Expert Interview: Anngelica Mohabir


There are emerging designers – and then there is Anngelica Mohabir. Her devotion to integrity, loyalty and design excellence is unmatched, and that devotion has shone through from the time she was a student seven years ago to now at Determined by Design®. 


Born and raised in New York City’s “Bed-Stuy do or die” neighborhood, she later moved to North Carolina for five years before settling in the DMV area to pursue a degree in Interior Design. Anngelica holds a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication with a concentration in English from North Carolina Central University, a Historically Black College & University, and a Master of Arts in Interior Design from Marymount University in Arlington, VA. She is a member of the Alpha Lambda Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and Allied ASID + IIDA and a 40 under 40 nominee for North Carolina Central University – a testament to her skills and dedication in the field of interior design. 


Anngelica’s personality changes based on what she wears, and as a Virgo, she is known as the “realest” in her friend group. She is a Pinterest Connoisseur and has a love for Bollywood movies, the beach, and her little brother. She admits to having control issues but views them as Design Superpowers. 


Anngelica Mohabir refuses to fail or produce anything less than a design that elevates for all people. Her experience ranges from Hospitality to Senior Living to Affordable Housing. Her approach is to create nothing less than design spaces that provide radical hospitality and design moves that foster the community story, elevation of culture and design excellence. She curates multi-faceted design narratives to center her clients in her work and honor their stories. She is known for her powerful positivity and resilience, which she brings to every project. Anngelica is driven by the trust her partners place in her to interpret signals of home and belonging, and she is determined to ensure that every individual she serves feels welcomed and surrounded by those signals in her design. 


If there’s a designer you want in the room with a developer – it is Anngelica. Her showmanship and ability to think quickly but also humbly when she does not have an answer – makes her an asset. She executes her work with intention and full understanding of project goals every single time. She does not pigoen-hole herself to a project type, but instead focuses on how different project types can solve problems across sectors.


SM: What is your role and how long have you worked in it?


AM: I am a Design Advocate at Determined By Design®. At my firm this is also known as a Design Disruptor. Being in the field for five years and working in the Senior Living and Hospitality sector, my belief is that design isn’t only about market segments it’s really about people. That’s actually where I was able to lean into my passion and purpose of Affordable Housing. Growing up in New York City – specifically Brooklyn, “old Brooklyn” is what I like to say –  has been my connection to Affordable Housing. That for me was the blueprint. My parents are from the West Indies and they came to the United States when they were young. My dad was 16 years old, my mom was 14 or 15 years old – and they hustled working multiple jobs. We lived in a brownstone in Brooklyn, Section 8 and lived off of food stamps. That literally was the beginning, my child lived experience was Affordable Housing. From there, I went on to obtain two degrees. First from North Carolina Central University, an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) for my Undergrad Degree and then Marymount University for my Masters in Interior Architectural Design. I love what I do, being an Interior Disruptor.   


SM: We love your passion for designing environments that foster a sense of belonging. Can you describe your process and how you achieve this?


AM: Yes, so our Design Equity ® Services are the only offered in the nation – and a big part of the impact is the intentionality of it being rooted within the community.  We have to understand the community and dig for deeper meaning on how, why and who created/s these neighborhoods. For us, it’s a four-step process that starts with the original stewards of the land. So, we’re Women, Black and Indigenous led Interior Design firm. The only one that exists in the nation. Our leadership reflects a heritage which we know is always the starting point for design. So we start with researching the stewards of the land which is always an Indigenous history. We seek a level of understanding of them, what they do/what they did, knowing that they were the true landowners.  From there we go into contemporary research: the Topography, the Development of the land and the Growth. Who were the artisans, makers, leaders, and cultural influences? How has it changed over the years and has it been stagnant? Have people shut down? What does that look like? We then go into the final phase which is the community in real time.  A lot of the time we see that there are matriarchs in some of these communities. We ask ourselves, what’s the demographic in the community? Is it just Black and Brown People? Is the Asian community a high population of the community that’s living in Affordable Housing? It’s different in every single location. This then takes us into a collaborative process which involves historic research, contemporary research, and community research. Then it’s the collaboration within the team. That collaborative process is more of a word play. Each team member huddles, we find lists of words that stand out to us in this research process. We have to make sure that it makes sense and that we’re speaking for the community. That’s really what helps us cultivate our concept. Our concept for us is the driver –  literally the driver of the design. When we love and we feel, that’s how we’re able to fight for the community. Concept for us creates a sense of belonging, it is our letter of intention – our prayer, our love note to the community. That’s how they know that they are seen. We haven’t forgotten about you in history. We’re not going to forget about you now, and we’re going to make sure that as development happens, you’re still being seen. 


SM: How do you address design equity when working on a project?


AM: We are the only interior design firm that offers our trademark Design Equity® Services. Each space should represent empathy, period. Sometimes our development partners don’t think we understand the dollar – but we do. We just don’t move from a place of scarcity, especially in the design process. We have a “Good, Better, Best” method. 

“Good design doesn’t always equate and should not always equate to cheap design. Our focus is everyone deserves a beautiful space, everyone deserves to feel good. Affordable Housing should not reflect the bottom of the barrel. My belief is that speaking up is how we can push the community forward. We do that by working through an empathy lens and making sure thatequitable design concepts are at the forefront of our work. We are in service to the community, always. We are their voice before they move in and we hold that close. That’s the only way that we can address Design Equity™ is making sure that we tell their story. Going back to our research, going back to our process. How did we get here? How did you get here?That’s how and why we champion our Design Equity® Services for the community.


