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Journey of A Home

Suleika Jaouad

The making of a home—like the building of a life well-lived—takes time and intention. The miraculous sense of feeling at home doesn't just happen, it twists and turns through adventure and memory, function and feeling, work and play, solitude and celebration. We believe a home is never "done", it's a journey, forever evolving, and, like the humans in it, it tells its own beautiful story of where we have been, what we value, and how we hope to feel every step of the way.

Stepping into the glorious Italianate 1890's Brooklyn townhouse that award winning writer, speaker, and cancer survivor Suleika Jaouad has crafted into a home in deep partnership with her husband, beloved weaver of musical tapestries Jon Batiste—the first thought is of breath. The intake of wonder at how the home just feels right. Then, the subtle awareness of the exhale, the release of becoming at ease in a home brimming with story, artistry and soulfulness, a sensorially rich sanctuary, one that holds, nurtures and inspires, as homes have the power to do.

After meeting as young teenagers while at Juilliard, Jon and Suleika have navigated the aching beauty of love, transition, and creation together—through Suleika's first leukemia diagnosis at the age of 22, through the discovery of the transformative power of writing, through her cancer’s return and treatment, continuing through his 2022 banner year of awards and accolades—theirs is a moving story of extreme trials and triumphs, and now, together, they are stepping into the deep breath of what comes next. For Suleika and Jon, this breath is presence, a joyfully defiant testament to maximizing the possibilities of creating, both as artistic practice, as partnership, and as way of life. Breath is what makes melody, makes laughter, makes song, and makes space, the rhythms of breath are the backbeat of silent thought and the heartbeat of lullaby, the wonder of aliveness and the heartsong of home. We took a breath with Suleika to talk about the making of a home, the balancing alchemy of compromise, and the power of freedom and family—dogs included, of course.

You live in a townhouse in Brooklyn, NY? What attracted you to this home?
I watched the Royal Tenenbaums at age 13 and instantly fell in love with the idea of both someday living in an eccentric townhouse full of soulful knickknacks and the occasional taxidermied animal, and also growing up to be as cool as Margot Tenenbaum, complete with her heavy eyeliner and oversized fur coat. Luckily I have since grown out of the desire to wear fur of any kind and have a lighter hand in applying eyeliner, but that dream of having a space where I could both live and create persisted. After going to over 70 open houses, my husband Jon and I found a fixer-upper with gorgeous arches and pressed-tin ceilings. But the thing I was most excited about was the luxury of having a little backyard—a little oasis in the chaos of the city.

What values shape you and your home?
Family and freedom. We really wanted a space where we could gather all of our beloveds, our blood and chosen family, and where we could pursue our respective creative endeavors. Jon is a musician, so sound is a necessary part of his work. I’m a writer and an introvert, so I need quiet and alone time. Thanks to sound proofing and some intentional strategic planning—which has our workspaces as far away from each other as possible—we get to do both. We have the freedom to work at any hours of the day or night and also to come together with the people we love.

What spaces are you most drawn to and why?
We spend the most time in the backyard and the den off the garden. The den was our least favorite room in the house at first. It was tiny and had very little natural light. So we decided to embrace the moodiness and gave ourselves permission to go wild with wallpaper and a retro vintage loveseat and a queen-sized velvet lounge-bed where we love to curl up with our dogs. It opens onto the backyard, which is the other space where we spend most of our time. We’ve planted alliums and hydrangea trees and have made a little potted garden. I sourced some Tunisian tiles to adorn the stairs and painted the house an electric blue, which you would find in my homeland of Tunisia and also the home of Frida Kahlo, whom I think of as my patron saint.

How do you choose which items become part of your home? Are provenance and materials important to you?
More than half of the items and furniture in our home I found on Facebook marketplace and in flea markets and thrift stores. I love objects with soul and believe in contagious magic, which is the idea that objects are imbued with the stories and spirit of previous owners. Not only is shopping secondhand a more cost-effective way of finding one-of-a-kind, beautiful pieces, but it’s sustainable, which I love.

We believe a home is never done, it’s always evolving, like us. What’s evolving most for you at this present moment?
The garden—we’re just putting the finishing touches on it. We planted dozens of dozens of bulbs last fall, and getting to see them bloom has been such a joy. I’m always looking for a new creative project, especially when I have a deadline looming, and gardening has been such fertile terrain and such a wonderful way of slowing down. There’s nothing more meditative than taking a pair of scissors and trimming a topiary into a perfect little poof, or sweeping, only to have the dogs inevitably tear through and scatter my pile of leaves.

To us home is a feeling.  How does your home make you feel? 
It feels like a marriage, not only because Jon and I got married in the living room, but also it’s such a blend of our personalities and cultural heritages. We call our design aesthetic “Tunisiana,” which is a blend of Tunisia and Louisiana, where Jon is from. People warned us that a renovation could sunder even the strongest of relationships, and while ours wasn’t easy, it was an invaluable lesson in compromise and synthesis and being creatively stretched beyond our comfort zones. This home made us a family.

What gets priority in your home? 3 things you can’t live without?
Do the three dogs count? If not, our espresso machine, the vintage taxidermied peacock in my office (a point of much contention between Jon and me, but I did have to sneak in a little Tenenbaum flair somewhere), and our oversized bathtub, where I soak the day away.

What are some of your favorite Woven pieces?
Our Natura sectional. It's beautiful, very nappable, and big enough to fit two humans and several canines. We also love the Flore bistro bar cart. It lives in our kitchen but travels with us to the terrace when we’re having lunch or hosting friends. It’s elegant and functional and we use it all the time.

"This home made us a family."

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