See inside author Suleika Jaouad and Grammy-winner Jon Batiste’s Brooklyn sanctuary

Jon Batiste and Suleika Jaouad photographed in their living room, which features a vintage George Smith sofa upholstered with Schumacher antique strie velvet, vintage swivel chairs upholstered in Loro Piana cashmere and a water-bottle chandelier by Willie Cole.Frank Frances/Architectural DigestCNN — 

It’s a home imbued with memory and purpose, from the Tunisian tiles on the kitchen backsplash to antique jewel-toned stained glass panels in a dedicated prayer room.

Newly home to best-selling author, activist and motivational speaker Suleika Jaouad and Grammy-winning musician, singer-songwriter and TV personality Jon Batiste, the 1890s Italianate townhouse in Brooklyn, New York is a potent space for them to live and create. The property’s thick walls and atmospheric rooms are perfect for Batiste to gather with fellow musicians without bothering neighbors — including Jaouad, who says she needs silence and solitude to write.

“We wanted a home that felt soulful, timeless and elegant, with a playful twist,” Jaouad writes in a feature for Architectural Digest that accompanies a tour of the home in the magazine’s forthcoming November issue, saying that knew the townhouse was the right space for as soon as she walked in — though it needed a gut renovation prior to them moving in.

“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,” said Jaouad.

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Jon Batiste pictured in the studio lounge of the Brooklyn home he shares with author Suleika Jaouad.

Jon Batiste pictured in the studio lounge of the Brooklyn home he shares with author Suleika Jaouad.Frank Frances/Architectural Digest

The two ended up melding the colors and textures of Tunisia and New Orleans in an homage to their shared Francophone and African heritage with the help from their friend, the writer and designer Hallie Goodman.

“The vision for the house was deeply tied to who Jon and I are as humans — to our creativity and our lineage,” Jaouad wrote. Their roots, she added, showed in the “poetry of the arches and curves of the millwork,” or in the “contrast between white lime-washed walls and those drenched in color.” They paired their pink kitchen, a nod to New Orleans’ saturated hues, with a blue tiled backsplash created by Jaouad’s friend Mokhtar Lahmar, who made and painted each tile in his studio in the Tunisian seaside town of Nabeul.

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These roots are also grounded in their families: paintings by Jaouad’s mother and vintage posters collected by her grandfather both adorn the walls. Meanwhile, Parisian furnishings, North African pottery, textiles and rugs, collected over a lifetime of trips are scattered around the house.

It was a “possibly inefficient, but powerfully organic process” of scouring Facebook Marketplace and flea markets for additional decor items, Jaouad said of the search for “one-of-a-kind salvaged objects, each with a whimsical backstory.” Case in point: a taxidermied peacock, which she said became “the topic of fraught debate” between the couple.

The couple's studio lounge features Gucci's "Lilies" wallpaper, a 1940s French floor lamp, Moroccan-inspired table from Quittner, a vintage leather chaise longue and a custom velvet floor couch by Designway.

The couple’s studio lounge features Gucci’s “Lilies” wallpaper, a 1940s French floor lamp, Moroccan-inspired table from Quittner, a vintage leather chaise longue and a custom velvet floor couch by Designway.Frank Frances/Architectural Digest

While everything has now found its place, there were objects that didn’t make the cut.

“Once I fell in love with a pair of vintage Poliedri sconces… I thought they were weird and beautiful, like sexy, moody dinosaur jewelry,” recalled Jaouad. “I texted Jon a photo, certain he would love them too.” He responded that they looked like “an enemy starship descending upon earth,” later comparing them to “a fungal growth” and subsequently adding: “I feel assaulted by this design. But if you want them, go for it.”

She let the sconces go, but light became a “guiding principle” for the couple. Jaouad recalled Batiste exaggeratedly exclaiming, in reference to a lamp: “Now this light is healing!”

“It cracked us up, and we put it on repeat,” she wrote. “About anything that we loved, anything that was beautiful and life-giving, we’d say, ‘This is healing.’”

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Working on the house turned out to be healing in more ways than the pair had imagined. Not long after they began renovations, Jaouad received a cancer diagnosis. She had previously been diagnosed with leukemia as a 22-year-old; the rare and late relapse meant her chances of surviving were deemed slim, but they didn’t press pause on the project — they doubled down. “As Jon said, we https://sayurkole.com had a plan, and we were not going to let cancer derail it,” she recalled.

Before Jaouad received her second bone marrow transplant, she and Batiste were married in the living room. Goodman, their friend and designer, helped sweep the first floor free of construction debris, and filled it with flowers and candles. Fried chicken sandwiches and champagne were served to the small group of guests, while Batiste serenaded Jaouad on a grand piano he rented for the night.

“It felt like an act of defiance, to make a promise to our future life in that space, a wager that all the hopes contained there would come to pass — to say, ‘We will be here. We will live here.’ It was another leap of faith,” said Jaouad.

Suleika Jaouad's piece appears in the November 2023 issue of Architectural Digest.

Suleika Jaouad’s piece appears in the November 2023 issue of Architectural Digest.

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