SM: What role do materials play in your process? Describe your approach to materials, your process and any tools you use to inform yourself.


AM: Materials are my jam and play a huge role in our process. We bring materials, color stories, the palettes to our development partners and architectural partners in the schematic design phase. Our color stories come directly from our concept process and the research. We don’t look to trends, we look to the stories of a community. Then we approach materials like clothing – everyday spaces deserve to be dressed. We like to look good, and we want to layer.  It’s all about the process of layering. It has to equate to softness, beauty, textures and forms. For me, those are the things that I see – depth, color, texture. I don’t like when things lay flat. We use Material Bank and go to Tradeshows. We’re always trying to find research online on what’s new. We had a chat called “New Vendors”. If one person finds a new vendor, we all know the new vendor now. We’re always trying to incorporate different vendors on different projects. We also try to go local as well. That’s how WE inform ourselves on what’s happening in the industry, what’s new, what’s working, and sometimes it’s really what’s not working as well.

SM: Do you vet materials for quality and what standards or certifications do you look for?


AM: When it comes down to materials and how we vet them, we start with the typical certification. We look at LEED Green, CARB 2, Water Resistant and VOC specs.  For example, early on we stopped using carpet on our projects because carpet traps dirt, dust, and dander etc…which led to poor health outcomes like asthma. Now, carpet has gone through this transition of healthier, recyclable materials as well as reducing its carbon footprint. So, we’ve slowly introduced it back into our projects. But, there are issues we’re still seeing – like the push for LVT. LVT has become affordable for any, and everyone but – is it really a “good” product?  New materials are being manufactured but none are curated with a healthier mindset. There is no healthy vinyl. When designing Determined by Design® is looking for long term effects, not does it just look good. 


We have worked with Parsons School of Design, their Healthy Building Materials Lab, making sure that we understand the materials we are using. We often call on the experts: “Hey, this is what we’re trying to use. Is this going to work? Tell us more about this so that we can inform our partners.” 


One product we currently love is Nu Wood. It’s made from recycled tree roots.  Normally when you cut down the trees the root is often seen as waste, but they take the tree root and mix it with Organic Resin – manufacturing eco-friendly waterproof flooring. It’s literally beautiful!  We have been trying to push Nu Wood on every project:  

“Come on guys, let’s get away from this LVT. Yes, it’s cheap and it’s affordable. Yes, you can get your hands on it, but it’s not healthy. No, not healthy. And we’re going to see the ramifications of it in the future. Put a different product in now. It’s going to cost you a little bit more upfront. But long-term, you’re creating healthy environments for people. People are willing to stay in these spaces longer if they feel good. If they’re healthy.”

We try to find a middle ground, because healthier materials are more expensive. We push for them however because it’s not only good for you, but it looks good too. Historically healthier materials haven’t always looked good! They’ve looked very institutional. We don’t feel like we should have to sacrifice our design in equitable spaces because things don’t look good. Especially in Affordable Housing. 

SM: Have you worked on any projects that prioritized healthy materials? What worked well and what challenges did you run into? What are some of your biggest lessons learned?

AM: It’s a struggle. I’d say only 20% of our partners are “actually considering” healthy building materials.  

Our partners have asked, “How can we get LVT out of these projects and put something else as a healthier standard. How can we do this? We need the information.”  

So that’s where the industry is lacking. It’s getting the information and being willing to get the information in front of our development partners. Some of the information is there, but are you willing to go back and forth? This is what’s happening and it’s not apples to apples. And again, healthier materials are deemed more expensive.  But there are development partners, 20% of them who will try to fight this fight with you: 

“Lead me in the way where I can maybe not do all of the things, but I can incorporate some of the things.”   

“For us, that’s a big step because people do hard, heavy things for other people every single day. And if we can at least do this for our communities, then we’re doing our due diligence. Our Research, our Concept, our Love Notes, our Letter of Intention, our Prayer— it’s not going unnoticed.  We’re really doing it.”

SM: Do you have any advice for those who are currently working in the healthy building movement?


AM: Turn the shit up, literally, Be Real as a Designer. Be real as a manufacturer, as a producer of materialsstop giving us materials that you wouldn’t use in your own home. Design materials with intention. Be inspired by colors and culture! Yes, it may cost more upfront to do the research for your brand or for these materials, but designers want Poppin’ Shit!  


We want shit that’s going to look good. If it looks good and it’s healthy, then we’re going to push it. If we can design equitable spaces that look beautiful and are functional then we’ll make it our standard. Being a part of that movement, that’s where we need to be. Health shouldn’t be for the rich, it is for everyone. People haven’t crawled through shards of broken glass and broken homes to live in unhealthy spaces when they move into Affordable Housing. They haven’t come through being homeless and going through all different things to live in housing that doesn’t look good. They want a little bit of magic.


“Healthy materials are magic because Health is Wealth. Good Health transfers into an equitable quality of life for everyone.  That’s what I want people to know that are fighting the good fight. Sometimes they just need a little bit of a push to turn the shit up.”