty, but also feel its rhythm, from wall to wall.
From Community Development to Craft Designer
Leslie Nesbitt wasn’t always a crafty surface designer. Nor did she always dream of beautifying a person’s home by transforming their standard space into a stimulating sanctuary. In fact, her career began as a community development specialist in the Office of the Mayor in Washington, D.C. Her initial aspiration was to become a CEO for a national social justice nonprofit organization. However, with philanthropy at the forefront, helping others was something that she wanted to continue to do, but in a different form. After deciding to leave her position as a senior executive of a nationally recognized women’s organization, Nesbitt decided that it was time to dig deeper into the imagination of what truly made her soul sing—art and design.
She spoke with Black Enterprise Contributor, Rochelle Soetan, to discuss her work as a wall designer and as owner of Rhythmic Walls, Faux Finishing Design Studio and weighs in on the science of colors, spirituality, intuition, craft, and calling.
Black Enterprise: How do you see color through your lens?
Leslie Nesbitt: When I look out the window, I see an abundance of life. I see loads of color influences on birds, flowers, trees, clouds, all vivid, subtle, and in-between. All of God’s beauty is already there.
BE: What drew you into this business?
LN: I’ve always loved color but didn’t understand its impact. When I started this business, it forced me to not only understand colors, but also the behavioral side of people, behind the colors. One of my first client’s was a woman just coming out of a nasty divorce. She wanted to transform her home, so in restyling her home, I used a color palette of about six or seven colors on the project. At the very end, she said to me, “You’ve changed the spirit of my home.” But even then, the purpose did not resonate with me.
Not long after, more clients began to echo that same communication. The most eye-opening moment was when I realized that my clients generally come to me in some state of transition: whether they are purchasing a new home, wanting to update their existing home, receiving a promotion at work, encountering a divorce, or preparing for some kind of celebration. Nonetheless, transitions. What was most interesting was that when I initially entered their homes, I could feel the vibes—be they negative or positive—flowing from the walls. Negativity within a space has a retraction; it either pulls you one way or another. And it matters not where you are, when those colors meet you and wrap you, there is an emotional connection that takes place. The connection can be light or dark and the space ultimately defines what that feeling is going to be and/or the reaction from it.
BE: Would you say that the walls have their own rhythm, like music?
LN: Yes! Hence, Rhythmic Walls!
BE: How can a client use color to heighten their quality of life?
LN: Colors give us a certain state of mind, collectively, as well as individually because the psychology of color is very real. Color is very deliberate in our lives and is used very specifically to influence and direct us in many different ways. Often, we are not aware of how intertwined color is in everything we do, beyond what we put on our walls or adorn on our bodies.
When I’m working with clients to develop a color strategy for their space, I always keep in the forefront of my mind how they want their space to feel and how it will be used, because color has so much emotion within it. Certainly, color can be used to transform a nondescript space into one that evokes an atmosphere that has a very specific characteristic overtone. Colors can be used to awake memories, calm nerves, and increase or decrease appetite, and yes, make you spend money.
For example, when you look at marketing and commercial restaurants, you’ll notice that the use of color is very deliberate. Restaurants use color to create mood, movement, and stimulate appetite. Red tablecloths, for example, propel people to eat more. As well, the color blue is used to decrease the appetite for those watching their waistlines. If the surrounding colors within the restaurant are warm and inviting, like shades of green, they welcome and relax the guests to stay calm and extend their setting. Medical environments have begun to incorporate color palettes that are warmer and more energizing. Recent studies show these color palettes to be of aid with healing and easing anxiety.
Her Color Strategy
BE: How do clients decipher color schemes for their project?
LN: Some clients know exactly what they want while others have absolutely no clue. Color schemes can be inspired from something the client saw in a painting, while on vacation, driven by color trends, or a simple piece of furniture. My task is to gather that information and interpret it into a color strategy that enables the client’s story to be told visually, with impact and harmonious sensibility.
Personally, I do not believe in color trends and try to steer my clients away from them. Color placement is just as important as the color itself, like editing a paper! I chuckle when I see homeowners do what I like to call the “duck walk.” The “duck walk” is when you use, perhaps, three colors constantly, over and over in everything! And they are used, repeatedly, without the incorporation of any other complimentary color that is not one of the three. It drives me crazy! I begin all projects with an anchor or base color, which allows for all of the other colors to flow together. Some client’s spaces may have different colors on the walls, but they do not connect. The anchor color allows everything to flow in harmony with everything else in its environment, including the artwork, furniture, etc.
BE: What are some of your most challenging clients?
LN: My most challenging client is the “color coward,” the person who’s ultimately afraid to transition from white to off-white. They are afraid. My goal in working with that client is to build their confidence and stretch their imagination. They aesthetically cannot visualize the project as a whole and that’s where I come in. I help them visualize the room. I transition them from color cowards to color commandos!
BE: Space is energy. People are energy. Colors are energy. How personal does this become for the client?
LN: For my clients who are new home buyers, I advise them to live in their space for a while, feel it, bond with it. Aside from the way they want their space to look, the ultimate question is always, “What do you want your space to feel like?”
Though I’ve designed my brand around the use of bold colors, every now and then, I’ll surprise a client and interject a pearl, white, or beige. But my steadfast mantra is “Life is too short for beige.” For me, color is a consciousness.
Upcoming Launch of New Line
Nesbitt’s extensive world travel to places like Ghana, London, Senegal, New Mexico, Spain, Marrakesh, Morocco, and throughout the United States, has undoubtedly enhanced her creativity as a surface designer. She visits Morocco several times a year, a place where she finds her spiritual whimsy. As well, she has recently initiated taking small groups there for inspiration and an unforgettable illuminating retreat experience.
She is enthused about the launch of her new stencil line, Rhythmic Walls Stencils, which will be culturally curated patterns that are sophisticated, modern, and traditional and can be applied on any surface.