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Bed-Stuy Avant-Garde: Inside the Eclectic Apartment of a Brooklyn Designer and Shop Owner

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Bed-Stuy Avant-Garde: Inside the Eclectic Apartment of a Brooklyn Designer and Shop Owner

February 18, 2019

To say that Kai Avent-deLeon is juggling a lot would be an understatement. She’s the owner and visionary behind the Brooklyn concept shop Sincerely, Tommy (and its in-house cafe), and she’s currently overseeing construction on a new project, a restaurant and boutique hostel set to open in the fall—all in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood where she was born and raised. She’s a designer in her own right, creating pieces for Sincerely, Tommy’s in-house clothing line and sculptural furniture for her own apartment, and painting on the side.

But entrepreneurship—and an appreciation for design—runs in the family. Avent-deLeon’s grandmother bought a handful of buildings in Bed-Stuy in the 1980s that she now rents out, and her mother is also in real estate. “They both have such a strong sense of individual style,” says Avent-deLeon, 30. “Every holiday growing up, my grandmother would have a guy come over and decorate her apartment. He had very eccentric style, and she’d let him have free rein. Seeing things like that and the art shows she would host and her very expressive style helped me develop my own.”

When a unit opened recently in one of her grandmother’s apartment buildings on Jefferson Avenue, the women worked to renovate the kitchen and bath on a budget, leaving the original dark moldings and mirrors intact; then Avent-deLeon fitted it with a shop owner’s eye and objects picked up in her travels. She and her partner moved in three months ago—one week after their baby was born. Take a look at the finished apartment, by turns gallery-like and playful.

Photography by Mel Walbridge for Remodelista.

The front door of the apartment opens into the dining room, with dark, original molding and moody light. &#8
Above: The front door of the apartment opens into the dining room, with dark, original molding and moody light. “It makes me feel very adult,” Avent-deLeon says. She bought the midcentury-style marble table via Craigslist, from a man peddling lookalikes of classic designs out of his truck.

A sculptural yellow chair was a chance find on Instagram: &#8
Above: A sculptural yellow chair was a chance find on Instagram: “It’s by a young designer named Kelly Infield. Because of the algorithm on Instagram, I always get suggested home design feeds, and she popped up on the ‘you should follow’ page. I commented on it and said, ‘Where is this chair from?’ She said she made it, so I messaged her and begged her to let me carry it in the store. Solange [Knowles] wanted to buy it but we couldn’t find a way to ship it, so I thought that was a sign that it should be in my home. It adds a more playful feel to the room.”
Avent-deLeon designed the red dining chairs with arched backs, and hired Sammy Leon, a local woodworker who builds cabinets for her grandmother’s apartments, to make them.

