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Interiors

A Piece of Family History in Union Square

by Annie Werbler

Though they lived in Liberia during the late 1970s, Sadatu Dennis’ parents decided to rent a Union Square apartment for their frequent travels to New York City. The 520-square-foot one-bedroom residence has stayed in the family ever since – for over 35 years. Back then, it was a seedy area bearing little semblance to the vibrant neighborhood it is today. When the building went co-op in the mid-’80s, Sadatu’s father decided to become a shareholder. A few years later civil war broke out in Liberia and this flat served as a temporary refuge for several family members who were forced to adapt and rebuild their lives in America. Since then, it’s mostly been rented out until Sadatu relocated here three years ago.

Sadatu works in real estate development and considers designing her home one of her favorite ways to spend spare time. A professor once told her she has, “a great design intuition” so she likes to think that trait permeates all aspects of her life. She’s not a traditional renter but she’s far from a big-budget owner, and has made some small, sensible upgrades to the apartment since her move. Most of the appliances and hardware had been untouched since the ’70s, so Sadatu updated the kitchen by adding a new light fixture, countertop, and tile flooring. She then removed the shower door and replaced some of bathroom hardware, and chose a new paint color for the accent wall in the dining area. Sadatu loves incorporating family pieces into her decor. She displays African masks gifted by her parents, as well as a framed photo of her fiancé‘s great-uncle who died in the Algerian War of Independence. She wanted to create a space that is a reflection of her personality and culture, and also one that elicits an instant sense of joy upon walking through the door. It’s the place where she wants to spend most of her time.

Though she grew up in Maryland, Sadatu still holds dear childhood memories of trips to NYC with her parents and two brothers – specifically, all of them cramming into this apartment for a weekend away. She’s grateful that it has served as a beacon of stability for loved ones and even as housing for cousins who pursued their education in the city. In just a few months Sadatu will be moving to Mexico City for her fiance’s new job, but has been honored to steward this little piece of her family’s history. —Annie

Photography by Chi-Chi Agbim

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In her Union Square, Manhattan apartment, Sadatu Dennis enlarged and framed a wallet-sized photo of her fiancé’s great-uncle who died in the Algerian War of Independence. The photo is mesmerizing and she likes to think that a hero is watching over the family.
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Throw pillows are always the first decorative items Sadatu purchases, as they're an easy way to add some flair to a space. Above the couch, she covered a cheap piece of artwork with Diamante wallpaper by Hygge & West, then painted an abstract figure overtop.
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Sadatu Dennis in the living room of her one-bedroom NYC home.
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The work of designer Justina Blakeney has inspired Sadatu to add more plants to her own space.
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The crab comes from Sadatu's childhood home, and she recently visited Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul. An illustrated history of Josephine Baker and a book on “Americo-Liberian Folk Architecture" complete the stack of coffee table books.
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A Liberian fabric cover on the couch is paired with an Urban Outfitters rug. Sadatu counts on her comfortable Macy's sofa to provide a relaxing embrace after a long day.
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The bold fabric on this upholstered Overstock chair instantly caught Sadatu's eye, as did the eBay horn stool beneath it.
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The trunk was found at a moving sale within the building, and the mask was a gift from Sadatu's parents. She bought the painting at the Bazar Sábado in Mexico City. She enjoys the juxtaposition of the different faces.
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Sadatu has a collection of antique mirrors like the one above the dining table and also the desk.
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One of Sadatu's favorite things about her neighborhood is the Union Square farmers market, which is where she picked up these delicious peaches and plums.
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Sadatu framed these reproductions of these 17th-century maps from the Harvard Map Collection.
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This dining table may be Sadatu's favorite piece in the apartment, but it's certainly her best Craigslist find to date! The table runner draped over it was made in Turkey.
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The Mr. T tea towel on the wooden cutting board makes Sadatu laugh. Her fridge is covered with beautiful wedding invitations as she's attending eight celebrations this year. The rug is from eBay and the mirror was a thrift store find in Maryland.
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Two years ago the shower door was removed to add warmth and depth to the small bathroom.
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Sadatu has always wanted to create a casual home where guests feel comfortable kicking off their shoes or perching on furniture to relax.
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Ghanaian masks welcome visitors in the entryway.
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Sadatu often mixes patterns, prints, and textures in fun and unexpected ways, such as here at her desk.
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The antique phone was a gift from Sadatu's brother, and though it no longer works, she appreciates the historic significance it adds to the office area.
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The bookshelf is a hodgepodge of items Sadatu has collected over the years. When it comes to home decor she has always felt that if people buy items they really love (and can afford), finding places and uses for those purchases will come naturally.
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Sadatu bought this wooden dog from the Union Square holiday market several years ago. It’s another quirky piece that makes her smile - especially the ribbon around his neck and the little tail!
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An overview of the apartment with a view from the main living space toward the bedroom.
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Sadatu found the bedroom throw while studying abroad in Cape Town back in the spring of 2009. Decorative boxes beside the bed hold most of her jewelry.
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Sadatu shot the photo above the bed during a trip to Ghana a few years ago. The first thing she did upon moving in was to repaint the bedroom and living room accent walls with Martha Stewart Living’s Burlap color.
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The top of Sadatu's dresser is home to her favorite accessories, nail polish, and perfume. Her mom is her style icon so sometimes she “borrows” her vintage jewelry and purses, many of which are on display.
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Sadatu's fiancé is a huge jazz fan and these frames are impeccably crafted, making this pair of paintings a very lucky thrift store find.
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Beside the bed, an Anthropologie candle and the large Canvas Home planter are recent additions to the nightstand landscape.
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"What I love most about my home is the neighborhood and the view!" - Sadatu Dennis
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The floorplan of Sadatu Dennis' Union Square one-bedroom in New York City.

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Comments

  • Pattern is something I have to very consciously incorporate into my home. For the first two years of homeownership, everything was solid and plain. The use of pattern in this home is so beautiful and inspiring! It encourages me to push on!

  • I like how you enlarged the wonderful wallet-size photo and covered an unloved picture with wallpaper. Really nice touches throughout this home.

  • THIS is how I want my space to feel – full of worldly influences, lively patterns, and eclectic yet cohesive styles of furniture. This is not easy to pull off, but she has done it superbly! What a beautiful space, and story!

  • perfect! A home that espouses individuality and creativity. As a Liberian, I’m doubly proud of what Sadatu has put together. Thanks for giving us a peek into your life.

  • This is beautifully done. I love the patterns and artworks especially the photograph above the bed and the portrait of her fiancee’s uncle. Lovely story too.

  • Thank you for sharing this beautiful photo story. What an immediate sense of home and warmth I got with a space that appears to have been a member of her family.

    I would love to see more content on DS from spaces with the elegance and maturity of Sadatu’s home.

  • Wow! I now understand why the other commenters were so enchanted with the texture of the textures! Really fun and warm, without feeling forced. I’ve also been influenced by Justina Blakeney to include more plants….but my cat seems to have other ideas about that!

  • I can’t thank you enough for sharing so many artists and creatives who are of color. Design blogs are so typically white, that I feel like I have to dig to find out about any designers of color. Your content has been incredible lately and the amount of diversity just confirms that you all at Design*Sponge are truly the BEST! Thank you for fostering a community where everyone belongs!

  • First of all: hooray for a another less white website!

    Second: Is the floor really made of wood blocks? If so: is there any information on how it is installed, how to prevent gaps in between?
    I am loving the floor!

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