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In New Jersey, an 1890s-Era Home Honoring Black Heritage

by Garrett Fleming

In New Jersey, an 1890s-Era Home Honoring Black Heritage, Design*Droits-Humains

In 2014, adjunct professors Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy founded , “an online shop and collection of Black vintage artifacts, curiosities, memorabilia and home furnishings… that represent the Black experience.” Unsurprisingly, some of the heirlooms they’ve curated over the past five years have ended up dotting the walls and filling the corners of the couple’s current rental in Jersey City, NJ. When woven together, the two say these priceless mementos tell the wide-ranging narrative of the “African diaspora.”

The space was far from a museum of meaningful finds — which it is now — when the couple moved in eight months ago. In fact, the interior of the 1890s-era space wasn’t what piqued the pair’s interests at all. It was the brownstone’s location that made it a winner. The home is not only nearby family, friends and their shop’s upcoming brick-and-mortar location in Brooklyn, but Jersey City also offers just the right type of neighborly vibe Kiyanna and Jannah love. “It was important to the both of us that we [move] to a community that reflected our various identities,” they tell us. “The diversity of people, experiences, backgrounds and cuisine options were an added bonus.”

Locale aside, the new home also promised to give the family — including Jannah’s daughter, Mack, and their dog, Lola — room to spread out, something their previous space lacked. With this larger footprint, though, came more square footage to furnish, and at times the design possibilities seemed daunting. How did Kiyanna and Jannah keep calm? By maintaining an unwavering dedication to two of their overarching decor goals: to represent “Blackness,” and to not always favor form over function.

The latter was, unfortunately, a lesson the pair had to learn the hard way. They recall last year’s housewarming party: “With the house brimming with family, friends and laughter, an overzealous niece began jumping on our antique Victorian couch, causing one of the hand carved wood legs to snap… [we’d] neglected to keep function in mind.”

The couple has since hit their design stride, and Kiyanna and Jannah are inspired by the patina on their collected artwork and memorabilia — and look forward to seeing how their space grows and evolves over time. 

Photography by & Laquan Brinson-St.Pierre

Image above: The living room furniture showcases the family’s adoration for Mid-Century design.

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From left to right: Jannah’s daughter Mack, Jannah, and Kiyanna. The trio’s dog Lola isn’t typically allowed on the couch, but a family portrait wouldn’t be the same without her.

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This staircase is the first thing guests see when they enter the family’s home. Kiyanna and Jannah have ensured the feature packs a strong visual punch by decking the stairwell out in many colors and textures.

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Jannah and Kiyanna love how displays like this one let them show off their vast collection of vintage finds in an interesting way. “In our collection we have over 50 Black Panther newspapers – [and] over 200 in our shop. We have a number of them mounted around the house instead of collecting dust in a drawer,” they say.

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This orange chair – which sits in the living room’s nook – has been with Kiyanna since grad school. Next to it, a vintage radiator cover allows her and Jannah to display meaningful collectibles like an original Keith Haring poster. A souvenir pennant from the 1963 March on Washington hangs above the windows.

 

It is refreshing to have depictions of Blackness in every corner of our home. These items reflect struggle through resilience, beauty throughout adversity and triumph in the face of oppression.

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“What we love most about our home is that it’s a retrofuturespective. It reflects our world – past, present & future.” – Jannah Handy and Kiyanna Stewart

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They had their eye on this 1960s metal sign for over a year, but their old apartment didn’t have the wall space to accommodate it. Once they moved here, they couldn’t resist snatching it up. Below it sits the dining room table, where the family spends their time listening to records, entertaining and helping Mack with her homework.

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Across from the Bea’s Luncheonette memorabilia hangs another historic sign. “If you’re from Brooklyn/NYC, you’ll recognize the Eastern Parkway sign,” Kiyanna begins. “It’s a 1940s trolley sign – yes, pre-subway – for the Eastern Parkway stop. We grew up in Prospect Lefferts Gardens one intersection away from one another, and Eastern Parkway is one of the major streets in the neighborhood. The sign is one of our favorite pieces in the house.”

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The upstairs hallway’s long-and-narrow shape initially stumped the couple. “As a means to keep it simple – yet impactful – we figured our collection of antique portraits (which are from the 1850s–1950s) would be the perfect addition,” Kiyanna says.

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“While we are not related to the folks pictured, we appreciate how their presence pays homage to the narrative (and sometime faceless figures) of our collective and individual pasts.” – Kiyanna Stewart

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The administration side of BLK MKT Vintage is handled here in the apartment’s third bedroom.

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Jannah co-parents Mack, so she doesn’t live with Jannah and Kiyanna full-time. Her room is designed to serve as a guest room as well.

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Mack specifically loves the portrait of her younger self that sits on the nightstand.

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“Mack’s room has two gallery walls, and this one is nicely positioned near her window for optimal light. We chose a mix of woven Kenyan baskets and oil paintings of girls/women who look like her,” Kiyanna explains.

 

The space will always be morphing to reflect new interests, finds, questions and assertions – we’re okay with that.

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Jannah and Kiyanna’s bedroom is their “safe place” where they feel “most peaceful.” They tell us, “Between the incorporation of our favorite colors, shapes, plants, pattern and symmetry, it’s everything we want/need in [a] resting place.”

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Styling their bedroom was fairly easy because this bay window makes everything look good.

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The bedroom’s floating shelves hold sentimental items like an Etta James record from Jannah’s step-dad’s late grandmother’s collection and a “love affair” collage Jannah made for Kiyanna for Valentine’s Day. “All these pieces are special to us and represent joys in our personal lives and relationship with one another.”

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Kiyanna and Jannah keep decorations to a minimum in their guest bathroom so it feels larger.

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“Decorating the kitchen was a no-brainer. Narratives of Black hair often revolve around the kitchen. The ritual of getting your hair hot-combed over an open stove – as referenced in Nakeya Brown’s piece ‘Hair Stories Untold’ is one that simultaneously unifies and terrifies women of color of all backgrounds and generations. Keeping with this theme, we decided to exhibit this hair experience through the lens of the diaspora and included hand-painted barber shop and salon signs from Ghana,” Kiyanna shares.

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The home’s floor plan.

SOURCE LIST
Items not listed are vintage and sourced by BLK MKT Vintage.

Living Room
NAACP art – 1975 hand-painted sign for NAACP float
Coffee table – Noguchi
Lamp shade – IKEA
Vintage guard statue – Ivory Coast
“All Power to the People” print –

Dining Room
“Return of The Mecca” print –

Hallway
Pair of “An Ode To” prints – Solange x

Mack’s Room
Rug, quilt – Target
“Shantavia Beale II” print – Kehinde Wiley
Oil paintings –

Kiyanna & Jannah’s Room
Quilt – Justina Blakeney
Headboard – West Elm
Duvet – Target

Bathroom
Shower curtain – Target

Kitchen
“Hair Stories” print –

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