 On the mantel are three terra cotta pots, collected on Avent-deLeon&#8
Above: On the mantel are three terra cotta pots, collected on Avent-deLeon’s travels to Peru (far left) and on a road trip to New Mexico (center and right). The two from New Mexico “were $5 or $10 each, all handmade,” she says. “I painted one of them and left the other in its natural state.”
Avent-deLeon treats Sincerely, Tommy as a gallery of sorts, collecting locally made objects in her travels—to Morocco, Peru, Kenya—then displaying them in the shop and, sometimes, at home. &#8
Above: Avent-deLeon treats Sincerely, Tommy as a gallery of sorts, collecting locally made objects in her travels—to Morocco, Peru, Kenya—then displaying them in the shop and, sometimes, at home. “I usually will get things more to add to the experience when you go to the store. It’s less about, ‘I’m going to sell things.’ I’ll feel someone’s energy and, if they ask about something, I’ll come up with a price,” she says.
An original door (the etched-glass panel depicts a woman holding a bird) opens into a small nook off of the dining room, now Avent-deLeon&#8
Above: An original door (the etched-glass panel depicts a woman holding a bird) opens into a small nook off of the dining room, now Avent-deLeon’s son’s room.
Another doorway off of the dining room leads to the newly renovated galley kitchen.
Above: Another doorway off of the dining room leads to the newly renovated galley kitchen.
The glass-front cabinets on the right were existing. &#8
Above: The glass-front cabinets on the right were existing. “They’re so high, it’s hard to get to some of the cabinets,” says Avent-deLeon. “What goes up there has to be stuff I won’t need. It’s mostly paint for the paintings I do, and some VHS tapes that I refuse to let go of, cassette tapes, and random oddities. I’m not a collector of things for the most part, but I feel like at some point in time they’re going to be worth something.”
Restaurant supply-style metal shelves, mounted above the new sink. &#8
Above: Restaurant supply-style metal shelves, mounted above the new sink. “I didn’t have free rein to design as much as I wanted, in case I ever leave this apartment,” says Avent-deLeon. She picked out the hardware and the subway tile, both from Home Depot. The glass pitchers are Hay Glass Jugs, designed by Jochen Holz.
Through the kitchen is the petite bath, with woven baskets that, placed at eye level, hold the family&#8
Above: Through the kitchen is the petite bath, with woven baskets that, placed at eye level, hold the family’s toiletries. The glass pendant light was Avent-deLeon’s choice, also from Home Depot. “You kind of have to dig on their website, but it’s affordable,” she says. For something similar, try the Nemo Aged Brass Pendant with Clear Glass.
Looking from the bedroom, at the front end of the railroad apartment, toward the living room, dining room, the kitchen beyond. The black chairs are Avent-deLeon&#8
Above: Looking from the bedroom, at the front end of the railroad apartment, toward the living room, dining room, the kitchen beyond. The black chairs are Avent-deLeon’s own design.
In the bedroom, Avent-deLeon had the same local woodworker build a red folding screen, which now hides the bed from view. She didn&#8
Above: In the bedroom, Avent-deLeon had the same local woodworker build a red folding screen, which now hides the bed from view. She didn’t intend for it to echo the arched dining room chairs she designed, she says, but the result helps tie the rooms together. The Dune Chair and a Half is from Maiden Home.
The space on one side of the folding screen serves as a sitting area. The setup, with the bed hidden from view, makes the apartment feel more spacious, with a series of living spaces that open one into the next.
Above: The space on one side of the folding screen serves as a sitting area. The setup, with the bed hidden from view, makes the apartment feel more spacious, with a series of living spaces that open one into the next.
A Japanese Maruni rope chair and a three-legged Kenyan headrest, collected from Avent-deLeon&#8
Above: A Japanese Maruni rope chair and a three-legged Kenyan headrest, collected from Avent-deLeon’s travels and displayed on the ledge of an original built-in hall mirror. Avent-deLeon thinks that the ornate door in the reflection was once the apartment’s main entrance.
A white curtain, hung from a wooden rod, conceals a small niche off of the bedroom, which doubles as an office and a walk-in closet for Avent-deLeon&#8
Above: A white curtain, hung from a wooden rod, conceals a small niche off of the bedroom, which doubles as an office and a walk-in closet for Avent-deLeon’s eclectic wardrobe.
A bassinet, on loan from a friend, beneath works by Rosemarie Auberson.
Above: A bassinet, on loan from a friend, beneath works by Rosemarie Auberson.
The folding screen creates a sense of intimacy for the bed area. Instead of making the bed with the pillows by the windows, Avent-deLeon orients it the other way—it&#8
Above: The folding screen creates a sense of intimacy for the bed area. Instead of making the bed with the pillows by the windows, Avent-deLeon orients it the other way—it’s better for feng shui, she says, and allows the couple to see the sky when they lie in bed at night.

Note the original details, like the glass door knobs.

Avent-deLeon and her son.
Above: Avent-deLeon and her son.

N.B.: Follow Avent-deLeon on Instagram at @kaiaventdeleon.

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