Rayman Boozer, the principal designer at Apartment 48, a prominent New York City interior design firm, is recognized as a leading name in his field. But the path toward this peak was not always a clear one for the Black gay creative.
When Boozer was growing up, the world of interior design was “not a familiar industry,” admits the Indiana native. But by age 10, he had immersed himself in the magazines of the trade, including The American Home, Apartment Life, and House Beautiful. He “idolized” the work of Albert Hadley and Sister Parish, legendary decorators who collaborated with the Kennedy White House as well as the Freedom Quilting Bee, which supported poor Black craftspeople during the civil rights movement.
But Boozer did not realize a career in the field was feasible until he “happened to stumble into an Interior Design 101 class” while attending Indiana University. The lessons stuck. From there, he moved to New York City, where he eventually founded a home furnishing store named Apartment 48 — named so because it was designed to look like a real apartment imbued with his aesthetic. The store’s success sparked a pivot toward full interior design commissions for spaces as varied as apartments, houses, lofts, summer homes, retail stores, and television studios.
“I love my work and every project is different, so I’m never bored,” says Boozer, who launched Apartment 48 nearly 30 years ago. He describes his favorite projects as ones where “my creative freedom felt endless.” His most difficult ones occur “where communication [with a client] fails.”
Boozer cites his passion for travel and fashion as among the greatest influencers of his aesthetic. “I push for a bohemian, world traveler vibe where the layers of colors and patterns reflect my favorite brands and locales. I’ve also used film and television, like The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Durrells in Corfu, as springboards for more complex design narratives,” he says.
The designer is known for his passion for bold colors and patterns, so much so that Time Out dubbed him “the color guru” in 1997. Some conservative clients are reluctant to embrace this worldview, but Boozer can be persuasive in pursuing the daring. “Discussing colors my client has liked or disliked in the past, the color of their favorite piece of clothing, or even accents from their wedding day can spur openness to new hues,” he says.
“Everyone has an emotional relationship with color that isn’t always readily available on the surface,” he adds. “When it comes to shaking up an existing space, I remind clients that color and pattern are the least expensive ways to completely change a room. Start by painting a wall (you can always repaint) or by adding a throw cushion with a fantastic pattern (it can always be taken away).”
This counsel resonates with the best piece of advice — in design and in life — he’s ever received: “Take chances with confidence. The only people who don’t make mistakes are people who don’t do anything.”
In addition to shaking up physical spaces, Boozer is also committed to moving the design industry to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ folks and people of color. Three years ago, he joined the Black Artists + Designers Guild after a friend, Malene Barnett, noticed “an extreme lack of diversity” at an industry gathering. Its founding by Barnett in 2018 “led to an immediate and resounding response from vendors, editors, and designers alike,” he says of BADG, which advocates for Black representation in the global design industry.
As a designer, Boozer himself is paying more attention to the identities of artists. For example, a recent collaboration with S. Harris, the Orejen Collection, includes wall coverings, trimming, and fabrics inspired by Bhutan, Zanzibar, and Maori cultures. The collection “intends to shine a light on groups typically underserved in the design world,” Boozer notes.
However, the world of design still has a long way to go toward inclusion. “The industry has recently championed queer male designers but has been far less inclusive of designers of color, female designers, and others under the LGBTQ+ umbrella,” he observes.
“Design thrives through diversity. We should all seek out the stories that have shaped our fellow designers. Vendors should host diverse panels to ensure no voices remain shut out of the conversation. And editors should strive to record a more varied selection of designers and projects. I’ve seen movement in all of these areas, but we’re not there yet.
Photography: David Land, Chris Cooper, Kelly Marshall, Marco Ricca, Nick Parisse, Apartment 48, and Marco Ricca