This Small, Tropical-Chic Upper East Side Apartment Pays Homage to Jamaican Roots
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Name: Jennelle Mendes
Location: Upper East Side — Manhattan, New York
Size: 350 square feet
Type of Home: One-bedroom apartment
Years Lived In: 1.5 years, renting
Jennelle Mendes works full time as the event agency, Freeman, as a special events manager producing events for large brands and companies. But in her off time, she does styling, staging, and sourcing as an interior stylist for her own company, Jennelle Michelle Styling Studio. And when it was time to decorate her compact but cozy 350-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, she went for a “Tropical-Chic” look to reflect her roots.
“As the daughter of immigrant parents from Jamaica, it was essential to bring a sense of the islands into my home,” she writes. “By including wood elements, rattan details, and a few plants, I’ve brought a subtle island feel to my New York City apartment. In addition to being inspired by Caribbean heritage, I draw inspiration from my travels, both domestic and abroad. I collect and seek out decorative items during my trips to add to the eclectic and worldly feel of my bite-sized bungalow. I love having these memories scattered throughout my apartment; additionally, they act as great conversation starters when having friends over.”
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: My style is best described as eclectic with a sprinkle of Jungalow thrown in (shout out to Justina Blakeney).
Inspiration: I draw most of my inspiration from my travels, both domestic and abroad. I collect and seek out decorative items during my trips to add to the worldly feel of my place. I love having these memories scattered throughout my apartment and they act as great conversation starters when having friends over.
Additionally, as the daughter of immigrant parents from Jamaica, it was essential to bring a sense of the islands into my home. By including wood elements, rattan details, and a few plants, I’ve brought a subtle island feel to my New York City apartment.
Favorite Element: I cherish my large gold foil wall art in my living room the most. This statement piece was from my first NY apartment in East Harlem and holds a lot of meaning to me. It signifies growth while also reminding me where I started.
Biggest Challenge: Not only was it hard to moving into my first solo apartment, it was also expensive! I relied a lot on thrifted, gifted, and free items when I first moved in. This influenced my design style greatly in the beginning. Now that I’m a little more settled in, I’m starting to replace some of those items with nicer quality pieces that fit more within my long-term goal aesthetic, Art Deco.
Another challenge I’ve faced is that I get very little sunlight in this apartment — a big change from my last place. To capitalize on the small amounts of sun I get during the day, I’ve invested in light-colored sheer cotton curtains, placed my mirrors across from windows to reflect more light, and invested in a lot of lamps.
Proudest DIY: One of the DIYs I’m most proud of are my gold kitchen cabinet knobs. Funny story: My friend and were walking (more like stumbling) home after happy hour and noticed an old dresser on the curb. The knobs caught my eye, and my friend encouraged me to take them. Together we unscrewed the knobs in the rain, took them home, sanitized them, and replaced my current knobs with them. A perfect end to happy hour.
The other DIY I’m most proud of is my three-piece plaster wall art in the living room. I’m not a fan of bare walls (especially when they’re white) and felt something was missing over my sofa. I saw the plaster art movement going around YouTube and figured I’d give it a whirl. It was a great feeling to make something specifically for my apartment. Plus, it was a great way to add some texture to the space.
Budget: I love a good deal. Whether it’s a Facebook Marketplace find or thrifted good, the thrill of the hunt excites me. I continued this mentality when decorating my apartment since most of my money went into the move itself and the big essentials like a sofa, mattress, and bedframe.
My most cherished thrifted items are my big red comfy armchair and my plants. The chair is from Facebook Marketplace (roughly $45) and my plants were all gifted, found on the curb, or taken from one of my events.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? Because of limited space, my living room doubles as my office. Most days I work from home, so it was important for me to have space dedicated for this.
I went through three different iterations of desk placements before I landed on this one. My desk is facing the wall so it would feel like its own room (outside of the living room). Sitting with my back towards from the living room, I’m free from any household distractions.
I set up my screens in a way that would allow me look out the window while working and have a nice view of my plants. These little details were important to me when carving out this space.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: I’m a big advocate of utilizing all the space you have: wall space, window sills, under beds and sofa, etc. Using items that have a dual purpose and are aesthetically pleasing is one of my favorite decorating hacks.
- My ottoman (that sits under my media unit) doubles as a storage unit where I keep my comforters and blankets. It pulls out and serves as a coffee table when I have guests, and tucks nearly into my media unit when I want more floor space. It might be one of the best ideas I’ve ever had!
- Finding the perfect kitchen table was tall task. I wanted something that could function as a kitchen counter for cooking, but also double as a kitchen table for dining and cocktail hour with friends. Most people think the apartment came with the table included — no way!
- Books and magazines are underrated decorative items. Before I had my mini bookshelf (that doubles as a side table), I stacked my books on top of each other to form a book tower side table. It was super cute, unique, and functional.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice?
- Decorate within your budget: If you can’t afford to shop expensive brands, don’t. There are plenty of great alternatives out there. Places like TJMaxx and Burlington are great resources to find name brand pieces for less.
- Find your own style: Your home should reflect who you are and your interests. Lean into the things that make you, you. Use HGTV and other resources as inspiration and a guide, not a blueprint.
- Take your time: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your home won’t be fully decorated in a week. Find fun in the process and take your time collecting pieces.
- Haotian Modern Ladder Bookcase — Amazon
- Article Charcoal Ivory Houndstooth Loveseat — Article
- COZAYH Rustic Console Table — Amazon / Cozayh Store
- Gray Ottoman & Matching Desk Chair — Burlington Coat Factory
- Beige Anette Block Striped Area Rug — Rugs USA
- SILVERLÖNN Curtains — IKEA
- Alannah Ottoman Footrest Stool — Amazon
- HEKTAR Light — IKEA
This tour’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.
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