I have always been willing to reinvent myself, to take risks, or to try something new. One day, I decided I would take that a step further. I would let go of my need to be validated by my peers, by my industry and even by my clients and that I would choose freedom! I decided to trust in the spirit that moves through me, to be guided by source, to free myself from wanting to ever fit in and to truly express my gifts authentically and fearlessly — that’s when my life changed!
As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Alicia Bailey.
Alicia, known affectionately as Bailey Li — is a self-taught interior designer and decorative artist specializing in commercial and residential design. She is a curator of artfully inspired, stylish spaces and is a creative visionary who has the ability to transform spaces into stunning environments through her discerning eye.
Bailey, originally having a background in real estate and corporate sales, began her journey into the world of interior design while working as a Real Estate agent in 2003. At the time, there was an influx of professionals from the increasingly expensive New York City market seeking to put down roots in Northern New Jersey. This created an increased demand for home staging services. Without thought, she began staging as a means for clients to easily visualize potential properties as a place to call home. What began as a need sparked a passion for interior design.
Throughout her journey, she began to carefully hone her skills with each design. Every project was an opportunity to grow creatively by not only designing spaces, but it became an opportunity to birth an interior artist — one that conceptualized and implemented techniques for hand painted, textured walls, acquired knowledge from master upholsterers to create showstopping bespoke chairs, and mastered the skill of combining antiques and rare vintage pieces with modern elements, colors, and textures that would together combine to be masterful works of interior artistry.
With her bourgeoning artistry came the unyielding need for broader creative expression. She satiated this need through careful collaboration with visual artists, fashion designers, and photographers to create installations and other works of visual art. This did not go unnoticed. In October 2018, Bailey partnered with a collective of women from varied creative backgrounds to launch FEM/N/3D at the annual Newark Arts Festival. The exhibit contained large-scale installations and visual art by Bailey that garnered the attention of award-winning actress, comedian, and television host Whoopi Goldberg. Not only did Bailey’s work grab the actress’ attention upon entering the exhibit, but she walked away with two newly purchased pieces.
The interior designer and artist goes by the belief that by transforming one’s space, you can transform their lives. She muses “Interior design has helped me uncover my true passion — bringing out the best in people by interpreting who they are at their core and translating that through their environments. The impact that my work has on my clients’ lives is truly the reward I seek.”
Bailey currently resides in the Valley Arts District of Orange, New Jersey. She dwells amongst a community of artists from various mediums — music, visual arts, and fashion — in a refurbished firehouse built in the late 1800s. She believes in immersing herself in the creative arts and surrounding herself with like-minded individuals as a means of continuous inspiration.
Her attention-grabbing work has been featured most recently on housebeautiful.com and can be seen in Ebony Magazine, Forbes, vogue.com, NBC’s Open House NYC with Sarah Gore, Apartment Therapy, XONecole, and PBS’ State of the Arts, a program highlighting extraordinary people, communities, and works of art from around the world.
Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
I would have to say poetry; discovering the words and prose of the likes of Phylis Wheatley , Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez transformed my life and put me in touch with my creative powers. As I grew from a little girl into womanhood I tried on many hobbies and career hats from writing, fashion & broadcast journalism to technology sales and real estate. Nothing seemed to fit perfectly but everything seemed to culminate and lead me back to my “soul’s purpose.”
Poetry & art saved my life as a little girl growing up displaced and in dysfunction. Reading, writing, and drawing helped me to see the beauty in misfortune and taught me to fuel my pain into creativity. I loved to draw and read, therefore I could conjure up a new reality — even if only temporary.
Fashion gave me an eye for detail and quality, not to mention a much needed confidence boost. Technology sales and correspondence work made me a better listener and helped me understand what makes people tick. Real estate gave me compassion for people’s livelihood, survival, and what family and the American dream means to most.
