Creating a Sanctuary – Memphis Magazine

Laquita Tate bridges the worlds of education and interior design.
March 9, 2022
8:00 AM
photograph by john pickle
The black walls of the living room emphasize the colors in the art by Danny Broadway and George Hunt.
I like to be overly busy,” says Laquita Tate. By any measure, the Memphis native has lived a full life. She and her husband, Nathaniel, married young, and have two sons, Trey and Kaleb. “I’ve always loved children,” she says. “And I’ve always loved learning. As a child, I used to play school.”
While raising her two sons, she attended the University of Memphis, earning a degree in education, then continued to pursue advanced degrees even while she was heading her own classrooms. “The whole time I was teaching, I was also in school,” she says.
The Tates moved into a new, two-story home in Bartlett in 2005. They watched the neighborhood grow up around them as they raised their children, while Nate built his trucking company.
photograph by john pickle
The neon sign in the home gym is patterned after a t-shirt Laquita had made when she and Nathaniel started dating.
“I used to scour Pinterest,” says Tate. “I used to get home magazines and just look. I don’t even know if back then I knew interior design was a thing. I just liked how homes looked when people put the right pieces together. I used to tear certain pictures out of magazines, because I was so drawn to what was taking place in those spaces, but I never considered it, outside of it being nice. Because I was so busy with school and trying to raise my family and my career, all of that, I didn’t really focus much on my home. But then once I got out of it, and I saw all these bare walls — I mean, this entire house was beige — I decided to start making changes.”
She started small, with things like repainting a table to bring a little color into an otherwise drab room, and shopping for new art to spruce up a bare wall. She found inspiration on Instagram (@quitaate), and started her own account, posting pictures of her projects and connecting with like-minded people. Her projects grew more elaborate, and she started receiving positive feedback. Then, a friend reached out to ask if she would help revamp her college-age daughter’s bedroom. “I did it for free,” she says, “because I wanted to get the feel and see if it was something I actually liked.”
When that project turned out just as she had envisioned it, Tate decided it was time to get serious. She reached out to local designer Carmeon Hamilton, creator of the Reno My Rental home design show on Discovery+, who was featured in the October 2021 issue of this magazine. “I met with Carmeon, and I told her what was going on with me, what I was thinking, what I was feeling, and some of the things I had experienced when I was doing people’s homes.”
Tate asked Hamilton if she should try to open an interior design business. “She was like, ‘What are you waiting on? Go on, do it. You got it. Start now.’ I asked, ‘Would you be my mentor?’ I was not taking ‘no’ for an answer. I need my mentor. Because we were friends, she said ‘Absolutely.’ So I started my business [Laquita Tate Styling and Designs] in October 2019.”
photograph by john pickle
Tate says this round breakfast nook sold her on the Bartlett house. The green ceiling circle reflects the colors of the plants in the sunny space.
The Tates’ home reflects its owner’s boundless energy. Like most designers, she uses her space as a place to try out new ideas. “I love art. I love plants. I love natural wood tones,” she says. “And I love textures. Looking at a tile, there’s a pattern there. There’s something you can rub across, and you can feel it — that’s texture. I typically bring that into all of my designs.”
Tate says there was one feature that instantly drew her to her home: A round breakfast nook surrounded by six windows, which allows light to flood into the kitchen and hearth room. “We went to several houses around here, and nobody else had this roundabout,” she recalls. “I saw it and I said, ‘This is my house. This is what I want.’”
Tate kept the colors of the breakfast nook light, except for the ceiling circle, which she painted a forest green. The area’s shape is echoed in the round glass breakfast table and the radially patterned rug, which defines the dining space. “I like things to stand out,” she says. “I like it to feel like a curated space.”
Above the table is an asymmetrical, Modernist chandelier Tate acquired from her friend, Alvin Wayne, a New York designer and visual curator. “I’ve built this community of interior designers where we talk, we encourage each other, we support each other,” she says.
photograph by john pickle
The hearth room provides the family with a sunny space to relax. The coffee table began life as a bench. “I believe things don’t have to be used in the way they were intended to be used,” says Tate.
Tate says she is drawn to mid-century modern-inspired furniture. But where those pieces are usually deployed in a minimalist environment, in Tate’s home, they often serve a more maximalist goal. In the nearby hearth room, where the Tates like to relax, a pair of red chairs provide pops of color. The leather seats are some of the few pieces that remain from Tate’s original furnishings, and she is very attached to their lived-in texture. “I like the aging,” she says. “It doesn’t bother me at all, because I don’t like things to look brand-new.”
More texture is provided by the coffee table, which began life as a bench made of woven rope. “I believe things don’t have to be used in the way they were intended to be used,” she says.
The table rests on a gray rug, similar to the one in the breakfast nook. “I wanted to ground the space,” she says. “I already had red chairs, so I did not want to overpower that area with a colorful rug.”
photograph by john pickle
The queen bed is one of the few pieces that remain from the furnishings the Tates bought when they moved into their Bartlett home 17 years ago. The painting over the bed is by painter and artisan Quellyrue.
While the spaces in the rear of the house use mostly light hues with splashes of dramatic color, the high-ceilinged living room is painted with Sherwin-Williams Tricorn Black. “I love the color black, because everything pops against it,” says Tate.
