Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy have too many things. More arrive by the day.
Across from the television in the living room, a felt flag lauding a 1960s boxing match flanks a particleboard plaque that reads, “Women’s Studies Department Advising Office.” To the right, a framed original Playbill hangs above an experimental jazz poster. Each square foot of vacant space boasts some antique or rare collectible art piece — everything belongs somewhere. There's a palpable air of intention: Demi-walls and closet doors are cloaked in blocks of loud, eclectic paint. The place falls on an aesthetic spectrum, somewhere between “home” and “museum.”
This house is not an anomaly for Kiyanna and Jannah. The couple co-owns BLK MKT Vintage — a curated vintage and antiques market interested, specifically, in Black cultural ephemera. They’ve devoted their lives to the act of collecting, spending their days sifting through antiquated goods in search of treasure. In their living room, I point to framed artworks and tin signs, set against walls painted in milky greens and oranges, while each woman eagerly recounts the objects’ histories with apparent ease. Every piece has roots, every paint color, a narrative.
Both women were born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, just blocks from one other in the neighborhood of Flatbush. Miraculously enough, however, they didn't meet until years later, when they attended the same social justice conference as professors at New Jersey’s Rutgers University (“We had the same corner store! Went to the same parties!” Kiyanna exclaims).
After six years spent as partners — in the professional and the romantic sense — the two have finally abandoned life in Brooklyn for a three-story home in Jersey City. “The city is all about finding your shoebox,” Kiyanna tells me, sitting at the foot of her bed in their new home, dressed in spandex shorts and a vintage T-shirt. “You’re gonna love the hell out of that shoebox — and you’re lucky if you find it — but we really wanted the space we built to feel like an actual home. We wanted to be able to fit everything we loved inside.”
The two have been inhabiting this new space with Jannah's 9-year-old daughter for nearly a year now. But as is expected for two people with a background in design — and several storage lockers worth of highly enviable antiques — the curation of a home is no small task. “We had truly no idea where to begin,” Jannah says. “So we started right where everybody else does: paint.”
Neither woman is afraid of color. An austere, white-walled apartment was certainly never on the table. “Bringing color into this house really challenged me,” says Kiyanna, showing off the fresh paint plating the walls in the living room. “It’s a lot of space to work with. And one of the things I’m always hyper conscious of with paint is: Do I want to look at this everyday? I want it to be cool and funky and full of personality, but I don’t want it to be something I can get tired of.”
The couple leads me towards a towering wall, just beside their L-shaped kitchen counter, adorned with an enormous tin sign that reads, “Bea’s Luncheonette.” It's painted a deep, oceanic blue-green labeled PPG Night Watch, and it does seem reminiscent of green, evening light.
“I think most folks associate the tropics with bright colors, but this is truly what I see when I think of my Jamaican heritage,” says Kiyanna. “I’ve seen it in traditional Carnival costumes, and in Jamaican flora and fauna, and in my aunties’ house dresses.”
The same color hugs the lower half of a sunny enclave stationed near the foyer: a reading nook, hemmed in white molding. It has a consolatory effect — it curls around you, pulls you in.
Upstairs, in their bedroom, Kiyanna shows me the muted, botanical green she’s painted in a looming semicircle over their bed. “I just sketched it out and painted it freehand,” she says. “We needed a good pop of color in here, and I kind of like the slight off-kilter look it has to it.”
She explains that often, in historically Black antiques, this green along with a deep, rusty orange, are exceedingly common. They act as a theme, almost. So as a collector of these very goods, Kiyanna finds herself inclined towards their corresponding Pantones. “I have to push myself a little to open up to colors that aren’t in the palettes I’m naturally drawn to,” she explains. “It can be hard to break those habits.”
For the most part, she’s painted each of the walls here herself. She loves participating actively in the coloring of her home. “Jannah doesn’t like to paint,” she says, looking over at her partner, feigning anger. “I’m more of a broad stroke kind of gal,” Jannah shrugs.
