Sadatu Dennis and her husband Kareem were living in Mexico City when a job required them to relocate to Charlotte, North Carolina. “I’m really into historic preservation, but in the Charlotte rental market, there was just a ton of new construction,” Sadatu says. Then she pulled up the website of a converted mill and noticed a brand new listing for a tower unit.
“We thought, well, this seems too cool to pass up,” she says, so the couple rented the triplex loft without ever stepping foot inside. They proceeded to live there for four and a half years, welcoming two kids (now three and one), before recently decamping to Philly to be closer to family. Here, Sadatu reflects on living in such a cool space, filled with bright colors, animal prints, and family heirlooms…
On a unique space: The building used to be a textile mill, and since our loft was grandiose, so I assume it was the boss’s HQ. There are definitely challenges associated with adaptive reuse because these spaces weren’t designed to be homes. The bathrooms were small and not ideally placed; there wasn’t much ventilation in the kitchen. But it was totally worth it. On the first level was the kitchen, dining, and living area, plus a workspace we carved out for my husband in the hallway. The second level had two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The third level had our primary bedroom, plus a roof patio.
On must-have furniture: In Mexico City, we had a long dining table since we entertained a lot. But when we were apartment hunting in Charlotte, not many apartments could fit a big table. You’re either supposed to have a four-top or just eat at the kitchen breakfast bar. When looking at rentals, my litmus test was, Will our dining table fit?
On an accent wall: With such high ceilings, the living space didn’t feel cozy, so I wanted to warm it up. Although wasn’t feasible to paint the entire wall, I painted the bottom half — to align with the closet height — in Behr Olive. I’m always drawn to rich greens; I loved it.
Rug: World Market, similar. Credenza: bought in Mexico City. Shelving: vintage from Sleepy Poets Antique Malls, “one of my favorite sources for second-hand furniture in Charlotte.” Tapestry: “found in a storage closet in my parents’ house!”
On reminders of relatives: In terms of design, I’m influenced by Liberia, where my family is from. And when we were in Mexico City, I practically lived at the flea markets. If you bring home things that catch your eye and you love, you’ll find a space for them in your house. But I’m a maximalist. I love being surrounded by reminders of the people and places that shaped who we are; and I don’t mind if there’s not much wall space left.
Nursing chair: Target, similar. Pillow on chair: Target, similar. Throw: Anthropologie. Crib: Stokke, “a hand-me-down from friends, it’s gorgeous.” Dresser: vintage from Sleepy Poet Antique Malls. Changing pad: Keekaroo. Photograph above crib: “I captured this photo in Ghana. It’s had a prominent place in every home I’ve had since.” Prints below: Natalie Daise and Justina Blakeney/Jungalow.
On rotating rooms: When we first moved in, it was just my husband, our dog, and me. This space started out as a guest room. When we were expecting our son, we turned a corner of the room into a nursery. Having an adult-sized bed in the nursery was great. For the first eight months of his life, we slept in this room. Then, as the years went by, it became our daughter’s nursery.
Rugs: vintage, similar. Mirror: vintage, similar, “I collect vintage mirrors.” Side tables: “I found them at at flea market in Mexico City. Originally they were pink but I repainted them light blue.” Otomí tapestry: bought in Mexico City, similar.
On hanging tapestries: I love dramatic, high-impact pieces, and tapestries or textiles are often more affordable than other types of artwork. I got the embroidered Otomí tapestry when we lived in Mexico City. The city has so many rich textile patterns — you walk out your door and find constant inspiration. Above a bed feels like the perfect place for something soft, and then you don’t have to worry about it falling on your head while you sleep!
SON’S ROOM / PLAY ROOM
On meaningful masks: My parents have their own beautiful mask collection, so I’ve always been drawn to collecting them, too. When we moved our son into this room, I wondered if it was unconventional to have a bunch of masks above a crib. But I thought, You know what? I’m gonna think of the masks as a protective force watching over him. This room was the heart of our home because in addition to being our son’s room, it was also the playroom, the movie-watching room, and the dressing room, because it was the only bedroom that had closets.
Chair: found at a flea market in Mexico City. Sloth pillow: Urban Outfitters, similar; “my husband loved sloths as a kid.” Bookshelf: “My dad did a quick sketch, and a woodworker made it for us.” Basket: Dressing Rooms Interiors Studio. Name stool: source unknown, similar.
On vertical living: There are two flights of stairs between each level. It’s a very vertical home. When we brought our son home from the hospital, I didn’t want to move, since I knew we’d never find another rental as unique. But when we had our daughter, I was like, Okay, having two kids here is pushing the limit. It was hard with a baby and a toddler, and it wasn’t very grandparent-friendly either. But I could get my cardio just by being at home, so that was a perk.
Rugs: from Morocco and Mexico City. Blue dresser: vintage from Sleepy Poet Antique Malls. Wooden dresser: a Craigslist find. Artwork around TV: prints from a vintage store in New York with frames from Michael’s. Kids’ foam playset: source unknown, similar.
On living with small kids: I embrace the chaos and the clutter. People say children are little scientists and explorers. So, if my house is a mess, that means my kids had a damn good day. I want them to have a sense of discovery and also feel a level of ownership in their space.
Sofa: Macy’s, similar. Zebra throw: Aqua Home. Artwork and top mask: bought in Mexico City. Bottom mask: “It’s actually a purse from a vintage market in Atlanta; I like accessories that can double as decor.” Mirror and green dresser: vintage at Sleepy Poet Antique Malls. Baskets: West Elm and Homegoods, similar.
On animals and animal prints: My mom is the style icon of our family — she loves a good animal print or motif. I have vintage animal belts, earrings, and brooches from her. Also, most of the textiles in our home are from Central America and West and North Africa, where animals have a great deal of cultural and religious significance. My son is into animals, so lately I’ve been even more intentional about incorporating those playful elements for him to enjoy, too.
On designing around brick walls: The four all-brick walls are definitely the visual standout in this room. So, I tried to keep the space neutral and serene. But I am who I am, so I had to have some pops of color.
School desk: family heirloom. Stool: vintage from Sleepy Poet Antique Malls.
On family heirlooms: The school desk was from my husband’s grandmother’s house, so it’s been in his family for a long time. It looks small because the ceilings are so tall, but my husband and I actually use it. When it comes to family heirlooms, I obviously try to keep fragile pieces out of the kids’ reach, but if something gets a little chipped or beat up, I like to say it adds character. I strive for a lovingly lived-in home.
On leaving a beloved home behind: We felt very blessed that we got to be stewards of this place for years. There are so many happy memories tied to this home. It’s where we brought our babies home from the hospital. They took their first steps here. Whenever there were fireworks, our roof was the perfect spot to watch from. After I hired the movers, I just sat there and cried about closing this chapter. But our new home in Philly means raising our kids closer to grandparents and cousins. There’s so much to look forward to that it made the process of saying goodbye to Charlotte and our tower a little easier. But it was bittersweet, for sure.
Thank you so much, Sadatu!
(Photos by EasterDay Creative.)