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Elyse Ayoung

Designer • Gensler

Elyse Ayoung is an interior designer, working at Gensler and on freelance projects.

Photo courtesy of Elyse Ayoung

Spatial

At first I would attend meetings with clients and worry if they would trust me and think of me differently because I’m a Black woman. In Boston, there aren’t many Black women owned design firms or Black women in leadership roles; this has pushed me to work to fill the gap and think about myself as a leader in the industry someday.

Elyse Ayoung

Elyse Ayoung is an interior designer based in Boston who has a passion for creating spaces that speak to the human experience. As a child of immigrant parents from Trinidad and Tobago who were unable to complete college, education was emphasized and college was expected for Elyse and her sister. Elyse graduated with a BFA in architecture from MassArt (Massachusetts College of Art and Design).

After realizing her previous job at a construction project management company was not the right fit, Elyse sought out a position in architecture and found THEREdesign, a firm founded by Katy Flammia, who has remained a valued mentor. The firm primarily focused on residential projects, residential higher-end interiors and restaurant spaces. When THEREdesign merged with NBBJ to help their Boston interior sector, Elyse got the opportunity to experience life working at a large design firm while also undertaking fun freelance projects.

Think about what you put out in the world and don’t give up on what you’re doing. Not seeing people that look like you in the field is even more reason why you should continue on.

Elyse Ayoung

Photo courtesy of Elyse Ayoung

Photo courtesy of NBBJ

A selection of Elyse’s recent work

Law firm lobby, rendering courtesy of Gensler

Elephant VC offices, photo by Joyelle West, courtesy of ID8 Design Studio

Finish palette for a project, photo courtesy of Elyse Ayoung

After a few years of looking for change and further growth opportunities, Elyse found her home and design voice at Gensler, where she is a part of a team of creatives and thinkers who are shaping our spatial futures. Elyse has worked on designing a 17-floor workplace hub for a tech company, while continuing with her freelance work. As a Black woman in the architectural field, racial diversity is a subject she considers nearly every day. Elyse stresses the importance of an early introduction to art and design, in order to bring more diversity to the industries. Through her involvement in BosNOMA and by working with her network of other minority designers, she hopes to continue to be visible, fuel efforts in reaching youth interested in design, and give back to her community.

When I switched to a larger firm, it was hard not to notice there weren’t any others that looked like me. When you work for a small firm and residential clients, the attendee list is typically short and the meetings are more intimate. I didn’t get the sense of the lack of diversity until the project type shifted and the size of the office grew,” Elyse said.

PErsonal History

Elyse Ayoung as a child on her father’s lap

Photo courtesy of Elyse Ayoung

Shoe Boxes and Building Things

“My parents are from Trinidad and Tobago. They had my sister and I after immigrating here in their 20’s, so I grew up with a mix of cultures,” Elyse said. “My parents didn’t dictate what I should do, but insisted on college. They both worked in construction and my grandfather was an architect, so design was heavily present throughout my childhood. I was always making houses out of shoe boxes and building things. Getting to go into the office with my mom and read Architectural Digest was such a treat for me.”

Nobody was Teaching us Poetry

“I attended an elementary school in Dorchester, MA, where I grew up, and was nominated for a pilot program called Steppingstone that prepared inner-city kids for exam high schools. For the entire summer we had homework, learned languages, and read poetry, which was amazing because we were inner-city kids, and honestly, no one was reading us poetry. The program was really intense, but it prepared me for my acceptance into Boston Latin Academy.”

A New Outlook

“My high school art teacher, who became influential in my decision to pursue design, took his commitment to work to another level,” Elyse said. “He would take students with a promising or vested interest in art to tour schools in Boston. Before then, I didn’t know anything about art or design schools.” 

“The path was to go to business school or maybe become a doctor. A career in design? Forget it. This wasn’t something talked about in the Black community. Careers that make you money so that you can ‘move on up’ is what would define success,” Elyse continued.

“I’m Going to Do This”

“I was not a big academic in high school or working to my full potential until senior year, when I realized that my grades were just not good enough. I didn’t get into the school that I wanted to, and attended Bridgewater State College instead. I quickly realized I was the only one taking design classes seriously and not as an elective,” Elyse said. “I then had the ‘hard convo’ with my parents and decided to take a year off. They were completely supportive, but I needed to work, so I took a job at my mom’s construction management company.”

“I saved money, organized my design work, and went to a portfolio review day at MassArt. The woman there told me that, ‘it is important you continue in this industry and keep pushing, because there aren’t many of you,’ referring to my minority status as a Black woman in design. Her feedback was what made me say ‘I’m going to do this,’” Elyse said.

Elyse designing as part of the MassArt Architecture program

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ONLINE EXHIBITION

We Design

People. Practice. Progress.