Photography by Amanda Wallace
For our latest installment of Single Women & Their Spaces, executive editor Amanda Carter Gomes chatted with our friend Solonje Burnett (remember her gift guide here?) about what it means to have a space to call your own, and how the pandemic has forced us all to rewrite the rules of home, work, and play.
Solonje Burnett is a force—she dedicates her energy to creative activism and community leadership, while also co-founding and running Humble Bloom (a collaborative space and shop dedicated to curating the culture of cannabis with a mission of equalizing the plant industry). So when we took a peek into her Brooklyn home it came as no surprise that it felt strong, personal, and seeped in positivity, just like her. But it's not just Solonje's space we are thrilled to highlight, but her words of wisdom, too. Her advice is everything we didn't know we needed in the face of uncertainty. Read on for more from this quintessential renaissance woman...
How long have you lived in this space and what initially attracted you to it?
I’ve lived here since May 2013 and initially it wasn’t by choice. My ex and I were living in NoHo on Mercer Street for 6 years when we had to leave abruptly. A friend posted that he needed a roommate and what was supposed to be a year in a small room together turned into three. That friend made life moves. He got a new spot with his girlfriend, now wife, and we took over the apartment.
In 2018, I separated from my husband a few months after co-starting a tenant association in our building to fight harassment, overcharges and abuse from our landlord Kerry Danenberg and Grand Management. I reached out to my neighbors and initiated a rent strike with the help of a pro bono tenant rights advocacy group now called Communities Resist. We discovered this inhumane treatment was not unique to our building but was the norm across many of the properties he owned. By this point not only did I form a bond with the people in my building who I today consider family, but also solidarity with the community in which I live.
The Latinx community in Bushwick that has been here for decades before me is one that I must respect. I say hey to everyone. Stop and chat with the elderly outside the nearby assisted living. I’ve seen people pushed out of their homes with nowhere to go. Ending up unhoused at an advanced age with no one to turn to. I have a deep understanding of how greed, terror, racism, unjust court systems, and willful, arrogant, and aggressive gentrification hurts the most vulnerable underresourced populations. Those of us with any kind of privilege need to use whatever is in our power to fight for fair and equal housing.
Rant over. After a trial separation, I asked for a divorce. He agreed, took basically everything (at my request since it was from the old apt and mostly his) and I returned to opportunity to begin anew. I wanted the opportunity to rebuild. To make the apartment I felt previously like I had no choice but to move into, a home where I felt safe, reflected, supported, at peace and wholly myself.
How would you describe your interior aesthetic? What inspires or informs your personal space?
I would say my aesthetic is natural, sustainable, warm, and welcoming. To me there is a humble hippy humanist, Caribbean-American, cannabis enthusiast essence with light calming analog energy. It is a reflection of who I am at this moment along with all I’ve inherited from my life experience.
I’m a conscious acquirer of all the pieces in my space. Everything is second hand, found, gifted from a creative or friend, held on to for many years from my first apartment in Boston, or purposefully sought out. Some, I believe I’ve conjured up from envisioning like my Black mannequin named Shania, speakers and record collection. Others, like my lamps, mirror, trunk, dresser, accent chairs, and shelves are vintage. While the art includes pieces from Rachel “Messy” Beck, Meghan Shimek, Lucas Lucas artists Miranda Maxwell and Claudia Santiso, Claudine Eriksson, Alex Jamieson, Helena Kubicka de Bragança and Inas Al-Soqi.
I believe capitalism to be the root of society’s sickness and a more circular, collaborative, and communal economy should be prioritized and adopted. So many shop to fill the holes and insecurities they have within. We’ve been taught to want things rather than dive into the dark depths of ourselves and communicate effectively with each other. I don’t find self worth or value in possessing items or shopping randomly. Looking around my apartment everything has a meaningful origin story and wasn’t put there because an ad, personal connection, influencer, celebrity or the latest trend told me it should.
