11 Black Creatives on What Home Means to Them


Last year, NPR investigated the racist architecture of homeownership in an episode of the Code Switch podcast. Their analysis of data from the Urban Institute found that Black homeownership rates have barely risen since 1970. There’s a long history of housing discrimination in the United States tied to “racist government policies perpetuated by the real estate industry and private attitudes,” as NPR reported.

Though laws like the 1968 Fair Housing Act and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act were enacted to prevent all forms of discrimination and segregation, like redlining neighborhoods, they didn’t fix the nucleus of the issue: a housing system built on systemic racism. Not only does the homeownership gap remain wide open, but some reports indicate that it’s getting worse. These factors ultimately have devastating effects on the Black population in America, contributing to poverty, inequity, and displacement, but also doing deep psychological damage that is less easily tracked within these communities.

In an essay published in the August 1987 issue of Architectural Digest, James Baldwin writes, “A house is not a home: We have all heard the proverb. Yet, if the house is not a home (home!) it can become only, I suppose, a space to be manipulated—manipulation demanding rather more skill than grace.” For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has always referred to her house as a museum. She’s spent decades curating this domestic space to her satisfaction, pouring her heart into decorating as if her very reputation depended on it.

As an adult, I now have a greater appreciation for this attention to detail and treating my own apartment like a gallery where all of my belongings are objects to be admired by those who inhabit the environment. The late bell hooks often spoke about the role of the homeplace in the building of community, musing about how houses provided the comfort of a shelter that nurtures the soul. With that in mind, I spoke with 11 creatives about how they define the concept of home, when they started curating their own spaces, the impact of growing up in Black households, and the significance of being a future homeowner.

Marjon Carlos, journalist

“When I think of ‘home,’ I can’t shake this memory of sitting on a big couch, at night, under a blanket, and watching a movie. The lights are dim and you are surrounded by family. It’s this feeling of being enveloped and protected and totally removed from the outside world. [Growing up,] home was a gathering place, and it was something you took pride in. My mother constantly redecorated and moved things around and added or took things away. I think it was like a meditation for her. She made certain rooms totally off-limits to us. The dining room and formal living room were not play areas! You could only use her china for Sunday dinners or special occasions.

No matter how big our house got, she didn’t believe in hiring an outside cleaning service. No one could clean her home as well as she could, and I think a lot of Black folks feel the same way. There is something super sacred about that process. So, Saturday mornings were dedicated to cleaning with B.B. King, gospel, or jazz music blaring. I do that now in my own home: I’ll throw on Alice Coltrane and just zone out. It’s a deep ritual. We also lived in predominantly white neighborhoods, and I think that compounded the effort and pride my parents took into their homes. They knew that Black families across this country had been redlined or intimidated out of their homes, so they were determined to plant roots and make sure us kids felt like we belonged.

I really started curating [my] space last year when I moved in. It was the first time for a very long time that I had my own space, and I was determined that it was going to reflect the woman I’m becoming. It’s a place where I pay homage to the creators who inspire me—Kerry James Marshall, Carrie Mae Weems, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Arthur Jafa, Rihanna—and where I can celebrate my accomplishments. I framed my first i-D cover story with Precious Lee and hung it proudly on the wall, because why not? My boyfriend helped me build out so many things, like the bookshelf in the living room, which is filled with books I’ve read as far back from graduate school. He just finished constructing a mirrored closet for me as a Christmas gift. I’m always reminded of minimalist, sexy, ’80s Elsa Peretti and Carrie Bradshaw when I look at it every morning. I like to think my interior is giving cool, throwback auntie energy—the one who was mixy, threw great parties, and created a warm landing for friends and family.

I’ve always had this image in my head that I would own a brownstone and raise my family there, and I still very much hold onto that vision. There are so many historical blockades, from redlining to lynch mobs, that have kept Black people from owning our own home, that it’s just so important Black folks feel safe somewhere and work together to ensure we get a piece of this pie. It’s definitely a goal of mine for the next few years.”

Jasmyn Lawson, content executive

“I grew up in matriarchal households. I never lived in a home where a man was present, and I’ve only known strong feminine energy, more specifically Black women. So, for me, the home has always been a safe space. My mother filled our house with Black art and music. I’ve always felt the most respect inside my home. My homes have also been the spaces where I’ve learned to tap into my voice. It’s the first place I had any sort of conversation about race and gender and the intersection of both. I learned the hard way that there were certain things I could say and do inside my home that wouldn’t necessarily be accepted outside. Because of that, I realized early on my home was probably the one place I will always have the complete freedom to be myself.

