Stylist and author LaTonya Yvette lives with her daughter, River, 7, and son, Oak, 4, in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. She moved there while she was separating from her husband, and found that the secret to creating a comfortable home was to surround herself with things that had connection and meaning. (And to surround herself with a community of friends and family who seem to know exactly what she needs exactly when she needs it.) Here’s a peek inside…
On inheriting the apartment: My friend Karyn used to live here, and when told me she was buying another house, she was like, ‘I need you at this apartment.’ We are both stylists, we had always connected on motherhood, we both have this kind of bear-clawy relationship around home, and the way that it needs to feel for our families. My husband and I were starting the process of separating, and Karyn knew deeply in her body that I needed a new space.
On Billie Holliday: I got the print at the Goodwill on Fulton Street. I am a huge Billie Holiday fan. If Oak had been girl, his name would have been Billie. While I love her voice and range, what I find really thrilling are her songs that can be read as a political act.
On being single: There are many nights when I’m nodding off on the couch and I’m like, ‘I could just sleep here.’ Then I think, it is my apartment, and no one is asking, ‘What time are you coming to bed?’ Being alone now is scary but also liberating. I’m happy my children got to see me choose what was best for everyone even when it was an uncomfortable choice.
On having a dedicated space: When I started writing my book, Woman of Color, my friend was like, you need a desk. And then she found this one for me on Craigslist. I loved it, and it helped me write the rest of the book. When my marriage was ending, people showed up in ways that I hadn’t expected. They push you to the other side of whatever you’re going through and then you do the same for them.
On a family photo as artwork: I got this photo of us blown up with Framebridge. I like that it looks like a piece of art of New York City. This is 100% our real life. We are on the subway twice a day. You’d think the kids would be bored by now, but they still love it. They’re like wild animals crawling on me while waiting for the train.
On mix-and-match chairs: In my apartment (and this goes for my clothes, too), I like there to be a sense of off-ness. In my old apartment, we had matching dining chairs, and I was so bored. Even if things are simple, they can still be a tiny bit weird. The blue settee was from a neighbor who was moving. I was like, This is weird. I love it.
On entertaining: Our parties are always impromptu and they’re always potlucks, and there are usually like 10 people and 15 children. I’ll make a salad or cheese spread, and my rule for guests is, ‘Bring a bottle or a plate.’ That’s the easiest way to entertain. We always end up having too much wine and lots of food.
On open houses: What I need, what I need my kids to be raised around, is safe. It’s safe for them to share. It’s safe for them to grow. It’s safe for them to be. I enjoy having people over, and I think a lot of that has to do with a safe space mentality, making a home where people feel comfortable and respected. We do ‘Open House Sundays.’ I’ll tell people my doors will be open from this time to this time so just come! I love having a space for people to have fun and throw it down.
Portrait: Jenna Gribbon.
On radios: My grandmother lived on Classon Ave in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. She had a tiny little apartment, and the radio was always on and usually tuned into Old Heaven 1580 or whatever the old Christian radio was. I love having a radio at home. The yellow dresser was from a neighbor who was moving, the same one who gave me the settee.
On a morning routine: Every morning, I burn palo santo in every room. It’s my ritual. I turn on music and brew coffee and burn the palo santo. The coffee and palo santo smells together are amazing. Since I wake up super early to work, I try to create an atmosphere that’s especially for me.
Shower curtain: Quiet Town.
On small spaces: I was like, ‘How do you design a bathroom?’ You just get a weird shower curtain that’s cool and easy to clean. That’s it!
On showing up: Oak was born with a ventricle defect, and last year he had to have surgery that required him to stay home and rest for a month. My mom moved in with us for that month. She noticed that the wallpaper was starting to peel and one day was like, ‘Well, if you go get the paste I will redo the wallpaper.’ And she did. It was a beautiful thing. It makes me emotional because hanging wallpaper is very simple, but it was a way of taking care of me. I just think it’s important for people to show up in the ways that they can. It means a lot.
White and red frames: Framebridge.
On writing letters to kids: When I was a kid, my mom used to write us cards as a treat. For me, even though I see my kids all the time, I’m always wondering, ‘Is there is something I’m not saying? Is there something I’m missing?’ So a letter is about filling these spaces, letting them know that I’m still thinking about them even if I’m not saying it. Or it’s about praising them. Or just saying I noticed that you did this, or I know you might be nervous about that, or thank you for being a great big sister to your little brother — just acknowledging something that I may not acknowledge on a day-to-day level.
On a pink bedroom: I had a pink bedroom for my entire childhood, so when I moved here and became single, I looked around the room and was like, ‘Yes, pink! You could paint the whole apartment pink, and no one’s going to say no!’
On dressing: I love getting dressed for myself. When I don’t dress up, that’s when my kids start questioning. I remember once when I didn’t dress up for like two days in a row, my son was like, ‘Are you happy, Mama?’ He was just checking in to make sure I was okay.
On sharing a room: I know eventually River and Oak will want their own space but right now they love sharing. It’s cute because sometimes they’ll say don’t love it, but any time one of them is in my bed, the other one will be like, ‘I want you to come back!’
On the bedroom theme: I like to think of them falling asleep in a peaceful forest every night. The lamp shines stars on the ceiling when it’s dark, and the blankets are naturally dyed with turmeric and flowers. Oak has a zebra over his bed, and River has a unicorn. My friend Jenna painted the mural in honor of the kids — you’ll notice it’s a river surrounding an oak tree.
On bedtime reading: River has been really into the Addy American Girl series that her grandparents gave her. She’ll stay up and read. After cuddling them, I usually end up falling asleep in one of their beds.
On life right now: When I first started out on my own at 18, it was a struggle… then a door would open. A struggle, a struggle, a struggle… then a door would open. There was a part of me that was like, you have to put your head down and just do it. Now I have a backyard, and it’s so nice to crack open the kitchen door and let the kids free. They have scooters and bikes and draw with chalk. Sometimes I look back and think, Wait, we’re really here and this is our apartment. It’s insane.
Thank you LaTonya! LaTonya’s book, Woman of Color is available for pre-order. We can’t wait to read it.
(Photos by Julia Robbs for Cup of Jo.)