Name: Naj Austin
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Size: 1,000 square feet
Type of home: Brownstone apartment
Years lived in: A little over a year — it was a COVID move!; rented
Naj Austin is the founder and CEO of Ethel’s Club and Somewhere Good, both of which are “platforms centering identity, community, and joy,” she explains. Clearly, wellness is a focus for Austin at work. It’s also a major priority in her home, an old brownstone apartment built with captivating wood carvings at every turn that she’s filled with plants, books, art, music, and pillows.
“My home makes me feel healthy because it’s a place I can fully relax,” says Austin. “I’ve designed it in a way that separates work, leisure, and rest, and I think it’s helped me sleep better, work less, and chill more.”
Just one way she’s done this: by delineating tech-free areas that instead contain books and journals and are meant for rest and rejuvenation. Find several more below.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Eclectic — odds and ends of the places I’ve lived, loved, and visited. Very homey and cozy; lots of round and soft edges; lots of plants, books, art, and music. I’m very into the Marie Kondo “but spark joy” ethos, and I hold everything in my home to that standard, literally down to my magnets.
Inspiration: I’m inspired by talented designers like Shannon Maldonado from YOWIE, who sourced a lot of the items in my apartment. Also artists and curators like Saeed Akil Ferguson, Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy of BLK MKT Vintage, and Jared Blake and Ed Be of Lichen, who have changed the way I think about designing a space. They all find and make pieces that are beautiful, fun, and have personality, which is important to me. If you look around my apartment, you can see how I’ve pulled from their work and brought it into my home.
Favorite Element: The architecture. There are so many intricate details — carved dragons, stained glass windows, pocket doors. You can tell so much love was put into the building and the apartment. A year in, I still discover small things I’ve never seen before.
Biggest Challenge: Trying to not drown in all of the wood — it’s beautiful but was definitely overwhelming at first. Most of my previous apartments were you classic white box. I was not sure how I fit into the space with my things. I took the approach of leaning into it and not trying to fight it. My color palette was already green, white, tan, and black, and I think it accents all the reddish wood nicely.
Proudest DIY: TBH, the apartment was so put together with beautiful built-ins there wasn’t much to do. There were a lot of small things I did, like change the cabinet handles, swap out the bathroom mirror for something with more storage, small things like that, but otherwise it was pretty move-in ready.
Biggest Indulgence: I’m not sure what the most expensive thing is, but I do know that my fruit bowl was the most expensive fruit bowl I’ve ever had — almost $200. But I love it and had been looking for something specific like it for a long time. It’s enormous and extends the shelf life of my fruit. What more could I want?
Do you work out of your home? If so, how do you make WFH work for you? Yes — I have an office with a stand-up desk that I never use. It has the least amount of light so I often find myself in the kitchen near the snacks and the plants.
How does your home help you feel healthy (in whatever way that means for you)? My home makes me feel healthy because it’s a place I can fully relax. I’ve designed it in a way that separates work, leisure, and rest, and I think it’s helped me sleep better, work less, and chill more.
How have you set up your home for self-care? I prioritize areas that are meant for relaxing or rest/no phones, including areas with no phone or computer chargers and instead I have art books and journals and pens.
How have you designed your bedroom and any other areas to encourage relaxation and restful sleep? I have an automated light dimmer, which signals bedtime. I also use a device that starts a meditation and leads into “sleep sounds.” I also don’t really have any hard surfaces in my room since a portion of the floor is covered in pillows. I’ve even fallen asleep down there.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? My plants! They give the apartment an added layer of brightness. Every time I walk into a room, they make me so happy.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: I love organizing. I have a lot of pieces from Open Spaces that have helped me organize a lot of the little things and put things out of sight, like blankets, extra cords, etc.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? I would say have fun with it. I felt this overbearing sense of seeking perfection when moving in, but I’ve found so much joy bringing it to life slowly with stoop finds, stuff on Craigslist, art from my friends, etc. At the end of day, I love that my home feels like mine — not an Instagram ad.
This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.