F5: Hadiya Williams on Connections, a Love of Old Objects + More

03.22.24 | By
F5: Hadiya Williams on Connections, a Love of Old Objects + More

Hadiya Williams spent 20 years in the world of graphic design before discovering a full-force passion for clay. What began as an innocent hobby in 2017 turned into a full-time job when design studio Black Pepper Paperie Co. was established, with Williams as the founder and creative director. Based in Washington, DC, she now spends her days creating decorative art referred to as terrestrial and generative, ceramic objects, and surface designs.

brown-skinned woman with black hair wearing a slouchy shirt and glasses

Hadiya Williams \\\ Photo: Kirth Bobb

It’s easy to see how Williams’ previous career and her current one are related through the graphic patterns and abstract creations that she favors. But her inspiration also comes from somewhere deeper: the connections between West African art, textiles, and the design styles of the mid-20th century Black Arts Movement and the early 20th century Harlem Renaissance. The resulting artistic creations represent cultural influences from across the Black Diaspora, connecting the distant past to today’s present and the future that’s to come. As Williams unites art, design, traditions, and stories through patterns and techniques, her gift is made clear to anyone paying attention.

Williams has had the opportunity to collaborate with various brands, including F. Schumacher Co., Target, Lulu and Georgia, WALPA (Japan), AARP, and Meta.

Today, Hadiya Williams joins us for Friday Five!

artwork of three Black woman smiling and hot rollers sitting on a surface

Going Down Makes Me Shiver by Nakeya Brown, 2014

1. Time Traveling Objects

My love for thrifting and old objects runs deep, stemming from a childhood spent admiring my mother’s style and her things – the art, the textiles, the music, etc. Those early connections shaped my passion for design, and I’ve been an avid collector ever since. Thrifting isn’t just a hobby; it’s a way to travel through time and experience the past through tangible relics. Over the years, I’ve honed my style, drawing inspiration from classic design details that resonate with me. Each find tells a story, preserving a piece of history that continues to influence my creative work and the things I hold close to my heart.

Two of my favorites, visual artist Nakeya Brown and BLK MKT Vintage in Brooklyn, New York, do a wonderful job of collecting, capturing, and preserving Black Americana and nostalgia from a woman-centered perspective. Above is the piece, Going Down Makes Me Shiver, from Nakeya’s 2014 collection, If Nostalgia Were Colored Brown. It was one of the first pieces of art that I purchased, and it encompasses so much of what I love about art: material culture, design, music, and nostalgia.

modern chair upholstered in printed turquoise fabrics

8 x 8 Juniper Chair by Nicole Crowder Upholstery \\\ Photo: Nicole Crowder

2. Chairs

Vintage chairs hold a special place in my heart; whether you collect them or craft them, they are a great way to express your design sensibilities. Over the years, I’ve developed a small collection of vintage chairs and seating, anticipating the day when I can showcase them in a space that does them justice. Among my recent favorites are Nicole Crowder Upholstery’s 8 x 8 A Line Collection, a contemporary reinterpretation of the classic 1963 Hans Wegner Shell chair. Inheriting eight original chairs in 2020, Nicole breathed new life into them through reupholstery, transforming them into one-of-a-kind pieces that each have a special story. This merging of classic craftsmanship with contemporary sensibilities and storytelling captures the sweet spot where I appreciate design the most.

interior of hotel lounge

Eaton Hotel-Wild Days DC, Mosaic by Zoe Charlton \\\ Photo: Courtesy of the Eaton Hotel

3. Boutique Hotels

Lately, I’ve been talking about my desire to travel the world and stay in boutique hotels. I’ve always liked hotels, but there’s something special about boutique ones with their unique designs. I’ve stayed in a few over the years, and you can see how much effort the designers put into them. It’s a dream of mine to design a collection for a boutique hotel one day. Among the many I’ve visited, the Eaton Hotel in DC holds a special place in my heart. Since its opening in 2018, it has fostered a vibrant social culture centered around community, all while maintaining quality hospitality and timeless design. When a hotel can seamlessly blend the comforts of home with a sense of escape, it achieves perfection.

