Queer Creatives

Designing in the Digital Age

Bilal Rehman leveraged his social-media fame to open an eclectic interior-design studio.

Bilal Rehman Studio designed the exclusive salon room for Tootsies. (Images courtesy)

In a world of talented interior designers, it’s hard to stand out from the pack. One local designer used TikTok, and his hilarious and engaging personality, to do just that. Bilal Rehman is capitalizing on a recent viral social-media moment and realizing the dreams he’s had for years.

Rehman recently opened his Bilal Rehman Studio in Montrose, and he invites Houstonians to visit and shop for pieces that give their homes a touch of character at an affordable price.

“My background is Lebanese and Pakistani,” the bi designer says. “Coming from an immigrant family, the expectation of what a successful job looks like for their kid is a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer—that’s it. There’s nothing else to it, especially not something creative.” Rehman followed suit and set out to pursue a degree in computer engineering. “I realized very quickly that I hated it, and ended up switching to interior design.”

Rehman soon learned that a learn-by-doing approach served him best. “I realized that I hated learning interior design from a book, so I made the decision to try to find an internship in the world of interior design,” he recalls. “That was incredibly difficult, not having a portfolio, any experience, or a college degree at that time. Luckily, I landed one after months and months of hunting. I fell in love with the world of design through that internship. I decided to pursue it as a full-on career and climbed the ropes in that company until I became a senior designer.”

After leaving his previous company to set out on a solo venture, the personable creative began marketing his image in a more relatable way. “I was making content on all of my platforms, mirroring what you would expect of an interior designer. It was super-polished, very bougie and very uppity—not relatable to people,” he admits. “In real life, I’m crazy, I cuss, I joke around, I’m not as serious and uptight as I was appearing on social media. My sister, Mya, is the one who came up with the idea to make a video where I spoke to the audience in the way that I actually speak in real life. I think doing that is what really created this relatability to me that now allows people to not only see me as an interior designer, but as a person.”

Rehman’s new approach worked better, and faster, than he expected. “When I first started on January 1, I expected that business would slowly creep up over the next five or six years. On January 17, I posted my first viral TikTok that my sister helped me create,” he recalls. “I think within five days of that video, we had a handful of new clients. We had huge projects and people from all around the country contacting us trying to work with us—all from that one video.”

With a booming client roster, Rehman has brought new life to spaces in Houston, New York, and Los Angeles by giving each space its own unique touch. “My personal aesthetic is this hybrid of the sophistication of New York, the casual luxury of Los Angeles, and the oversized comforts that we get in Houston,” the charismatic designer explains. “Combining all three of those into this new aesthetic didn’t exist in the Houston market prior to us. All of our projects are experience-based. We focus on the way the room looks, the way the room feels, the way the room smells, the way that the fabrics feel on your skin.”

Rehman even takes a sex-positive approach to client meetings. “We get really in depth with our clients. I ask them the craziest questions like, ‘When you’re at home on your day off, how do you lay around? Are you naked? Are you in underwear? What is the vibe?’ Because that determines the kind of fabric that we’re going to use on the sofa. I ask them questions about their sex life, and how they want their bedroom to feel and if they are into some crazy shit that I need to know about so that we can have maybe a fabric that’s easier to clean. I think putting all of those little details into our projects is kind of what sets us apart. When our clients enter [their completed spaces, it’s] truly tailored to who they are and their lifestyle.”

Rehman’s Montrose gallery space also provides a venue for independent artists to display their one-of-a-kind creations. “I had always seen this hole in the market, where a lot of amazing untapped talent didn’t have a platform of their own to showcase their work or their pieces. When I got my social-media following, I decided that I was going to create a store that showcased local and small artists, and artists and pieces from around the world that you really can’t find anywhere else.”

The studio features eclectic lounge chairs, stunning home decor, luxurious pillows, and much more. “I wanted to create a store that had really unique pieces for the home—anything and everything, from kitchenware to furniture, art, and accessories. Everything is carried in the gallery, and it’s all at an obtainable price point,” he says. “Nothing is $10,000. No gold statues. It’s not that kind of gallery. This is the kind of gallery where if you just got your first apartment, you can come in here and shop. And if you just bought your first house, you can come in here and shop. If you live in a mansion in River Oaks, you’ll find something here that fits into your house, as well.”

Keep up with Bilal Rehman on Instagram @bilalrehman.

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Zach McKenzie

Zachary McKenzie is a marketing professional and freelance writer in Houston, TX. He received his bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014 and has lived in Houston since. Zachary is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys spending his free time with friends, exploring the richness and diversity of Houston.
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