Ultimately, a dead-end marriage and a lackluster, yet financially lucrative career lead me to to my love for decor and design. My life has served as a canvas for the expression of my art. I liken my design work to poetry because there is a silent harmony in visual art and designed spaces that speaks to the soul of humans and help us tap into the better parts of ourselves — the unspoken, yet profound effects that beautiful environments have on us moves us in the same way a heart filled poem does.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
Yes, I am constantly working on new design projects! One that I am especially excited about is the Housing Works Design on a Dime charity fundraiser. Along with about 70 other esteemed designers, I am responsible for designing my own vignette valued at $30,000. The contents will be auctioned off and proceeds will go to Housing Works’ AIDS-FREE USA 2025 campaign. This opportunity is especially sentimental for me since my father died of AIDS when I was younger. I plan to design my vignette using him as my muse.
I also began writing a WOManifesto entitled “POETICAL” which I hope will encourage young women growing up in adverse and undesirable settings to tap into their creativity as a means of empowering and uplifting themselves.
I am glad that you asked how what I do may help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships because honestly, no one ever really asks that of interior designers. I think we somehow get lumped in & classified with the vainglorious, lavish, luxurious services that the average person cannot afford, nor actually needs — this is totally false! I recall at one point in my career, about two years ago, I was home sick with the flu. This gave me much needed time for rest & self reflection. I spent the entire weekend beating myself up with thoughts of something that was truly ailing me. The thought persisted that I could not have come into this world simply to “decorate.” In that moment, I realized my purpose and mission in life was to be something greater. I asked myself “how will you truly be great and have a positive impact on the world?” In retrospect, I knew that I had been pushing and stretching myself throughout my design career — having gone from home stager to decorator to designer to artist — all of which was self-taught.
I noticed that something really started to click for me when I began hand-painting abstract murals and artistic walls with textures and intricate techniques. I knew that the fearlessness that came from writing my truth through poetry and creating my art through walls, furniture and interior design was the common denominator to achieving my personal best. I was determined to figure out the missing link, that “thing” that bridged the gap that existed between design and having a better understanding of self.
I researched the link between art & design and discovered the science of neuroaesthetics and embodied cognition. The University of Pennsylvania recently introduced the Penn Center for Neuroaestheics which defines the study of the science as “…to understand neural systems that underlie aesthetic experiences and choices. This includes investigating the nature and neural basis of beauty, art, design, and architecture.”
Through the observations and words of Clinical Professor in Psychology, Nancy Etcoff and Professor of Philosophy, Alva Noe respectively, my purpose became ever clear to me:
“We know that although flowers have little practical use, they have powerful effects on people’s behavior and feelings” Nancy Etcoff
“What we bring to a piece of art is as important as what the art gives to us!”Alva Noe
This was an aha moment for me; to compare a decorated space to a flower was genius because you can truly experience a flower through sight, smell, and touch. You can engage in its beauty and the way it makes you feel. It represents positivity for most and can impact the way we feel almost immediately without effort just like a designed space. It is aesthetically beautiful and engaging, in addition, it evokes recurring positive emotions.
Alva Noe took it to the next level for me when he said that what we (as the observer/ appreciator) brings to the art is as important as what the art gives to us. Our experience with our environments and our spaces are all about interpretation, perspective and engagement.
It is my duty to have a space properly reflect and translate positive aspects of the inhabitants’ personas and lives so that they may experience themselves more beautifully and wholly thus giving them with the ability to tap into their brilliance and to step out into the world with it! If people are leaving their homes feeling brilliant & inspired, then their interactions & relationships with others will be far more harmonious and beneficial.
Design has never been about what’s on trend for me; instead it’s about my ability to serve my client the best possible version of themselves through their live/work spaces.
That weekend with the flu, I challenged myself to discover my true purpose. Art and design are merely the vessels towards my true passion — to change people’s lives one home/construct after another.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self acceptance?
Oh wow I have way too many to list but I will share one of my most recent experiences:
One day, I was walking past my mirror and was stopped in my tracks as my reflection seemed to be speaking to me. Yep, you read that right, I heard a voice! It stopped me in my tracks. I glared back at my reflection and I heard a voice say, “you are ugly.” I peered again and there I was, in fact, ugly with puffy eyes and numerous imperfections. “You may as well give up, no one’s ever gonna want you,” the voice continued.