artfully arrange colorful coffee table books

Photo: Hadiya Williams

4. Art + Design Books

As a general advocate for sustainability, I hold a deep love for the enduring charm of paper books, quietly hoping they never fade into obscurity. While I enjoy my current fiction and non-fiction as audiobooks, my shelves are adorned with a plethora of art and design tomes. It’s practically a reflex for me to grab a new one whenever the opportunity presents itself, making sure that even when I travel, there’s enough space for a few books. The ones in this photo are a good representation of what inspires me and what kinds of books I gravitate toward. Each one offers a well of inspiration, from the tactile feel of the paper selection to the beautiful photography and art, the meticulous craftsmanship of layout design, and the varying dimensions that lend a unique character to each piece. Needless to say, paper holds a sacred place among my top five passions, with art books reigning supreme as the ultimate indulgence.

graphic Broadway poster with text reading THE WIZ At the Winder Garden Broadway and 50th Street NYC

The Wiz, Milton Glaser, 1976; Lithograph on woven paper \\\ Photo: Courtesy of Cooper Hewitt

5. 1970s Music

If I had to pick one era of music, it would undeniably be the 1970s. It holds a significant place in my heart, as it has shaped various aspects of my life. Being born towards the end of that decade, the memories of my childhood are deeply connected with its cultural influence, impacting everything from my creative work to my personal style and aesthetic preferences. The music of the 70s, particularly soul-centered genres like R&B, funk, jazz, afrobeat, disco, and Latin jazz, resonates with me profoundly. It has a timeless quality that transcends the confines of its era, resembling a form of Afro-futuristic sound. Moreover, the album art from this period stands out as some of the most exceptional in music history.

The 1976 The Wiz Broadway poster by Milton Glaser is featured because of this production’s overall impact on Black American culture, the music quality, the cover art, and because the play, film, and soundtracks are my absolute favorites. This universe holds all of the things that I’ve referenced throughout about certain objects and works of art traversing time and space.



Work by Hadiya Williams:

multimedia art featuring a Black woman's face surround by colorful shapes covered in patterned fabric

Started in January 2023, the Ancestor Index (AI) is a visual archive of my ancestral venerations crafted in collaboration with MidJourney. Using my own handmade ceramic and surface pattern work to generate these one-of-a-kind images, they pay homage to my ancestors, Black women and girls, and the movements of the Great Migration. Using my own handmade ceramic and surface pattern work to generate these one-of-a-kind images that pay homage to my ancestors, Black women and girls, and the movements of the Great Migration.

five patterned tote bags hanging on a wooden rack

This is part of my 2024 limited edition collection in collaboration with sustainable baby and lifestyle brand Esembly Baby.

brown-skinned woman sitting at a dining table in front of a wall of abstract black and white art

My 2023 Collection with Lulu and Georgia includes wall art, decorative pillows, and table linens.

six handmade clay mugs of differing sizes covered in abstract black and white hand-drawn patterns

Hand-built stoneware mugs made for F. Schumacher Co. Nashville, 2024.

light wood credenza sits in front of a wall covered in black and white patterned wall paper

My 2020 wallpaper collection in collaboration with WallPops Peel-n-Stick wallpaper.

This post contains affiliate links, so if you make a purchase from an affiliate link, we earn a commission. Thanks for supporting Design Milk!

Kelly Beall is Director of Branded Content at Design Milk. The Pittsburgh-based writer and designer has had a deep love of art and design for as long as she can remember, from Fashion Plates to MoMA and far beyond. When not searching out the visual arts, she's likely sharing her favorite finds with others. Kelly can also be found tracking down new music, teaching herself to play the ukulele, or on the couch with her three pets – Bebe, Rainey, and Remy. Find her @designcrush on social.