When ceramic and textile artist Malene Barnett bought her house in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood eleven years ago, she admits it was “a total wreck.” After years of work — and a stunning application of Caribbean-inspired colors — her house is now a vibrant haven in the city. Come on in…
Paint on stairs: Sweet Orange.
On a project: When I first saw this house in 2008, it was a mess. There was a hole in the roof, and water was leaking all the way down to the ground floor. It was uninhabitable at the time. But I knew it had good bones and that it was basically all fixable.
On an island vibe in the middle of Brooklyn: I wanted the house to make me feel like I was in the Caribbean — with bright colors and ocean blues — since it’s where my family’s from and the place I always want to be. I wanted to have my own oasis that felt like a different experience than the one you have when you step out into the city streets.
On cookbooks (or not): I don’t feel like a kitchen has to be dedicated to cookbooks alone. I like keeping all kinds of books that have inspired me in here — including novels, memoirs, style guides and art books. When I’m waiting for food to cook, I can flip through anything.
On food: My favorite recipe blogs are Minimalist Baker and Cookie and Kate. I’m a vegetarian, and I go for a lot of West Indian or West African food, with a touch of Asian cuisine. When people come over, I’ll do plantains with rice and peas and a lentil salad.
On a home with flow: The space is open, so there’s a nice flow between rooms. When I entertain, I’ll cook while friends wander between the kitchen, the dining area and the living room. The space helps keep the conversation going.
On a wall of memories: I love displaying a mix of pieces I’ve collected during my travels. The glass paintings on the right are from Senegal. On the left, there’s an etching portrait I did back in college. I picked up the tree of life in India.
On all-color everywhere: Turquoise is my favorite color, which is why you’ll see it all over the house. I believe you can never use too much color. That’s just the way I grew up, in a house with no white walls; we always had color around us. I like painting the ceiling, too. If you’re into color, I think you just have to go for it and not think about it too much! You can get guidance from a professional who can help you visualize the space, but it’s only paint. If you really don’t like it, you can change it.
Mirror: HomeGoods, similar. Buffet table: antique.
On a piece of home: There are lots of old pieces around here. The buffet table is particularly special to me, because it was one of my mother’s first pieces of furniture. At the holidays, we all knew to go to that cabinet and get out my grandmother’s china. That piece means a lot to me.
On bedroom goals: I hoped to create a serene, calming environment, so I could relax and rest for (hopefully) eight hours of sleep. And the pale purple color worked! I sleep REALLY well in here.
Painting: Malene Barnett. Credenza: consignment.
On staying true to yourself: I’ve always dreamed of getting an upholstered headboard. It’s funny, I got a grey one first. But as soon as it arrived, I took one look at it and said, ‘Oh no, I am NOT a grey person!’ So, I returned it and went for the other option: bright yellow.
On becoming a bath person: I designed this room to feel like a spa, with pretty tile and a little chandelier. For a long time I didn’t use the bath, but finally it hit me: I need to take advantage of this tub! Now I use it all the time.
On aspirational sinks: I was single when I designed this house. But I hoped to have a partner, so I put that out into the universe by installing double sinks and double showers. I do have a boyfriend now. And listen, eventually we’ll have double toilets and tubs — I believe an adult should have their own bathroom space!
Thank you so much, Malene!
(Photos by Kate Sears for Cup of Jo.)