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Name: Sekile M. Nzinga
Location: Rogers Park — Chicago, Illinois
Size: 1200 square feet
Type of Home: Condo
Years lived in: 1.5 years, renting
For Sekile Nzinga, the Chief Equity Officer for the State of Illinois and the founder of The Nzinga Collective, this 1200-square-foot condo in Chicago’s Rogers Park has been a sanctuary for awhile. She rents the space now, but it is owned by a close friend, and Sekile spent significant amounts of time in the space before she ever officially moved in. “We served together on the board of the Chicago Abortion Fund,” explains Sekile of how she knows the condo’s owner. “She gave me a key years ago so that I could crash at her place when I worked late or a snow storm prevented me from making the one and a half hour commute back home to Oak Park from Evanston. I always appreciated her generosity. When she moved away, I asked if I could rent her place, which had become a sanctuary to me over the years. Now I try to keep the same spirit of generosity going that she afforded me by regularly sharing my space with my sister friends whenever they need respite or a retreat from their busy lives.”
Beyond the soothing sanctuary aspects, Sekile says there are a lot of things she appreciates about this condo’s architecture. “I love that it has lots of natural sun light that pours into the living room and dining from the south- and west-facing windows. I also love that my place is roomy but also feels cozy,” she describes. “I do also LOVE my walk-in closet! It’s the biggest one I’ve ever had! I’m really into vintage clothing and I’ve packed it with all my favorite pieces from across the decades!”
But vintage clothing isn’t the only cool collection that lives in her space. She’s got a ton of plants, original artwork made by her daughter, and lots of feminist art and books. “Most of the art and photography has representations of the female/feminized body and black women,” Sekile writes. “I draw upon iconic black women singers, feminist artists and authors, the body, and the beauty of our natural world as my sources of inspiration.”
The entire condo is not just a space to relax. Thanks to the decor and art she’s incorporated in every room, it’s a place to inspire creativity, too. “I also finished my latest book in this apartment in 2019. So this space will always have a special place in my heart. I think because it’s a sanctuary I can rest and then feel recharged in order to be creative and finish projects,” she writes.
My Style: My style is eclectic — vintage, earthy, feminist, and warm.
I wanted my place to be a sanctuary for me and all others who enter. I furnished it with thrifted furniture and decor that is mostly vintage. I like to decorate with candles, mirrors, brass, copper, and jewel tone accents, botanical textile prints, plants, and found objects from nature like sea glass, driftwood, and rocks from my walks along Lake Michigan. The artwork displayed throughout the apartment is feminist and created by my daughter, my former students, or is thrifted.
And my books — I have them in my life as an educator and writer! I tend to incorporate them into my decor as a way to center the contributions of women, feminists, and progressive social movements throughout my space. I not only display my books throughout my place but I also like to decorate with the written word — feminist quotes and poetry, letters from my former social work and women’s studies students, protest signs, my grannie’s recipes, decor with my initials on them, etc.— they all ground me and remind me of my connection to others and our world.
Inspiration: I draw upon iconic Black women singers, feminist artists and authors, the body, and the beauty of our natural world as my sources of inspiration.
Favorite Element: My windows. My favorite is actually in my bathroom. During the warm months, I like to lay in my bed as the morning sun shines in and admire my books and plants that are nestled there. I also love that I can see the red brick of my apartment building peeking out behind the window. It reminds me of the old public housing projects I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island.
Biggest Challenge: My biggest challenge was not being able to switch out lighting fixtures. I wanted something grander over the dining room table but renting often means simply accepting that you’ll have to live with some things even if they are not in line with your aesthetic.
Proudest DIY: My proudest moment was when I found a large blue framed chalkboard for $5 at a thrift store. Since I wanted to hang it above my blue couch, I painted it gold. I like the idea of having artwork that I can change when I want to. I like to write quotes of Black feminist writers as my sources of inspiration. I also invite others who visit to leave a drawing, poem, or quote if they like.
Biggest Indulgence: My couch! I’m pretty frugal but I splurged mostly because I didn’t want to think about how I was going to get a used couch up three flights of stairs. I LOVE it and am proud of myself for choosing a bold blue color.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? Well I did create a clever hack to bypass mounting my projector. I didn’t want a TV in my place but do like watching TV. So I decided to put my projector inside a jute macrame planter and it now blends in quite nicely without me having to put any holes in my walls or mount a shelf above my window.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I love my Dirt Devil. My velvet couch is a dirt and dust magnet. The tufted seats are somehow always filled with crumbs, sand, and who knows what else! I used to use a lint roller but recently upgraded to the Dirt Devil. Best purchase ever!
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: I use lots of small vintage suitcases, sewing baskets, and picnic baskets to store items in. They hold craft supplies, winter accessories, shoes, hair supplies, and my makeup. I love that they hide the clutter but also add to my overall vintage vibe.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Shop for free in your alley or on your street the night before garbage pick up! I have scored so many free pieces over the years that often get the most compliments, including an MCM arm chair, a vintage rattan book shelf, a standing swivel mirror with storage in the back, vintage TV trays, desks, and even an umbrella for my deck! In fact, during the beginning of the pandemic, when stores closed, I would just drive around an “shop” from the alley for free!
This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.