In 2014, adjunct professors Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy founded BLK MKT Vintage, “an online shop and collection of Black vintage artifacts, curiosities, memorabilia and home furnishings… that represent the Black experience.” Unsurprisingly, some of the heirlooms they’ve curated over the past five years have ended up dotting the walls and filling the corners of the couple’s current rental in Jersey City, NJ. When woven together, the two say these priceless mementos tell the wide-ranging narrative of the “African diaspora.”
The space was far from a museum of meaningful finds — which it is now — when the couple moved in eight months ago. In fact, the interior of the 1890s-era space wasn’t what piqued the pair’s interests at all. It was the brownstone’s location that made it a winner. The home is not only nearby family, friends and their shop’s upcoming brick-and-mortar location in Brooklyn, but Jersey City also offers just the right type of neighborly vibe Kiyanna and Jannah love. “It was important to the both of us that we [move] to a community that reflected our various identities,” they tell us. “The diversity of people, experiences, backgrounds and cuisine options were an added bonus.”
Locale aside, the new home also promised to give the family — including Jannah’s daughter, Mack, and their dog, Lola — room to spread out, something their previous space lacked. With this larger footprint, though, came more square footage to furnish, and at times the design possibilities seemed daunting. How did Kiyanna and Jannah keep calm? By maintaining an unwavering dedication to two of their overarching decor goals: to represent “Blackness,” and to not always favor form over function.
The latter was, unfortunately, a lesson the pair had to learn the hard way. They recall last year’s housewarming party: “With the house brimming with family, friends and laughter, an overzealous niece began jumping on our antique Victorian couch, causing one of the hand carved wood legs to snap… [we’d] neglected to keep function in mind.”
The couple has since hit their design stride, and Kiyanna and Jannah are inspired by the patina on their collected artwork and memorabilia — and look forward to seeing how their space grows and evolves over time. —Garrett