Black Rooster: Crowing Over The Decor

If you’re tired of all the same-old, same-old stuff in everyone’s home, maybe it’s time to check out Black Rooster Decor and its Canada-only sister store, Black Rooster Maison, brought to you by the husband-and-wife owners Nina Ber-Donkor and Prince Brefo-Donkor. After all, we’re spending a lot of time at home now: they’ve become our living spaces, workplaces, and workout and entertainment spots. Why not surround yourself with fun, interesting and exclusive items that make you happy?

When you talk to Nina, nothing is off limits: home décor, travel, relationships, COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement. And one thing’s for sure: she’s authentic, she speaks her truth and she gets it. Maybe that’s why the word “lucky” comes up a lot. “I count my blessings every day,” she says.

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Fun fact: Roosters are symbolic of good luck, and that was the inspiration for the name of the shop. If you’re wondering how to start an online décor business, you have to begin at home. “We both had full-time jobs, but we would go shopping to look for inspiration, just for our own space at home,” says Nina. “And we really loved that experience; lucky we both have a good eye.”

When they started thinking about making a go of it, about 10 years ago, they were building a website, then decided to make it a place where people could shop, fill up their carts and check out online. “It really happened by accident, and we realized we were on to something,” she says. And then, a few years later, they were in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood and saw a For Lease sign at a shop. In a classic case of “If you build it, they will come,” the people did. “Luckily, we haven’t had to advertise anywhere. Everything’s been organic on Instagram. If somebody buys something, they tag us and spread the word,” Nina says.

It’s funny; when you take a look at the website, it’s like Black Rooster is bringing us all the things we want — almost before we even know we want them. Much of their inspiration comes from what they love, which comes from their travels (virtually, this year) to countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Morocco. “We love Greece, because we love the beaches, the architecture, the fashion — it’s just such a cool vibe,” she says. And so they bring things into the shop that remind them of places they have been, like the beautiful Harlequin Eye Tray by Jonathan Adler. This is how you know someone isn’t just bringing in pieces to make a buck: sometimes they buy two of something, so they can have one for themselves, like the Zeus in Plaster. “We ordered two of them, and one is sitting in our living room right now, because it’s fantastic,” says Nina.

How does a business survive a year like 2020, which includes a pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and worldwide protests? Actually, Black Rooster was perfectly poised to not only survive, but also to thrive. “With COVID-19, it was awful,” says Nina. “But then people started to become a little bit more optimistic, and we started to see a resurgence of people wanting candles, dried flowers and plants.” In fact, greenery is trending now. Prince does all of the greenery in the store, and right now, they have a 10-foot-tall olive tree in the shop, and another one that just sold.

Add to this the fact that the couple is of mixed race (Prince is African; Nina is Russian), which coincided with the Black Lives Matter movement and the worldwide protests after the death of George Floyd in the United States. “It just happened that people found out that we were mixed race … so we got a lot of support from that,” says Nina. “We never really mentioned it, but it was just so timely for us, because everyone wanted to support Black-owned businesses and small businesses. We’re really blessed.”

Asked about the nicest gift she ever received, Nina pauses. “Could it be something that I gifted myself? Could it be my son?” she asks. “He’s the best gift ever. I honestly can’t think of anything better.” And speaking of the Black Lives Matter movement, she adds that as a mother of a young black man, she can say that while there hasn’t been enough progress, there has definitely been more awareness. “I can walk my dog at three o’clock in the morning and not worry about anything, but I worry about him,” she adds.

As for Prince, he says simply, “I’m happy for the movement and the progress happening. And the discussion and the awareness.”

Not only is the store a beautiful place to shop for awe-inspiring items, but it’s also a genuine reflection of Nina and Prince — an authentic couple with a keen design eye.

Interview by Cassandra Giammarco

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