How Artist Malene B Turns Her Home Into An Afro-Chic Oasis

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Five Ways To Turn Your Home Into An Afro-Chic Oasis

June 4, 2017


Did you know you could stain your wooden floors the exact colour of your walls? I didn’t either, until I walked into artist Malene Barnett’s 2-floor Brooklyn apartment just over a year ago, and felt as if I was swimming in a dreamy turquoise blue Caribbean ocean.

Creating that feeling was deliberate, because even though the 44-year-old artist was raised in Connecticut, her design and lifestyle influences are from her parents’ birth land – her father is Jamaican, her mother is from St. Vincent. Her frequent travels to Ghana, Senegal and Dakar also impacted the way she saw her place in the world, which in turn shaped the design of her home.

“Growing up my mother cooked a variety of Caribbean dishes with the sounds soca playing in the background. She was an avid decorator; she changed the look of our home with each season. My father, a proud Jamaican, sported his Afro and dashikis, attended lectures from Malcolm X and read the teachings of Marcus Garvey. I’ve always loved all parts of my heritage and continued my research with an emphasis on arts and crafts.”

Malene paints, sketches, designs (textile, soft furnishings, carpets, wallpaper, tiles, dishes) and collects, and nowhere is that more evident than in the 2,800 sq. ft. Bed-Stuy townhouse in Brooklyn, which  she calls home.

Her love for colour is undeniable.


“It’s important for me to live in a brightly coloured palette because when the days are grey, it still feels like summer inside,” she once told NYMag. Clearly confident with a paintbrush, her turquoise living room lies adjacent to a tangerine staircase that winds upward into an orchid blue bedroom.

In any other space, maybe Malene’s palette would seem insanely cosquel, but not here. Instead, the artist seamlessly connects space, colour, and artefacts at the intersection where Afro-chic meets Caribbean charm.

“In my home, I wanted to celebrate my heritage from all parts of the African diaspora. Africa is the source, but because of colonisation, our culture has variations throughout the diaspora. I wanted to highlight each experience. When you enter my home I wanted a modern tropical experience through West Africa and the Caribbean. I achieved this through the use of colour, patterns and space.

With global modern being a timeless aesthetic and Afro-chic making its way onto our screens  (thank you HGTV) I asked Malene share her best advice for making a home stand out using African-inspired design.


Form and Function

The continent of Africa produces many inspiring artefacts – from sculptures and textiles to furniture. The beauty of African art is that it is functional. Keeping this in mind, African art is meant to be used and not just hung and admired. You can incorporate African art throughout your home as decorative objects but also think of accent chairs and decorative accessories as  functional art.

African Design

Bedroom Bliss

Dress your bed in white sheets to keep your bedroom looking fresh and minimal. But instead of opting for a traditional throw blanket, try decorating your bed with traditional African textiles such as mud cloths or kente or kuba cloths. The pop of colour against stark white sheets will make even the smallest bed look like a work of art.


Accent Away

The hand carvings of African furniture and sculpture are as beautiful as they are meaningful. When you enter my home, a family of Senufo sculptures will welcome you. They are the keepers of the peace. I also use my birthing chair from Ghana as an accent chair in my living room. If you’d like to decorate with furniture, consider traditional Ashanti stools or Dogon tables & stools, all of which are popular accents pieces. If you’re looking for a way to hide clutter, try a Yoruba beaded chest. It’s stunning, intricate, and doubles as great decorative storage. There are many options to incorporate these pieces, plus there are many resources to find online.


Kitchen-Calabash Bowls/Artwork

Don’t neglect your kitchen. Calabash, for instance, can be both a decorative item in your kitchen or a storage container for fruit or spices. Do not overlook hand carved coconuts as candy jars for storage of some sort.


Malene will spearhead our interior design column that will now appear monthly on our blog. Expect her advice to be “as diverse as the stamps she collects on her passport.”

Images by:

David A. Land
Todd Selby of The Selby
Nasozi Kakembo


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