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Challenging racist, classist and sexist language in the design industry

The design industry, like many others, has had a long history and evolution alongside our societies and like other industries we need to play our part in recognising where terms need updating as we strive towards equality.

It has thankfully been a few years, although not as many as you would hope, since I have heard the term "n****r brown" in reference to a shade of leather. It is comforting to see that this is no longer accepted within the industry, but there are a couple more common terms that we will be modernising at Zenterior Design.

Master Bedroom

The term "Master Bedroom" has been debated in its historical references. For some, the relation to the master/slave dynamic is the problematic issue. Others argue that the term outdates the slave trade and that the "master of the house" existed long before it would have been used in this context. This, however, still speaks to a hierarchy of master/servant, and one where ownership is exclusively the right of a male.

For us, the simple fact that the largest bedroom can be owned by a person of any gender, colour or socioeconomic background, most of whom would not in today's society be referred to as "the master", is enough to render the term obsolete. We see no reason why the title "Main Bedroom" cannot fulfil the role with greater relevance to modern living, and is therefore the term that we use.

Plantation Shutters

I have heard it argued that the term "Plantation Shutters" is an innocent reference to the shutters of the American South as a point of origin, but there is a reason that so many design professionals are preferring to distance themselves from this description.

The inaccuracy of this statement for one. Shutters are believed to have originated in ancient Greece with the earliest examples of wooden shutters appearing in Tudor Britain. In today's America, vinyl shutters are becoming more popular than their wooden cousins intended in the meaning of "plantation shutters". This is largely due to the increased durability and lower cost and lead times of vinyl shutters that essentially offer the same look.

This would indicate then that the term relates to a specific era of the American South and to plantations that are inexorably linked with slavery. The use of this term as a form of descriptive advertising therefore offers a grotesque glamorisation of this colonial association that is neither desirable nor necessary.

Modern British homes in which designers are utilising shutters embody a wide range of styles that are rarely reminiscent of plantations, so we feel that it is about time to confine this outdated and unpleasant reference to the history books. Most clients today know precisely what we mean when we say "Shutters", but should a prefix be necessary we find "Louvred Shutters" or "Wooden Shutters" perfectly descriptive.

Moving Forward

It should be recognised at this stage that adapting our language is such a small part of working towards a fairer world and that moving away from romanticising imperialism also involves recognising exploitation in our industry's practice today. For this reason we encourage our clients to look to natural fibres that are so much better for the environment, as well as boasting a huge wealth of benefits including better insulation, texture and aesthetics.

The origins of the materials and goods that we buy are important too, which is why we like to promote fair trade brands or local and sustainably sourced fabrics.

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