When author, blogger and stylist LaTonya Yvette bought her first home last year — a 172-year-old farmhouse two and a half hours outside New York City — it was a homeownership dream come true. She and her two children rent their apartment in Brooklyn, so The Mae House allows them to escape into nature; and LaTonya also opens it up as a sanctuary to other BIPOC folks who need rest and may not be able to afford it. Take a look…
On focal points: The dining table is the first thing you see when you walk in the door. It was purchased from Woodward Throwbacks, a Black-owned company. It used to be a high school art table from Detroit. They offered to sand and seal it for me, but I didn’t want that. It’s still raw with all the art etchings and hearts and Xs and Os, and this person loves this person, all these little marks on it. I love that history.
On the decision to buy a house: In spring 2020, I sold a proposal for my second book Stand in My Window [due out in 2023]. As I began writing, I was doing so much research about the history of Blackness and migration and how we’ve created homes, how we’ve collected artifacts for our homes to keep our history, how we’ve invited other Black people into our homes as safe havens, and the history of Black home buying. In short, how to give aid and share space, and how we have uplifted each other through time. The idea of buying a home of my own was born out of that research. I used my book advance to purchase the home. I think of it as seed money, because it’s allowing something to grow.
On love at first sight: During my home search, it was important for me for the house to have some land and also to be accessible by train because I’m just now getting my license as a born-and-raised New Yorker. I wanted an old house, but not a money pit. Beyond that, I wasn’t too picky. When my realtor sent me the listing, I knew. Like when you fall in love with someone, you just know. I put in an offer right away, without even seeing it in person.
On risk: To me, buying this home didn’t feel like a risk. It was sort of like when I was set on having my second child after loss, and you think, we’re gonna do this. You don’t think of the gamble as much as you think of the passion for it.
On room colors: The living room is a very pale, pale pink called Middleton Pink. The color is always changing. In certain light, it’s really pink; in other light, it’s not pink at all. I love how that illusion is like the Black experience. Like you might think you know somebody’s story by the way they look, but you actually don’t know anything. And people change when you see them in different lights.
On naming the house: Mae is the middle name of my daughter and grandmother. And then I closed the house last May, the alternate spelling of the word the month of Mae. The origins of the word also come from Maia, the Roman goddess of growth and motherhood. So, the name Mae House just felt completely right.
On finding a safe place: For Black homebuyers, there’s an extra layer of anxiety. You’re putting down roots in a community and you have to suss out if you’d be welcomed there, if it would be a safe place for your children. I was comforted by the fact that the town of Athens has a huge LGBTQI presence. There were also BLM ally flags all over. When you don’t know people, seeing the flags is literally a sign that you’re welcome, and it makes it a bit easier to let down your guard.
On joining the community: It’s important for me to get to know the community, meet our neighbors, be involved – like always going to the café and shopping at small businesses and swimming in the community pool. There’s a big income gap upstate and a lot of hesitation about city people who have a bunch of money and flip spaces, but aren’t a part of the fabric of the community. I very much want to be a part of it, and my neighbors respect that.
Red and blue tumbler: Bornn.
On happy mishaps: We gutted two of the three bathrooms, but I still wanted them to fit the character of a 100+-year-old house. All the tiles are from Fireclay Tile, a B corp. I worked with them to choose colors with a vintage mood. The goal was to tile the entire wall of the primary bathroom, but we ran out half way! So, my friend, Nina Barry, an amazing artist, volunteered to hand paint a mural in the empty space. It features native plants and brings the outside in.
On ‘Rest as Residency’: When I bought the Mae House, I wanted it to be a place for my family to access, to enjoy nature, and I also really wanted a place for Black, Indigenous, people of color to be able to escape. A place created with them in mind and in heart that they could visit. When I’m not using the house, we offer rentals and then use that income to subsidize or fully cover the cost for BIPOC folks, particularly families, who might not otherwise be able to afford a vacation or have a way to access a restorative getaway. The mission of the Rest in Residency program is: we sustain the house and it sustains others.
On supporting BIPOC businesses: I’ve had a lifestyle blog for 10 years, so I’ve gotten to know which companies and artisans I want to work with. While renovating the home, I was committed to supporting Black-owned businesses as much as possible. We’ve stocked the house with Reel paper products and Honey Pot feminine products. The sign for Mae House was made by Rayo & Honey. We even offer our guests a Google map of local Black-owned stores, so they can support those businesses, as well.
Wall paint: Borrowed Light. Window paint: Stiff Key Blue. Dresser paint: similar. Zebra head: Target, similar. Bunk bed: Amazon, similar. Bunk bed curtain: DIY with Caroline Hurley fabric. Here/Now photo print: Nicki Sebastian. Striped bedside stool: OKA. Round table lamp: similar. Toys and books: Brimful.
On lighting: Almost all the lighting in the house is by Kohler and Schoolhouse. The house is about connecting, and lighting is such a huge part of that. There are only a few overheads but lots of small lamps to create ambiance. When you rent, you can’t always make those decisions. So, it was a blessing to be able to control that and be intentional.
On having a backyard: Being in the backyard makes me feel like a kid. I’m always like, ‘Let’s go outside!’ I grew up in Brooklyn, so it all still feels novel, and I think it’ll always feel that way. I find myself saying to my kids, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are to have this.’ It’s an entirely different world.
On making a dream come true: I’ll be 33 next month, and, now that I finished all the work on the house, it’s starting to hit me, what I’ve done. What I’ve accomplished. The fact that I said, ‘I’m gonna do this,’ and did it. What’s important to me is that I’ve created this net for my children, because even though the house is giving so much to others, it’s also my gift to them. Not just now, but for later, something that can help them pay for college, something that will set them up for after I’m gone. I can rewrite our lives at this point because of this house. We have a place to land no matter what may happen. And I created a shared space no one can push us out of.
Thank you so much, LaTonya, and a huge congratulations on this incredible journey.
(Photos by Nina Barry. Interior design and styling by LaTonya Staubs with assistant stylist Grace Cady. Mae House community outreach and engagement by Cherokee Lynn. Inn management by Nicole Gonzalez.)