Across from the dining room, you'll find an alcove, framed by two different doorways, each colored BEHR Doeskin Grey, with antique “Eastern Parkway” street signs fixed above their frames. The alcove, freshly painted, is a dusty blue by BEHR— brighter than a navy but softer and more complex than a royal blue. “We have so much beautiful old wood,” Jannah explains. “We wanted to choose pops of color that would give the stage to that wood but still add color and texture to the room.” Inside the cut-away sits a tanned wooden shelving unit, outfitted with trinkets, old books, statuesque figures, and an array of old cameras, all offset by the cool, kinetic hue.
“It’s such a watery blue,” she adds. “It reminds me of the beach on Martha’s Vineyard — where I grew up vacationing.” The couple will leave for the Vineyard this weekend — it's become their family tradition, too. And for Jannah, this particular color offers a small respite from the aesthetic monotony of New York.
While initially decorating, the couple was simultaneously working to open their first brick-and-mortar BLK MKT Vintage shop, so Jannah and Kiyanna found themselves with an even larger supply of antiques and ephemera than usual (they had now filled both their own New Jersey basement and a second, larger storage locker).
“Next to our front door, there are a few vintage framed works that represent special places we’ve called home throughout the years,” Kiyanna explains. Here, you’ll find a framed entry from an early-20th-century almanac, depicting the exact intersection where the two women grew up in Brooklyn. “It’s a special representation of the idea of home, of change, of how we were connected to one another before we knew each other,” she explains. This is just one of many testaments to their relationship — to the spaces they’ve shared and the ones that brought them together — on display throughout their home.
I ask Jannah about the pieces she finds most viscerally important to her — the ones for which real estate in the home was simply a given. Almost instantly, she hands me an old camera. She tells me her father was a photographer and that she grew up surrounded by cameras just like this. This particular contraption was among the first she purchased with Kiyanna.
I point to a banjo, torn at its lining. “Do you like country music?” she asks. I shrug, and she tells me about the banjo: While associated with the American South, it’s not an Americana-type instrument. It’s actually a musical piece derived from Senegal, where the things are still played with frequency. She grew up playing with her family on her Flatbush stoop. “I love those tidbits of history in these personal things,” she says, smiling, running her hand along the neck of the instrument.
When I ask Kiyanna about the objects in the house that feel most pivotal to her, she reaches for the “Women’s Studies Advising Office” plaque. She tells me that she found it at Rutgers — that it was nearly disposed of. “All the stuff we have in here is historical — it comes with a story,” she says. “This is a part of our history, and while it’s not ancient, or from another country, it fits in with all the other antiques. It has a whole beautiful narrative inside of it, too.” Like with, say, a paint shade, selected to mirror an auntie's old dress, each particular of this home has a human quality.
While we talk, Jannah is on the phone. She’s looking to buy a piece, reading information into the mouthpiece off her laptop screen. Briefly, I am reminded that the collection is not fixed. That the version of curated and complete that this home presents right now is inaccurate — the influx of new pieces is constant. Collections will be recycled through the store, through the home, in and out of storage units, and on occasion, in and out of museum collections. These are objects in motion. What they’ve built here is a living, breathing thing. The colors on the walls — alive, vibrant, nostalgic — are selected for this very reason: a reliable stage for the cast of deeply personal objects, eternally shifting in and out of the frame.
“Everything about the house is transient,” Kiyanna says. “It’s not a neutral process. Everything we have here is informed by our likes and our dislikes and our experiences, and while we continue to have more experiences, what we choose to look at — paint colors and objects alike — will change.”
This place is part of an ecosystem: the shop, the home, the family. All of it, riddled with color and history and narrative detail. “I’m okay with this feeling like an evolving space,” adds Jannah. “I don’t think we need it to feel finished. That’s not the type of story we’re telling.”
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