(Miami Herald) — When Cecil Hayes graduated from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale with highest honors in 1973, no one clamored to give her a job. Ray Stevens, the designer who did hire her, put Hayes in the back room doing catalog work. He confessed later, after she became a success, that he thought his white clients would not accept a black designer. “I never met with clients,” she says. “I was there but not seen. I didn’t realize until then that there were not any black designers and most clients had not been around blacks.”
Even after she opened her own firm about five years later, she experienced rejection from shop owners when she visited showrooms in the Miami Design District. Hayes, who owns Cecil’s Designers Unlimited in Coconut Creek and manufactures a furniture line, has worked hard to turn rejection into success and has become a nationally known superstar designer.She was the first South Florida designer to be named to Architectural Digest’s prestigious “AD 100,” a list of the world’s best designers and architects. She made the list three times. Her high-profile clients include actors Wesley Snipes and Samuel L. Jackson, athletes such as Ty Law, Penny Hardaway, Louis Oliver and Derek Brown and hip-hop artist/producer Tim Mosley, aka Timbaland.
Those who can’t afford to hire her can learn her secrets in her two successful design books, 9 Steps to Beautiful Living, and The Art of Decorative Details: Creative Ways to Design the Home of Your Dreams. Some of her honors: NAACP Hall of Fame award, induction into the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, and one of Florida Monthly magazine’s 21 intriguing Floridians.