Name: Zeba Blay and her boyfriend, Gulab
Location: Jersey City, New Jersey
Size: 1,100 square feet
Years lived in: 6 months, renting
It's very important to Zeba Blay, Senior Culture Writer at HuffPost, to shape her home into a sanctuary. "Anyone who knows me knows I'm really obsessed with making wherever I live feel like home, maybe because I grew up with not very much and for a long time thought I would never be in a position to have my own space," she writes.
"Aesthetic goals are cute but a home filled with good energy and things you genuinely love is even cuter."
Though she and her boyfriend Gulab have only lived in this large rental for six months, they've made it a warm, serene, minimal space punctuated with cool colors and patterns. And they did it all on a small budget: "Almost everything in the apartment was either bought at Goodwill, Craigslist, eBay, or similar thrift and secondhand sites."
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Afro-boho with a sense of humor and a love of vintage.
Inspiration: Cinema, music, ancestors, Ghana, and India,
Favorite Element: I love how homey and cozy our place feels, especially at night. I think my favorite element is definitely the kitchen. My partner and I both really love movies (I write about film and culture and he works behind the scenes on movie sets), so we've included stills of some of our favorite movies all over the apartment.
Biggest Challenge: There are a couple challenges that the apartment itself brings—it doesn't get that much light, especially in the bedroom. But probably the biggest challenge is that this is my first time as an adult living with another person! I've never had a roommate before or had to compromise when it comes to decor. Anyone who knows me knows I'm really obsessed with making wherever I live feel like home, maybe because I grew up with not very much and for a long time thought I would never be in a position to have my own space. So sharing the space with my partner who is not nearly as into decor as I am and trying not to make it all about what I want definitely took some adjusting. I was born in Ghana, which informs a lot of my design choices (kente, carvings, etc) and my partner is from India. When we first moved in together I was really worried that in designing our space, I wasn't allowing him to include bits of his culture or interests in the decor as well. So little things like hanging up his photography, or old fliers from his band's shows, have really helped to make our home feel like us and not just me. It's a challenge but it's also really beautiful process.
What Friends Say: "You should be on Apartment Therapy, sis."
Biggest Embarrassment: I really, really try to keep all my plants alive but I am just really bad at it. It'll be going so well and then one day... RIP. Thus, I'm starting to integrate more fake plants around the apartment, which I know is low-key tacky maybe, but I'd rather have some fake plants than a bunch of dead ones.
Proudest DIY: The owners of the apartment left this gorgeous antique desk behind for us to look after until our lease is over. They used it in the living room as a TV stand. I didn't like it in the living room, though, and wasn't sure where else to put it (it's huge). My boyfriend came up with the great idea of turning it into a kitchen island—we just ordered a butcher block in the right dimensions to sit on top of it. It works amazingly as extra counter space and storage. The kitchen is probably where we spend the most time together now.
Biggest Indulgence: As a writer who often works from home, I feel like I indulge in everything (that Taurus life). I'm really big on finding deals, shopping sales, and spending as little as possible on home stuff (within reason) so that I can invest in the pieces that I really want. Almost everything in the apartment was either bought at Goodwill, Craigslist, eBay, or similar thrift and secondhand sites. The biggest splurges were the striped Azilal rug in the bedroom and the mustardy-green vintage couch, which I'm now considering getting reupholstered in pink velvet, which I guess is another indulgence. Also—art. It's really important to me to include the artwork of people of color in my home, especially that of my friends. Not so much the art itself but I'm so shook by how much it costs to professionally frame stuff! Worth it, though.
Best Advice: My best advice is corny but whatever—really just go with your gut, what makes you feel good, and what puts a smile on your face. Sometimes when I'm putting my space together I get overly preoccupied with aesthetic, what's going to "look" the best on the gram or whatever. There are certain things in my apartment that I've agonized over buying or displaying because I was worried they may seem too trendy or try-hard (my Eames-replica chairs, my wall hangings, etc.), but I think the key to creating a beautiful space is disregarding what's on trend or not on trend or oversaturated and just doing what genuinely moves you. If I'm drawn to something, even if it doesn't fit into some ideal aesthetic, even if it's imperfect, I'm going to incorporate it into my space because it makes me happy. Aesthetic goals are cute but a home filled with good energy and things you genuinely love is even cuter.
Entry Table — World Market
Bench — CB2
Shoe Basket — World Market
Photography — Matt Payton
Sofa — Shop Works Modern
Vinyl Orange Chair — Dobbin Street Coop
Westnofa Siesta Chair — Shop Works Modern
Vintage Arc Lamp — Reuse America Vintage
Large Jute Rug — Craigslist
Printed Rug — Urban Outfitters (sold out)
Glass Coffee Table — Purchased from owners
Magazine Holder (used as vinyl record storage) — Reuse American Vintage
Witco Tiki Lamp — Furnishgreen
Portrait of Woman — Bought on Craigslist from artist Tracy Cahill
TV Console — IKEA
White canvas armchair — IKEA
White Eames-style Rocking Chair — Craigslist
Blue Bookcase — Urban Outfitters (sold out)
Framed Wax Print Fabric — from Ghana
Wood Carvings, Makola Game - from Ghana
Gold Reading Lamp — Target
Art above Sofa — "Killer of Sheep" still printed via BigCanvas.com
Art above TV — "Girlhood" still printed via Staples
Solange "An Ode To" Posters — Saint Heron
Jeff Goldblum Throw Pillow — Epic housewarming gift
Dining Table — Wayfair
Vases — Target, Urban Outfitters
Bentwood Dining Chairs — West Elm by way of Lichen.NYC on Craigslist
Clear Eames-style Chair — Craigslist
Mirror — Left by owners
Gold Wallpaper — Target
Jute Rug — Craigslist
Painting — Bought on Craigslist from artist Tracy Cahill
Wool Wall Hanging — Goodwill
Moroccan Saddle Bag — Blk Mkt Vintage
Antique Desk — Left by owners
Naked Lady Plant Pots — Art Brat Comics
Hanging Glass Mobile — Urban Outfitters
Orange Stool — IKEA
Metal Shelf — IKEA
Assorted Glass Vases — Goodwill
Ghana Salon Sign Art — Blk Mkt Vintage
Art near Window — Ben Biayenda
Azilal Rug — Etsy
Tribal Print Rugs — NuLoom
Bed — Craigslist
Vintage Drafting Desk — Craigslist
Chair — Target via Goodwill
Yellow Velvet Quilt — Target
Raffia Basket/Hamper — Dobbin Street Coop
Pink Romanian Rug over Soor — Jersey City flea market
Nightstand/Cabinet — IKEA
Art above left side of bed (braiding portrait) — Ben Biayenda
"It's Ok to Be Black and Angry" Art — Bianca Xunise
"Care Free Black Girl" Pendant (based on hashtag I coined on Twitter in 2013) — Rayo and Honey