3 LGBTQ innovators creating new spaces in design and tech.


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3 LGBTQ innovators creating new spaces in design and tech.

By emily.bailey

Monday, June 1, 2020

LGBTQ Designers & Innovators

In celebration of Pride Month, Schlage shares three innovators – technology entrepreneur Tim Gill and designers Sara Berks and Shavonda Gardner – who are creating beautiful homes for themselves and others.



Innovative minds don’t accept the status quo. They do great things by seeking out fresh perspectives and creating new spaces that “work” for them, their communities and their careers. In celebration of Pride Month, Schlage shares three innovators – technology entrepreneur Tim Gill and designers Sara Berks and Shavonda Gardner – who are creating beautiful homes for themselves and others.

Tim Gill – Smart Home Tech Innovator/Activist

Tim Gill, who lives with his husband in Colorado, has founded more than one successful technology company in his career and their success has allowed him to champion LGTBQ equal rights.


In 1981, Gill borrowed $2,000 from his parents for his first startup, Quark Inc. Before long, Quark became one of the leading software publishing companies in the industry and earned the founder a spot on the Forbes 400 list. He sold his share in the business less than 20 years later for a reported $500 million.


With some extra cash and time on his hands, Gill devoted himself to the Gill Foundation. Since its creation in 1994, the foundation has invested more than $365 million in groups fighting for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people over the last several decades. The funds support academic research, legal action and more.


Gill Action, a political action group, and OutGiving, which, in the words of Rolling Stone, “coaches the country’s richest pro-LGBTQ funders on how to spend their money,” came next for the philanthropist. It’s not a coincidence, nor is it a surprise given the breadth and depth of his efforts, that Colorado has since elected its first openly gay governor and openly transgender state legislator. The state Capitol also flew a rainbow gay pride flag for the first time last June.


Beyond his passion with equal rights for LGBT individuals, Gill has also provided substantial support in other areas such as STEM education. That should come as no surprise, either. It was his own success in the science and technology fields that put him in a position to impact society, after all.


Having said he failed at his first attempt at retirement, Gill founded Josh.ai, a voice-controlled smart home automation system, in 2015. Josh.ai uses its own artificial intelligence technology platform to control the smart devices in your home. The company’s long-range goal is to expand its AI for use beyond just smart homes. “Josh will go where you go,” says its website, “making your life easier and more productive.”

Sara Berks – Textile Designer

When fiber artist Sara Berks changed her environment, everything else began to fall into place and her life and business have never been the same.


“I enjoyed what I was doing but I found it incredibly disheartening,” Berks said in an interview about her early career as a graphic designer for a large firm. “I was so burnt out and uninspired. By the end of each work day, I had little to no creative energy to focus on my own work. The design world is very male dominated and that's something I greatly struggled with. My creative directors were always men and the office environment had this very masculine mentality I just couldn't get behind. As a woman, a queer person and a feminist, I felt like everything I believed in was thrown out the window the second I walked into the office. I never felt like my voice was heard. I didn't feel supported and I knew that I couldn't continue working in that environment much longer.”


Berks gave up the big-firm graphic design gig, began freelancing and taught herself to weave, reigniting that creative energy she was missing. One thing led to another and she’s now the founder and owner of the textile design company, MINNA. She’s not just making beautiful throws, pillows, scarves and rugs, though. By only using artisans in South and Central America to make its products, MINNA supports traditional craftsmanship to preserve cultural traditions and create more opportunities for artisans.


The company website describes MINNA, founded in 2013, as “a tight-knit team of artists, creators, and thinkers” that is “strongly committed to creating and promoting ethically made goods, and we support artists, designers, and friends that share this commitment through the brands that we choose to stock in our store. We love to work with queer, POC, women, and femme owned and led brands that embrace the thoughtfully-made spirit.”


Since originally being based out of the owner’s Brooklyn apartment, MINNA now has its own storefront in Hudson, N.Y., and a separate studio for Berks to hone her creativity. Process, growth and pushing the envelope are what drive and guide Berks, both on a professional and personal level.


“I think it’s important to acknowledge the roots where someone comes from when talking about work,” she told The Fold. “Being queer informed a lot of my life decisions and the way I interact with the world and build relationships. It felt natural to me that it would also impact the way I think about work and business.


“In the business sense,” she continued, “I see queer as questioning the status quo. Businesses can be used to doing such horrible things and I’m trying to use business to be good. I really think it’s possible. We’re always trying to see if there’s a different or better way to do everything we do.”


You can follow MINNA on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

Shavonda Gardner – Blogger/Interior Designer

In 2017, Shavonda Gardner was named The Modern Maverick in the Domino Design Blog Awards. It’s a fitting tribute to a designer who, like Berks, hasn’t exactly stuck to the status quo. A military veteran, she studied interior design at the Art Institute of Sacramento. Although she loved the field, the prospect of working in an agency setting, taking orders from clients did not excite Gardner. Instead, she launched a blog now known as SG Style.


A home décor and style blog might not sound revolutionary today, but in 2012, it was less common. Inspired by the few home bloggers that had started to blaze a trail, Gardner shared her own home renovations with readers. And in yet another break from tradition, her designs highlighted a more eclectic and moody vibe compared to the sleek Scandinavian style trend that was dominating the internet at the time.


“I love a mix of old and new, high-end and budget-savvy, and prefer spaces that are layered to the max,” she says on her blog. “I believe every space needs a bit of the unexpected and a little something black.” Black accent walls and other bold colors are often paired with global flavor, typically African and island-inspired.


Her own home is the perfect staging ground to show off the looks she loves. Gardner downsized the California home she lived in with her wife and two kids, saying it felt “wasteful” to live in a house so large that they barely used all of it. She’s now considered a kind of expert on small-space décor and even showed her design chops on the front entry of her 1940s bungalow. You’ll not only see that love of bright colors but also a Schlage Sense™ Smart Deadbolt (and a pretty cute pup).


“I don’t care about the status quo,” Gardner told Apartment Therapy when she was named one of the its Design Changemakers to Know in 2020. “I have a love and appreciation for things like trends and what’s hot, and things that are happening, but I genuinely just love what I love and I know myself. I’m totally comfortable in being myself no matter what.”


In talking with Apartment Therapy, Gardner also spoke of the legacy she hopes to leave behind. Being completely candid about the fact that there are few people of color and even fewer LGBTQ individuals of color in the design industry, she said, “The legacy that I hope to leave is that fellow creatives of color feel like they have a space in this world, feel like their voices are important, their visions are important, to feel like they belong in this space, period.”


Follow Gardner on Instagram for her design tips and more.

You can read about some other innovators in the design and architecture industries at the Schlage blog. In case you missed them, our tributes to African-American trailblazers, woman gamechangers, and Asian-American and Pacific Islander difference makers were published earlier this year.



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