A Harlem Home Filled with Memories and Artwork

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Chef, restauranteur, author and opera singer, Alexander Smalls is a self-described “social minister” in New York City. He is always on the go, bringing together people from across the city and treating them to great entertainment and wonderful food. From his home in Harlem, Alexander oversees Minton’s Supper Club and The Cecil (named Best New Restaurant in 2014 by Esquire), as well as his involvement in charity groups like C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program) and The Union Food Lab at Columbia University. Over the last 25 years, Alexander has traveled the world studying the cooking techniques and foodways of the African diaspora and brings that great passion for culture, art and food back with him to Harlem.

When he’s not working, singing (Alexander received both a Grammy Award and Tony Award for the cast recording of Porgy and Bess with the Houston Grand Opera!) or traveling, Alexander comes home to this colorful apartment in Harlem’s Convent Avenue area. We were so thrilled to be invited inside and were blown away by his incredible collections of artwork and photography. It’s an honor to share a peek inside this special place and to hear some of the amazing stories behind the space and special pieces Alexander has spent decades making his own. I love the way his home is designed for guests and entertaining. “Growing up in the South, the public rooms had to be on view,” Alexander says. “We didn’t think about sitting in the living room until the weekend. It’s for company! We could sit there on Sundays if we were in our Sunday clothes.” That respect for home and welcoming others into yours is something that carries through into each of Alexander’s rooms. His joy for life and art is evident in each room, too. “Every day I am thankful. Truly, every day. My joy starts when my eyes wake. There’s nothing like greeting the day. Waking up allows you an opportunity to meet new experiences every day.” Thanks to much to Alexander for welcoming us inside and to Julia Turshen for conducting this interview. xo, grace

Photography by Kelly Merchant

  1. Jen O says:

    Wow, what a wonderful home, so exciting and inspirational it leaves me speechless!

  2. Stephanie says:

    Wow – this home feels so welcoming and full of life. I love all the beautiful artwork.

  3. Linda K. says:

    Oh wow, what a lovely home! I love all the stories within the home. You know this person has lived life and has a lesson or two for us younger folks!

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      Linda

      Agreed. I think seeing homes owned by people who have had a long and rich life so far is so inspiring. You can’t build a home with this much character overnight- it takes years and so much passion and editing :)

      Grace

  4. Skip Finley says:

    Blessed to have been in that place, that amazing space–as guests of Alexander, the arbiter of good taste!

  5. Molly G. says:

    This home really is inspiring from the lovely yellow hallway to the books, art and that amazing kitchen.

  6. Zoe says:

    Yes! There is something about such a layered home that just feels so honest. Love the explosion of art…what a reminder that a gallery wall isn’t necessarily something that should be curated but built from all the things that you love and are inspired by. I love, love the more Scandinavian and minimal style, but while it feels light and airy in the summer, it is starting to feel a little cold as the days get chillier. Never thought of the style of a home as being seasonal…but what a freedom that is to change things up!

  7. Jdamore says:

    Those barstools! What a wonderful apartment, but I think my favorite part is that the curtains that show the selvage edge of fabric. Such fearless style – which is so fun.

  8. Sasheeny says:

    What a beautiful and eclectically designed home, and amazing artwork.

  9. Me lba says:

    Whenever in NYC, this is my “home-away-from-home”…so comfy, cozy, beautiful & Artfully eclectic…Mr. Smalls has such great Style!…& I must add, several refrigerators full of Gourmet food!!!

  10. Wowzer! I was transported by the words and images in this post, instantly imagining a cozy, memorable evening filled with amazing food, art, sparkly drink, music, laughter and stimulating conversation. Alexander truly does look like ‘the host with the most’!

  11. Supriya says:

    Amazingly individualistic home, layered, fearless and exactly like the wonderful owner. Don’t care if its trendy or not but those curtains are the perfect backdrop for this dramatic space. Thanks for showcasing this.

  12. Jen says:

    I loved the captions with this tour. Alexander’s commentary on his home was as engaging as the photos!

  13. Dana says:

    This home speaks to my soul. This home has life. I know the next color for my kitchen. Forget gray and white.

  14. Koop says:

    What a warm and welcoming well lived home. The stories are what makes it. “Fabric is how I keep my parents alive” stopped me in my tracks
    I am obsessed with fabric, all types all kinds, my grandmother was a seamstress and we sewed everything together. Being a performer I also adore curtains and the drama they provide. And now my Saturday will consists of sewing….😊

  15. Joyce Owens says:

    Love this! That Lorna Simpson reproduced his family heirlooms and took the next step to find appropriate framing is amazing! I am an artist so am always happy to read about collectors. Also my mother was an opera singer who integrated a few opera companies, sang with the Philadelphia Orchestra Choir, etc. (before his time). She also was a paid soloist for a church in New York! I am in a Harlem art collection, but would love to be in this one, too! LOVELY piece! Thank to Black Art in America for posting!

    1. Grace Bonney says:

      Thanks, Joyce!

      where did Black Art in America post this? I couldn’t find that anywhere online.

      Grace

  16. Marlene says:

    Wotta home. Wotta life. Wotta man.

  17. Flora says:

    A delight. Seeing a place with so many memories makes me wish I had been less of a rolling stone.

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