Kai Avent-deLeon is not one for clutter. Nor is she the kind to collect for the sheer sake of aesthetics or short- lived partialities. Rather, the Brooklyn native and owner of cult concept store Sincerely, Tommy surrounds herself with functional pieces and cherished keepsakes reflecting a minimal yet warm and singular style that infuses every facet of her being. “In this weather I tend to stay home a lot,” says Avent-deLeon when we visit her at home on the third floor of a four-storey brownstone. It is the brisk tail end of a drawn-out winter and Avent-deLeon’s apartment is a welcome escape from the lingering cold. Inside, the daily news filters out from the kitchen and the earthy scent of Nag Champa permeates the light-filled, open-plan space, which, as Avent-deLeon tells, hasn’t always been this way. “I literally came home one day and was like, I can’t take this anymore, and I used a hammer and started banging through the wall ... I wanted to make it open and industrial looking,” she says. And it is. Robust furnishings constructed of wood, marble, leather, suede and steel are offset by soft touches, such as the fresh flowers picked up from a nearby market, coffee table books and an eclectic mix of ceramics and tribal art.
“I literally came home one day and was like, I can’t take this anymore, and I used a hammer and started banging through the wall ... I wanted to make it open and industrial looking”
It soon becomes clear almost everything in Avent-deLeon’s home comes with a backstory, from her “favourite chair” gifted by a furniture designer friend to the various pieces collected from markets around the world – “It’s a great way to remember a place” – right down to the magazines stacked in piles on her living room floor, kept on hand simply because each and every one has something worth preserving: a favourite feature – Fader with Miles Davis, the Playboy with Vanity 6 (“I really liked her spread”) – or an article that Avent-deLeon has herself been featured in. “I don’t collect just to have them,” she says.
“I’ve always been involved in some sort of creative field so I guess my personal taste has just developed from everything that I experienced, and it’s still developing.”
In true Avent-deLeon style, the artwork occupying her home is minimal and sparse. There are the Paul Klee and Yves Klein prints, the painting by L.A.-based artist Mattea Perrotta, and the framed poster of Avent-deLeon’s favourite film, Annie Hall, a gift on her 21st birthday. Photos of friends and family sit atop various surfaces throughout her apartment. “This was on a road trip my boyfriend and I took to Death Valley, this is my family in Amsterdam, a trip to Ghana, my grandmother, my best friends,” she says, gesturing towards the collection of fridge photographs reflecting a run of smiling faces and remote landscapes. “We went to Warwick, this little town upstate, and it was my friend’s birthday so we ran through the field naked,” she laughs.
“It’s really fascinating to see what I liked two years ago and what I like now.”
Whether she’s combing the markets of Peru, Morocco, Mexico City or Ghana, or traversing scenic landscapes a little closer to home, Avent-deLeon has cultivated a peripatetic way of life that little by little sets in train an even more nomadic existence. “I’ve been exploring the idea of living in a tiny house and attaching it to the back of a car. So in preparation for that possibility I’m like, so what are the things that I don’t need, and I’m literally trying to sell the pieces that aren’t that functional ... The idea would be to go all over. I love the idea of that kind of lifestyle, not being attached to one place,” she says.
But for the moment you’ll find her here, playing jazz records on repeat – “Oh god, there’s so many: Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, I could go on ... ” – practising yoga at a nearby studio, and entertaining friends for dinner and movie nights on the couch. “People are always over here.”