It wasn’t until I moved to L.A. that I had the first opportunity to curate my own space. Realizing that I now had that freedom allowed me to tap into a side of myself I didn’t know I had. As a creative person, I’m big on storytelling, and I hope my home tells some sort of a story. So many people have come into my home and have said, ‘This piece of furniture reminds me of my grandmother’s house,’ and I take that as a compliment. When designing my space, I wanted to pay tribute to my mother and grandmothers. I like to think that if you walk into my home without knowing who lived here, you could tell right away that this space belongs to a Black woman. My apartment has a lot of modern elements, but there’s a story I’m telling about where I come from with some of the choices I’ve made.

I’m currently on my journey to homeownership. Growing up, owning a home felt like something that married couples with children did, and it didn’t resonate with me that I come from a long line of single Black women who owned their own homes. Their independence was rooted in having ownership over their space. I’m excited to find a home that speaks to who I am and will complement my taste and perspective. And it will be a true reflection of everything I’ve been able to accomplish on my own.

Home for me is being able to be entirely at peace. So much of our time spent is how we show up for others—how we show up at work, show up as a friend, or a family member. And, as someone who currently lives alone, my home is the space where I can show up for myself. It’s a place where I feel no guilt about not doing anything. Where the dress code consists of only a fuzzy robe and slippers. Home for me is having no expectations other than rest. The energy I keep in my home is essential to me, and I’m incredibly protective about maintaining that.”

Byron & Dexter Peart, cofounders of Goodee

Dexter: “For us, home has always been a plural experience informed by the places we lived in and traveled to, the food we ate, and the moments we shared. As Canadian twins of Jamaican descent, growing up in the suburbs of Ottawa, we absorbed diverse cultural perspectives and stitched together a unique sense of belonging that felt beautiful and natural to us.”

Byron: “One commonality that comes to mind growing up and spending much of our childhood in Black—more specifically, Caribbean—households, was the extent of decorations (furniture, artworks, wood carvings, et cetera) that were brought over from the homeland and prominently displayed. The authentic approach to keeping natural connections to our roots was always evident.”

Dexter: “I have always cherished the saying, ‘Home is where the heart is.’ For me, home must always be a warm and honest place to find peace with oneself and to share lasting moments and memories with our nearest and dearest loved ones. In a world with so much conflict, our homes have the potential to be the most natural setting for introspection, rejuvenation, and replenishment.”

Byron: “Home should be a place of refuge, a sanctuary of sorts. A well-considered home should be comfortable and reflect the personal taste, travel finds, and family heirlooms of all of the inhabitants.”

Dexter: “My family and I have been living at the acclaimed Moshe Safdie–designed residence, Habitat 67, for 13 years. As a family, we are also consummate travelers. We are so fortunate to have visited so many interesting places, and, consequently, our home is very well adorned with several mementos and souvenirs from our travels. There is no question that sharing a home with three strong women and girls often lends a softer, warmer, and more feminine touch to our interior.”

Byron: “I have always been very much into investing in home furniture and artworks that can be enjoyed personally, while also setting the foundation for building a collection. I have a profound appreciation for mixing vintage furniture with unique home decor accents collected from around the globe. I have developed a keen eye and balance for unearthing design treasures from vintage resellers, while at the same time sourcing directly from makers and artisans… Always finding gems that are meant to be valued and used every day, and then passed down for future generations.”

Nialla LeBouef, writer

“In 2020, when the city shut down, and local haunts became vacant houses haunted by memories of normalcy, I began to think about home more than ever before. The house I grew up in was a place of deep creativity and excitement. Tangible representations of Blackness surrounded me and took the form of albums, toys, video cassettes, books, and magazines. I never felt I didn’t see myself, but I simultaneously didn’t feel safe. When I could move, I made a silent promise that I would inundate my space with things that made me happy, for there was no one to judge them but me.

I started curating my space two years ago and remain inspired by vintage interiors. My living room has so many beautiful prewar features I decided on a modern Parisian style—I jokingly refer to this aesthetic as ‘trust fund French’ for a laugh. My love affair with film and filmmaking began at an early age, and I have a small collection of books and media as reference and pleasure.