Deep feelings of pain poured over me; my heart was throbbing, I felt like I wanted to die! I looked back at the mirror and I stared back at my reflection, and looked directly in my eyes and asked “who are you and what gives you the right?!”
I recall disarming the voice a bit, but it didn’t dissolve the pain. I felt like I had been stabbed in the heart and back simultaneously. Paralyzed by a dark depression, I wanted nothing more than to crawl in bed and cry. After that moment, I knew that I needed answers. I needed to know how I had become my own worst enemy and why. Why would I speak of myself like this? Why would I look at myself with such disgust and talk to myself in a way that I wouldn’t allow my worst enemy to speak to me? Who/what was this thing living inside of me? It couldn’t be me! Had I truly become my own worst enemy?
This profoundly painful moment changed my life forever. I heard the saying “you are your own worst critic,” but I never thought much of it. Suddenly, I realized it was much bigger than criticism — it morphed into disdain and self-loathing. It was truly crippling. I thought back on the times when this same voice cost me the courage I needed to nail auditions and interviews, to see goals to completion, to bring my authentic self to romantic relationships, etc. Was this the voice that had counseled me to accept abuse and rejection year after year? “Oh my God!” I screamed. I’ve been doing this to myself most of my life — living silently with this self-hatred. I knew that this single incident, walking past my reflection, was a warning that I had let this “thing” get grossly out of control. I knew that if I did not do something about it, it would inevitably destroy me. The voice in my head was the damaged, distorted and painful representation of all of my childhood trauma — the culprit to blame for most of my adult misfortunes. I set out to vigilantly rid myself of this through meditation, focusing on drawing closer to my spirituality, positive reinforcement, support from close friends, and through my creative endeavors.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
Hands down the causes are learned behaviors & societal influences, but most importantly, childhood trauma can result in a lack of self love and worth. It is important that we recognize past traumas and take immediate action to heal from them. Most people think they go away if ignored or suppressed, but left untreated, they become the misleading voices in our heads that deter us from reaching our maximum potential.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
I think more so than loving one’s self, one must become the embodiment of love itself. Dr. Wayne Dyer said it best in one of his lectures, “Instead of seeking love, ask that love be made present within you!”
This was a tough one for me to grasp. Growing up without the love of my parents, all I desired was to be loved. I grew up and sought love through relationships that repeatedly failed to validate my worth. One day, it clicked — love does not come to the seeker, the seeker must already be love in order to receive it. Being love and loving oneself are vastly different; it is the energy and the intent behind each that separates them. Loving oneself is important but it’s not the first step, nor is it the complete solution.
I have a friend who prayed for a mate and within two days the woman of his dreams appeared. I asked him, “what exactly did your prayer say?” He replied, “I asked God to send me someone to love.” This idea fascinated me because oftentimes we are so focused on receiving love that we forget to GIVE love or, better yet, BE love. He also told me about a time that he watched a movie that triggered thoughts about his estranged relationship with his father. The movie made him feel so sad and brought up feelings of being unloved, that he called his dad in an attempt to fill the void. Unfortunately, his dad was emotionless. He then called his sister, who had almost the same reaction as his dad, so he decided in that moment to focus his love on his son. By giving the love he desired to receive, he was able to experience a father-son bond that superseded the absence of his relationship with his father. He somehow figured out that the quickest way to conjure love was to give it, to embody it, and pour it into someone who needed it.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
They stay because they do not truly believe that they can have a better experience. My advice would be to look within and deal with those hindering beliefs.
When we talk about self-love and understanding we don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only ourselves, but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
What is this experience/ person teaching me or reflecting back at me?
Where is this emotion coming from? What is it stemming from?
Why am I having such a strong reaction to this person or this situation?
What is the most loving solution?
Am I being kind?
How can I be the best version of myself?
What would the best version of me do or say given these circumstances?
These questions will help determine the root cause of the emotion/ reaction and with that knowledge help to make a more informed decision. It is important that we remain mindful.
