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A Passion for Interior DesignLynai Williams Jones ’92 Finds Her True Calling

When Lynai Williams Jones earned a degree in economics from Vassar in 1992, she considered pursuing a master’s degree in business. As she looked into the application process for a graduate MBA program, she learned most top-tier schools preferred applicants that had previous business experience. Jones went on to accept a sales job at Reuters America, intending to start graduate school in a few years, “but once I started working and earning a paycheck, there was no stopping!”

Lynai William Jones ’92, Founder of Mitchell Black Home Decor

Jones held several key posts with Reuters before leaving to manage her family’s financial and real estate holdings, affording her experience in property management that would later change her plans. In 2011, she launched her own home décor firm, Mitchell Black. 

Throughout her career, Jones says, she has benefitted not only from what she learned in her Vassar economics classes but also from the diversity in the relationships she formed on campus. “I grew up in New York City where cultural differences like race, nationality, and religion are so vast that these differences rarely even register with me. At Vassar, I met so many people whose differences stood out to me because we had different accents, or different customs, and colloquialisms that were quite evident. Living and learning alongside so many who see life from vastly different perspectives taught me to see the commonality in us all. Seeing things from multiple perspectives is something that I’ve carried forward in my life ever since.”

In 2009, Jones and her aunt, former Vassar trustee Paula Williams Madison ’74, endowed Vassar’s Sub-Saharan African fellowship which has enabled nearly a dozen African-American students to expand their own horizons by studying and working in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and South Africa.

One fellowship recipient, Merema Ahmed ’12, said her journey to Ghana in 2011 had greatly enhanced her understanding of her culture. “At Vassar, my professors have done a wonderful job of preparing me to understand the fundamentals of what I’m researchingthe African Diasporabut you can’t really imagine something fully until you’ve experienced it,” Ahmed told the Vassar Quarterly following her trip. “In Ghana, I was able to gain a human perspective on what I’ve learned, and that completed the framework for my studies. I am forever indebted to both Paula Madison and Lynai Jones for their gifts.”

Merema Ahmed ’12 is one of the students who benefitted from Vassar’s Sub-Saharan African Fellowship, endowed by Jones and her aunt, Paula Williams Madison ’74. Read the VQ story about Ahmed’s experiences in Ghana.

Jones says hearing from recipients of the fellowship has been gratifying. “When I get letters from them, it always catches me off-guard,” she says. “Knowing that I’ve made an impact that reaches across the globe is a lot to take in. Nonetheless, I am impressed by people who have a quest for knowledge of other cultures and customs.”

Jones says she thoroughly enjoyed her sales career at Reuters, marketing financial news, software, and databases to major Wall Street firms including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Solomon Brothers, and Merrill Lynch. After a stint in Houston, she was promoted to manager of corporate sales in Chicago. As her family grew (she and her husband, Carlton Jones, have four children), she decided to leave Reuters in 2006 to manage her family’s business, Williams Group Holdings. It was then, Jones says, that she discovered her true calling. “One of the things I did for Williams Group was manage our real estate,” she explains. “Working with architects and designers on renovations or new buildings made me realize my passion for designing interiors.”

Three generations of the Williams family are Vassar alumnae: Lynai Jones ’92, her daughter Imara Jones ’16, and her aunt Paula Williams Madison ’74

This realization prompted Jones to launch a new company, Mitchell Black in 2011. The firm designs and markets wallpaper, scented candles, and other home décor items. “It has been a rewarding experience, and my products are available globally,” Jones says. “Even if I know we’re going to be featured in a magazine, it still surprises me when I turn the page and there we are.”

Jones says she’s still applying lessons she learned at Vassar. “I’m using some of the things I learned in my economics classes 25 years later, and gaining all those diverse friendships taught me to be flexible in my thinking,” she says. “My wallpaper line reflects my design aesthetic, but occasionally I will include designs that I would personally never use because I realize they will appeal to others. There is value in acknowledging that while we have differences, choosing versatility allows us to make the most of what the imaginative self has to offer.”