Texture is paramount in the living room, where the furniture lines are simple — mostly circles and squares — but the patterns are not. The round coffee table rests on bronze feet and sports thin, black-and-white stripes, a pattern echoed in the carpet’s more subtle gray chevrons. “I like a moody space, too,” says Tate.
photograph by john pickle
Tate’s design sensibility favors simple lines and complex textures.
The ample wall space means lots of room for art. Two large, colorful canvases on opposite sides of the room are from Memphis artist Danny Broadway, while a George Hunt print with a similar palette hangs nearby. A number of small, black-and-white abstracts by Monica Lewis surround the larger artworks.
Amid all the Tricorn black and vibrant art are natural wood-grain textures, like the dark flooring and lighter wooden chairs. Once again, the lines are simple, but the textures complex. High-set windows flood the room with natural light. “Even with the dark wood floors, and black walls, it doesn’t feel dark in here,” says Tate.
The buffet table that greets visitors by the front door is another example of great wood textures. Bold, geometric carvings on the cabinet doors lend a touch of modernism. “I absolutely fell in love with it when I first saw it, and I had to have it, and now here it is,” Tate says. “I keep things grounded by having a similar, neutral palette; the blacks, the creams, the tans, the browns are all kind of in the same family.”
photograph by john pickle
During the pandemic, this former dining room was transformed into Tate’s home office, where she coordinated remote learning as principal of Ford Road Elementary. Nowadays, she can be found here most mornings working on clients’ design needs before leaving for New Alcy Elementary School.
Turn a corner from the living room and you’ll find a former dining room Tate has commandeered for a home office. “When we ended up shutting down in March [2020], this is where I lived, right here in this space,” Tate says. “I’m here a lot now in the afternoons and the weekends for my business.”
The room reflects her interests, and material she has gathered for new design projects she has on tap. Michelle Obama’s autobiography shares shelf space with tomes on superstar graffiti artist Banksy. “I love coffee-table books, so I had to have these picture ledges for space to display books and things I may be working on for my clients,” Tate says.
When she’s not educating young minds, you can usually find Tate here. “I get up at 4 a.m. every morning and start my design business,” she says. “I take care of things I need to do, whether it’s responding to emails, creating design boards, or making to-do lists of stuff that I might need my assistant to do, or I need to do … I have a very supportive husband who has no problem with me sitting in my office working. You have to have a team that really supports you in the work because there’s no way that you can do it all by yourself.”
photograph by john pickle
Dr. Laquita Tate juggles her responsibilities as director of teaching and learning at New Alcy Elementary School and owner of Laquita Tate Interior Stylings.
Tate honed her delegation skills while in the demanding job of elementary school principal. In 2019, she got a unique opportunity to shape a brand-new learning environment when she was asked to join the leadership team at New Alcy Elementary School. “I was literally there shoveling dirt with the school district for the groundbreaking,” says Tate. “I was there from the beginning to the end. Even as I was still the principal of Ford Road, we were planning for New Alcy.”
The new school was being built during the first wave of the pandemic, so it had to wait to welcome students. “It’s the second state-of-the-art school in the state of Tennessee,” says Tate. “It’s beautiful. It’s like a college campus. It’s in South Memphis, so it’s a beacon of hope for those kids … I designed the interior, so I managed to marry both of my passions!”
Tate, who has worked on both residential and commercial spaces, was eager to tackle a rare opportunity to create a space conducive to learning. “I knew this was a twenty-first-century school, so I knew it needed nothing but the top of the line. Plus, those kids deserve to enter into a clean building, brand-new, and be able to manipulate the furniture. Kids need to rock, so I got things where they were able to move.
“If they didn’t want to sit in a seat, “ she continues, “we got these little circle pads with cushions. We have stools that you could rock back and forth on, because people don’t like to just sit still without some kind of movement, especially not kids, and especially not our black and brown kids. That’s the population I serve in the most needy, highest-poverty areas. That’s what my passions have always been. I come from that same neighborhood. Some of these kids’ parents were my students.”
photograph by john pickle
Wallpaper maker Milton and King sponsored Tate when she remade this bathroom for a one-room challenge event. The black-on-white accent painting was done by Tate’s design mentor, Carmeon Hamilton.
I thought I’d never go back to school after I got my Ph.D.,” says Tate. But since she decided to get serious about her interior design business, the educator decided she needed formal training. She is currently working toward her interior design certification at the New York Institute of Art and Design. “I want to know that I’m an expert. I know books don’t necessarily make you an expert, but I did want that knowledge of the history of interior design.”
“I will say, do what you feel like you need to do for your home,” she says. “Don’t hold back. Thinking about this black room, most people would say, what about resale value? Blah, blah, blah. This is my home. I’m living in it now. If somebody else comes in and wants to change it, that’s fine. I’m paying this mortgage, you know? If you’re going to be living in a space for even a limited amount of time, make it yours, because you want to be happy coming home. It’s your sanctuary. I love my house. It is not a place that I’m trying to run away from, it’s a place I’m running to.”
For more examples of her work, visit
Instagram: @quitatate
Chris McCoy is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and musician. He is currently the Film/TV Editor for the Memphis Flyer.
March 9, 2022
8:00 AM

October 2020
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