So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
The first step to being alone is understanding that we are never truly alone. The second step is that the temporary absence of others brings with it the gift of silence, the opportunity for reflection & meditation and the balance of our spiritual & physical selves. This is necessary for our self-awareness, expansion and growth.
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
Being self-aware and being the embodiment of love puts us in a powerful position to inspire others and attract the best from others. This ultimately empowers us and allows us to cultivate harmonious and healthy relationships across the board.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
Personally, greater exposure and access to art & design is what will help people ignite their personal creativity, feel uplifted and eventually move them away from the unhealthy patterns that they are accustomed to. More time should be spent on the arts and creative activities in schools. Society and science should stop being afraid to accept the unknown as a pliable and existential source of knowledge that allows us to trust our instincts and rely on our intuition rather than dismiss such impulses as invalid.
Meditation should be taught in schools with a concentration of art programs at the forefront! There is a reason why there are so many art initiatives taking place in impoverished communities across the world. The purpose is not for the lure of developers who eventually swoop in and seize real estate opportunities. These initiatives are put in place to remediate and revive cities and towns that are suffering due to a lack of resources and give hope to the current businesses and inhabitants by raising economic opportunities and offering sustainability.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
1. I immerse myself in my craft as much as possible and challenge myself, teach myself new skills related to my craft.Over the past two years, I have taught myself to do hand-painted techniques for textured walls, to reupholster chairs, to paint marble effects on floors, and to design furniture. My efforts have proven successful and have taken my business to the next level of exposure. After painting an 18 ft wall by hand, I was featured on NBC’s Open House NYC.
2. I’m challenging myself to write more. Journaling and releasing thoughts, as well as, compiling ideas is an effective & therapeutic act. I am constantly reading and researching igniting that frontal portion of my brain so that I am never complacent creatively. I have dedicated myself to mentoring at least 1 person this year so that I am sharing my gifts.
3. I try to meditate daily — even if it’s only for 5 minutes. Mediation is key!
4. Surrounding myself with like minded people and identifying my support system while constantly thinking of ways in which I can be helpful and supportive to them
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
I love most of Paulo Coelho’s books. My favorites are The Aleph, the Alchemist, the Supreme Gift and Manuscript found in Accra.
Also, 180 degrees of Consciousness by Huguens Noel.
Most recently, my son’s manuscript blew my mind — A Black Gentleman’s Guide to China by Dejon Turner
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
The I Am Discourses by Godfre Ray king
Diary of a Yogananda by Paramahanda Yogananda
Podcasts: Oprah’s Super Soul Sundays and Master Class
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
I would love to inspire and be a part of a movement that seeks out communities in duress around the world and implants creative initiatives within them that provide sustainable & affordable housing to artists and creatives, as well as, providing resources that help these creatives leverage their crafts. I want this initiative to function like an artist residency but to extend beyond such. The artist will be able to focus on their craft full time while the movement provides a live / work space in a community of other artists & creatives that they can thrive in. The artists will be able to travel to similar communities across the globe in order to collaborate and gain inspiration. The artists’ residences will be protected against gentrification as the community around them develops and grows.
Programs for opportunity, business development, agents, marketing, PR, etc will all be made available to the artists by skilled professionals at affordable rates. This movement will INVEST in the most valuable commodity our world possesses — the talented artists, creatives, musicians, writers, poets, et al., in exchange for them bringing beauty, culture, quality of life, entertainment, and dynamic collaboration to the community, thus effecting change and uplifting the surrounding areas.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
A quote that I personally wrote years ago:
“Dear God please breathe bravery down my spine and don’t let me take a single breath until all my fears are suffocated.”
I have always been willing to reinvent myself, to take risks, or to try something new. One day, I decided I would take that a step further. I would let go of my need to be validated by my peers, by my industry and even by my clients and that I would choose freedom! I decided to trust in the spirit that moves through me, to be guided by source, to free myself from wanting to ever fit in and to truly express my gifts authentically and fearlessly — that’s when my life changed! I wrote that quote to remind myself that whenever fear arises, I can breathe through it and move beyond it. My fears would no longer hinder me from being the absolute and best expression of myself that I can possibly be. No limitation would ever prevent my rise!
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!