As a horror screenwriter, the stories I write and research tend to be quite eerie and dark. I didn’t want my personal space to reflect my favorite genre directly, so I made sure there was always a lot of natural and artificial light. My bedroom, for instance, is a dusty pink color, and my good friend refers to it as ‘the princess apartment.’

I wake up so grateful for this space every day, and I am delighted in my little corner of the world. My definition of home has changed over the years, but as I’ve moved and grown, I genuinely believe a home is a place where you can live with no judgment.”

Trinity Mouzan Wofford, cofounder of Golde

“Buying a house in 2021 was a very special milestone. I went from being in five-figure credit card debt a few years ago and taking no salary from my business to actually getting a mortgage. It’s extremely hard to do as a business owner: The banks pour over your documents, and you’re always panicked that they’re going to pull the rug out from under you at the last minute. But now, being on the other side, it was 100% worth it. I’m excited to put my money towards building equity and to know that I’m going to be somewhere for the long haul.

My first ‘grown-up’ apartment was in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, and I lived there from 2018 to 2020. My partner and I have so many special memories of building a home for ourselves there. It was the perfect prewar-style building with beautiful molding and decorated hardwood floors. A lot of our furniture actually came as hand-me-downs from our families. We didn’t have the cash to buy stuff, so we would take old rugs and lamps out of our parents’ basements and make them our own. Family is really important to both of us, so it makes sense that this warm, eclectic mix of items ended up being the foundation of our style.

Home to me is about that sense of security and comfort. Home is a place, but it can also be a smell, a memory, or the presence of another person. I was raised by a single mom, and we are both total homebodies. For us, home was always a sacred space for time spent together, moments apart, or hosting friends and loved ones. I don’t know if this was a Black thing or an us thing, but my mom would always have like three essential oils going in a diffuser and had probably just done a sage smudging, and people would always remark about how warm and earthy it was there. I bring a lot of those qualities into my own home space now as an adult.”

Loveis Wise, illustrator

“Home feels like a manifestation of all the things that provide space for recharging, safety, creativity, comfort, and sacredness. My home often feels like a reflection of my inner being or imagination, and I love to play with the energy of my space to support my spiritual and mental wellbeing. In my youth, home always felt temporary because we rented. I shared a room with my younger sister and didn’t really have the space to create my own sacred space. But growing up in a Black home, I remember each place that I visited among my family always felt golden and warm. There was often chocolate, cream, or golden-colored furniture with sofas covered in plastic to preserve them.

Religious iconography was placed in every room, from crosses and tiny, brown angel statues that my grandmothers adored. There was also Bible verses and poetry written by Black women framed up on the walls as reminders. I also remember prints and paintings created by Black artists with Black matriarchs as their subjects. I can’t forget the photos of my family members that could be often found in every room.

I started curating my own space in my first apartment post-college. As a visual artist, I knew I wanted my home to reflect my imagination and to be just as vibrant and colorful. My aesthetic can be described as playful, joyous, maximalist. I’m not a homeowner yet, but I aspire to be someone whose entire home can shape-shift into any playful mood that I’m in!”

Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey, cofounder of Xula

“I grew up in a single-mother, immigrant, low-income household, so we mostly lived in Section 8 housing. I had a complex, nurturing, and somewhat erratic idea of home, since we moved around quite a bit—each time an upgrade from the previous space. My mother is brilliant and resourceful, so home somehow always felt warm and secure. We were encouraged to keep the house clean, but also to play, and were allowed to have our things throughout the house. There was always something bubbling over the stove that smelled like being back home in West Africa. There was always school work being done, someone sitting between a lap getting their hair done. A sister to help, a joke or conversation to try to squeeze myself in for a laugh. My impression of home was closeness, cleanliness, and comfort.

The household often too extends to the community. My favorite part about living in a Black home is that you almost always left with a plate of food. These elements of the Black household are common for a lot of populations of people outside of the U.S., and that’s a testament to the fact that we are American but also from the continent of Africa, where things are just done differently. My interior decor aesthetic is hotep meets hippy meets ex-DJ. There are always more plants than furniture or humans, clean, natural-structured design elements like rattan, linen, glass, and wood. My spaces are usually understated and neutral both in gender and also color palette.

