Change can often get a bad rap, but in many cases, an about-face is synonymous with growth. Watching a neighborhood develop and transform alongside you is a beautiful thing, and something Olalekan Jeyifous can relate to. Born and raised in Nigeria, Olalekan has spent the last 15 years in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and both he and his surroundings have gone through countless beneficial changes. An artist and designer, Olalekan creates editorial illustrations, large-scale murals and architecturally inspired art which has been exhibited in venues such as The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. As someone who works mostly from home, being close to several major subway lines and surrounded by fantastic Brooklyn neighborhoods is something that continues to foster his career. It has the same impact on girlfriend LaWanna Baker — a lawyer turned labor relations and Human Resources professional — who shares his home.
Olalekan and LaWanna previously lived a stone’s throw down the street, but after growing out of their one-bedroom space, they were nervous that they wouldn’t be able to find a spot in their same neighborhood. Luckily, the search and move were quick and painless thanks to the management company that owns a few buildings on the street. After suggesting the space to them two years ago, Olalekan single-handedly moved them both into this 2-bedroom apartment in three days and just shy of a hundred trips back and forth.
A converted hospital, their current apartment features high ceilings and a long foyer, creating the illusion of spaciousness. However, the tall walls can also pose a problem: in the bedroom, for example, the room is much taller than it is wide, which has stumped Olalekan and LaWanna on how to tackle it. “We’re constantly brainstorming what we can do with the space… Although it’s quite minimal, adding things can clutter the space quickly,” they say.
The process of making the apartment a home is an ongoing one for the couple. The largest decorating challenge was finding a way to to integrate Olalekan’s clean, modern aesthetic and preexisting furniture (including vintage pieces from his grandparents’ home) with LaWanna’s eclectic taste — which involves mixing patterns, colors and a collection of home accessories. “In our last place, she moved in with me, so the aesthetic was largely my own,” Olalekan explains, “Whereas in this space, she’s had far more input and often revises the look and feel of the apartment by adding, removing, and rearranging elements… and I don’t mind at all — she has a great eye!” Another hurdle was accomplishing all of this on a budget, without the result appearing generic. One of the easiest and most affordable ways the couple achieved this balance was through self-made and family-and-friend-contributed artwork in the form of protest placards from labor rallies, gifts and souvenirs from Nigeria, free promotional pieces from art fairs, and quotes or Instagram photos that they printed and framed.
Although Olalekan and LaWanna have only lived here a short time, their space offers them everything they need without any unnecessary frills. But best of all, their home is one filled with family treasures and architectural features that inspire them to create and express themselves while still feeling cozy and relaxing. –Sabrina
Photography by Olalekan Jeyifous