Inside Jon Batiste and Suleika Jaouad’s 19th-Century Brooklyn Town House

I sensed it the moment I crossed the threshold. The soaring archways and streaming light reminded me of the architecture of Tunisia, where my father is from, and it immediately felt like home.

Jon and I had been looking to buy our first place for months. We’d seen close to 70 properties, but none fit our specifications of a space where we could both live and create. Jon needs the freedom to explore making sounds and congregate with fellow musicians. As a writer, I need total silence and solitude. Touring the 1890s Brooklyn Italianate, I saw that the thick walls and large, atmospheric rooms could hold both. I called Jon, who was on the road, to say I’d found the One. In a leap of faith, he made an offer, sight unseen.

Until then, home for both of us had been makeshift and fleeting. Jon’s 20s were spent traveling with his band and bouncing between disparate creative projects, with layovers in a small Washington Heights apartment, where he dined on canned beans each night surrounded by suitcases. When he played piano (noon or night) his neighbors would bring out the broomstick and get to banging. For me, a child of immigrants, home always felt elusive. I attended six schools on three continents by age 12. At 22, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, and for the next few years, the grim fluorescence of a hospital was my primary dwelling.

Eager as we were to put down roots, we had a long road ahead. A peek behind the walls revealed a gut renovation was needed. Friends regaled us with tales of couples who’d been sundered by similar projects, and we soon understood why. Suddenly we were faced with decisions around budget, collaborative dynamics, and division of labor like never before.

We also had to find a way to merge our tastes, lifestyles, and visions for the future in both symbolic and pragmatic ways—and let me tell you, pragmatism is not a strong suit for either of us. I wanted to preserve and restore every decaying tin ceiling—to fill the house with one-of-a-kind salvaged objects, each with a whimsical backstory, including a vintage elephant-shape bar and a taxidermied peacock that became the topic of fraught debate. Jon had his own outrageous dreams, like a yellow brick road running through the garden, and for a while, a Mardi Gras theme: everything furnished in purple, gold, and green. My diplomatic reply was an upbeat: “That sounds great… for your recording studio!”

In Jaouad’s office, a vintage Stilnovo desk lamp from Meblorevival on Etsy sits on the Renaissance Revival–style trestle table formerly owned by Joan Didion. The painting above the mantel is by Jaouad.

But in time, a shared aesthetic language emerged. With the invaluable help of our friend, the writer and designer Hallie Goodman, who became my collaborator on the interiors, we achieved a balance. Hallie and I both love all things thrifted, and we developed an unconventional, possibly inefficient, but powerfully organic process. We’d find one object, say on Facebook Marketplace or in a flea market, and it would lead to one idea and then another. Gradually a room would coalesce.

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