Little Wing Lee in her Brooklyn studio.
Little Wing Lee has woven narratives for the entirety of her career. A former documentary film director, she pivoted to design after a summer spent in Harvard’s landscape architecture program, then went on to obtain a master’s degree in interior design from the Pratt Institute in New York City. Today, her focus is on creating spaces where the public lives out its own story.
Currently, Lee, the design director of Ace Hotel group’s Atelier Ace, is putting the final touches on Ace Toronto, opening in early 2022, while refining her architectural mission and expanding her interior design practice, Studio & Projects. “We designers are not artists. We can’t just do whatever we feel like doing,” she says. “The goal is to make functional, beautiful spaces that people feel good in."
Lee hits this target through a mix of compassion, community, and collaboration. Time at SOM and the Rockwell Group, followed by a stint designing at the National Museum of African American History & Culture, gave her the experience she needed to put her principles into action through the foundation of the collective Black Folks in Design in 2017.
She completed Sister City, her first job for Ace Hotel, and the Brooklyn restaurant Bar Bête, in 2019. Both spaces showcase a cozy and uncomplicated aesthetic, proving that Lee knows how to say a lot with very little.
Fittingly, most of her inspiration comes from outside the world of design—Julie Dash’s 1991 film Daughters of the Dust is one touch point. Lee is now finalizing plans for Harlem’s new National Black Theater, which pulls on her academic background in African American history and theatrical arts, as well as on her past professional and personal experiences.
“My most successful and interesting design projects are those that incorporate all disciplines of design,” Lee says. “There is room for it all. Nothing needs to take over the world.”
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE
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