Home is where the weed is—kidding, but it’s somewhere along those lines metaphysically. It’s where my herbs and plants are and where they grow. It’s defined by being a place where I feel comfortable resting. It’s where I rise in the morning, grateful for another day, and the roof over my head. Being a homeowner is a topic that’s very activating to me because it’s something I’ve never experienced growing up and still to this day don’t own a home. Although I know it’s not true, not owning a home feels like a failure. It’s not for a lack of hard work, being cunning, or resourceful—it’s a crushing testament to my lack of generational wealth.

Homeownership is something that seems more and more out of my reach, which is one of the reasons why I moved to Mexico—in search of land ownership that’s respectful to the culture and community. That is something I desire and am currently working toward. As someone who thrives when I can grow things, I see land as the baseline. First, the earth and the dirt, then the house, cabin, or whatever weird eco hemp house can be built.”

Aran, founder of The Fetish Priest

“Although I was born in the Middle East, I have always associated home with the motherland, West Africa, where I spent formative years, where close ties remain, and where I felt most welcome. Over time, I have come to feel more at home here in New York City, where I feel most liberated. [Home] was one of the few places I could take sanctuary and cultivate my own taste. All this was done surreptitiously, of course; the arts weren’t particularly appreciated or viewed as a viable career path.

[I didn’t start curating] until the mid-2010s with the first few antiques I came into from a very generous neighbor. I’ve had a keen appreciation for art and culture all my life, but I believe the encounter with that neighbor further stoked my interest, particularly in furniture design. I’ve refined my understanding somewhat since then. My studio apartment doubles as the shrine that stocks all my inventory, so I try to keep it simple without unnecessary decoration or additional comfort even. Also, music helps slow this racing mind of mine, so there’s always something playing, oftentimes soul or highlife music.

It seems a bit of a daunting task, but I cannot take for granted the emotional connection and sense of stability that will come with owning my own home someday.”

Neffi Walker, founder of the Black Home

“My father purchased a brownstone in Harlem near Columbia University, and, at the time of purchase, it was a rooming house. We occupied the top level, and, throughout the years, slowly moved into occupying the entire house and making it a home. As a young girl throughout that process, I experienced firsthand how we as a family used our bare hands to transform essentially a boarding house into our single-family home. This was the introduction to my love for restoration, natural woods, and intricate architecture. From then, I was always in love with home design.

There is this notion that many Black households are similar. I’ve noticed that Black households can be different and diverse. Yes, I was blessed to live in a single-family brownstone in Harlem; however, many of my friends had lesser means. Their families operated on frequencies, and, in many ways, we still could relate because Black culture and Black experiences extend outside of the home.

[Home means] safety, comfort, creativity, and expression. All the things that Black people were not privy to throughout our history in this country. Years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a plantation, and the experience was beyond transformative. From the shacks of our enslaved ancestors to redlining and modern-day public housing, there is such a need for the comfort and security that comes with ‘home.’

Being a homeowner is a love/hate relationship. While I am an advocate of Black ownership, as it is necessary to gain wealth in this country, there is a huge responsibility that comes along with owning a freestanding home. The hate easily comes when it’s time to clean the gutters, or your sewage backs up, or even when the grass needs to be cut, or the driveway needs to be shoveled. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Maggie Holladay, founder of Claude Home

“Home means a place of comfort and safety. For me, I define it as having that place to go after a long day or a trip; you walk in through your door and feel a weight lifted off your shoulder. It’s kind of like a hug in a sense—you’re back in your safe space. Home is really important to me now because growing up I had divorced parents—the weekdays I’d be with my mom and then the weekends with my dad, and my dad would move two or three times a year. So, I never had a space where I could really unpack my bag, get comfortable, and make it my home.

My friends are like, ‘It’s crazy how much you spend on rent,’ but I will happily spend my entire paycheck on rent just to have such a comfortable place that I can make my own. In L.A., my space is really big, with floor-to-ceiling windows everywhere. It’s old Hollywood architecture. Just being here, it’s inspired me to curate, play with furniture, and make the house feel like a sanctuary. [My aesthetic is] very minimal with large statement pieces and heavier furniture, but also eclectic sculptures and books and art pieces. I try to keep it cozy and minimal, where it doesn’t feel too much like an empty space or an overly designed space.

I’m dying to buy a house. For me, with renting, you don’t have full control over your life in a sense. When I buy a home, it’ll be a space that I can remodel and put money into changing the floors, maybe redoing the trimming, and small stuff like that.”

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