A Virtual Home Imagines a More Free and Authentic Future for Black Families

Published by: Metropolis 
Author:  Leilah Stone

The Obsidian Virtual Concept House is an interactive dwelling conceptualized by the Black Artists + Designers Guild in collaboration with architects Leyden Lewis and Nina Cooke John with interiors by 25 BADG creatives.


The Barka Dai ‘An Abundance of Welcome’ (Cleanse/Pause) by Cheryl Umbles of Cheryl Umbles Interior Design: “As people of the African diaspora, our heritage has always been about opening our hearts and home to others.”Courtesy Cheryl Umbles

Home is a place to “feel relaxed, not judged, and to be surrounded by the people I love,” Malene Barnett, the artist, activist, and founder of the Black Artists + Designers Guild (BADG) explained in a recent Instagram Live discussion titled “Incorporating Family Heirlooms.” The conversation is part of BADG’s month-long initiative called the OBSIDIAN EXPERIENCE, which is a platform aimed at elevating the home as a space for Black imaginations and futures to thrive. Barnett’s philosophy is that home is a feeling as much as a physical space. “There’s a lot of layers to what the home is, and I think it’s really important for us, not just as a community but as individuals, to create that space so we can have those feelings all of the time,” she told the live audience.  

At the heart of the OBSIDIAN EXPERIENCE is the Obsidian Virtual Concept House, an interactive virtual home, which serves as a manifestation of the collective imaginings of 25 BADG members working in the arts, architecture, and interior design. Set in California’s Oakland Hills in 2025, the Afro-centric futurist dwelling embraces possibility and freedom for a Black family through design. Take a closer look at the plus signs throughout the home and you can even virtually shop the products and fixtures specified by the designers. 


Sankofa: Legacy Wall (Feature Wall) by Malene Barnett: “Within the tradition with African symbolism, the wall evokes Sankofa, the Adinkra concept meaning, ‘go back and get it.’ This is a necessary mindset to reclaim our Black identity and greatness. These walls send daily affirmations of self love and inspire ways to be an active member of the community.”Courtesy Malane Barnett

The visualization, led by New York-based architects Leyden Lewis and Nina Cooke John, is guided by the belief that Black futures can be equitable, sustainable, and liberatory. The Obsidian Concept House is “a supporting space for the mental, physical, and spiritual well-being of the Black family and all of its expressions of joy and creativity,” the architects said.  

The architecture itself showcases sustainable building practices such as geothermal heating, solar energy, rainwater harvesting, and passive-house systems. The interiors, all informed by the creators’ unique family histories and approaches to design, make up spaces for spirituality, health, food, art, and nature. Cheryl Umbles created an entryway emblematic of “An Abundance of Welcome;” Cheryl R. Riley designed a softly lit, turquoise room for meditation and worship; Everick Brown envisioned a transformative recreation room as a space for connection; and Linda Allen’s room titled “I am Good Enough: A Haven for the Black Overachiever” serves as an artist studio and garden. These are just a few of the inventive spaces in the home. Updates are being added throughout the month, so visitors can revisit and discover new interiors.  

Sanctuary By Cheryl R Riley New

Sanctuary (Meditate/Grieve/Worship) by Cheryl R. Riley: “I lived in San Francisco from 1977 to 1999, a time when meditation, investigations of the spiritualities of ancient or contemporary world cultures and mind/body awareness were very much a part of our lifestyles, so I was instantly drawn to this space.”Courtesy Cheryl R. Riley

Barnett’s contribution, the “Sankofa-Legacy Wall,” is the home’s centerpiece featuring ceramic tiles inscribed with ancestral names. The wall is a metaphor for “our ingenuity, strength, and perseverance,” she says. “Regardless of systemic structures, Black families continue to stay grounded in culture, spirit, and gratitude. The walls at Obsidian honor our ancestors, serve as a tool for Black liberation, and possesses healing properties.”   

The initiative comes at a time BADG describes as “The American Awakening:” a moment in U.S. history the group identifies as an opportunity for a more specific “reawakening of the Black imagination.” OBSIDIAN illustrates the idea that domestic space not only expresses the various perspectives and identities of the inhabitants, but also has the power to address environmental injustice, inspire new ways of being, and build a pathway “to a fuller, more authentic freedom.”  

BADG is a nonprofit platform founded in 2018 to combat the lack of representation of Black talent in the design industry. The OBSIDIAN EXPERIENCE was created in partnership with ELLE Décor, House Beautiful, Town & Country, and VERANDA with Hearst Magazine’s Luxury & Design Collection as the media sponsor. It launched on January 292021, with a virtual party available to stream online with additional events scheduled throughout the month.  

By Alicia Rodriguez
Alicia Rodriguez Executive Director, Employer Engagement