You are an entrepreneur (through Humble Bloom), but also an activist and force in both for the cannabis industry and your community at large. Do you work from home? And if so, how do you maintain healthy work boundaries in your space?
Yes, I’ve worked from home in some way or another for several years and truly value the flexibility and creativity it brings. When I left the Harlem School of the Arts to launch Den Entertainment (a bevy of side hustles including artist management, party curation and hosting, music programming, singing, etc.) I worked mostly from home, Soho House and Ludlow House. That continued when I started at Live Grey where the week was split between that and the office on 599 Broadway. When that ended and Humble Bloom became the priority and I worked from home, my co-founder Danniel’s place in Prospect Heights, and the recently closed Assemblage (a COVID casualty). We spent most of our time co-working out of the latter through the membership our curatorial residency creating cannabis educational content afforded.
The shift to working from home like many not only affected our business plan but also our mindset around work structure. The healthy work boundaries I’ve created have come from years of trying to achieve the elusive life-work balance ideal that was nearly impossible in the past. With the pandemic, the pause allowed for proper self-assessment and recalibration. I saw my late night hosting parties and trying to do it all as operating from a space of noise, avoidance, distraction and fear. I discovered that we truly need to both commit to radical self care and slowdown to speed up.
Now instead of waking up with anxiety, I begin my day with self care. I write down whatever first comes to mind in my journal, make myself or walk to get an oat matcha, meditate from my fire escape or rooftop, do breathwork and/or the Five Tibetan Rites (thanks to my friend Stephanie Williams for the intro). I may not do all things everyday but it’s a part of beginning my days with intention and balance so I can show up as a better human in the world. I ensure my mornings are open for me by only allowing for calls/meetings between 11am-5pm. I’ve also become the queen of saying no and setting boundaries.
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During the warmer months I would work outside in the morning to soak up vitamin D from a nearby café and then continue from home. I also make sure to schedule breaks. I literally block them off in my calendar so nothing can get in the way of being kind to myself. I check the weather and schedule midweek beach days to see friends safely and recharge. I make time for quick errands and go for walks to mix it up and prevent midday slumps. I also plan short trips to visit friends who’ve moved out of the city to upstate New York. Working from other homes has sparked more creative thought. I also listen to my body. If I feel tired or down, I stop and rest if possible.
On that note, so once you have logged off for the day, what is your favorite way to decompress at home?
So I’ve been dedicated to my 4Ms mantra (medicate, meditate, masturbate, and motivate) to maintain a level of homeostasis. I would also add that meditation also encompasses movement. Decompression comes in several forms. It could be smoking some of my favorite flower—lately I’m partial to pineapple haze or super lemon haze from my local unregulated grow. I have a collection of classic vinyls plus digital indie music that move me to dance on my own or with a friend/lover.
Whether I’m feeling low or elevated from a puff of a great strain, movement really allows for stuck energies to flow through you and release. Having sex with someone I share a soul connection with or getting intimate with myself is legit magic for clearing and cleansing the toxic build up. Books have become a pandemic pal, currently reading Alexandra Jamieson and Bob Gower’s Radical Alignment while re-reading parts of bell hooks’ All About Love continues to open me up. And of course, who does like a good binge watch. I hate the idea of royalty and imperialism but just started watching The Crown on Netflix. So much inbreeding and white people saying despicable dehumanizing things to Blacks with ease in the first season—well, at least the royals makes them more realistic.
How has the definition of "home" changed for you in the past eight months? What do you appreciate more about your home now than perhaps you did prior to the pandemic?
My apartment finally feels like home in the past few months. I’ve invested in items to complete the vibe—new pots and pans as well as a record player—because I’m almost always here. It had to be more comfortable, efficient, and functional. It is no longer a space for random entertaining, recuperating after late NYC nights, or just the usual coming, going, and waiting for the next invitation.
More than ever I appreciate that I have a home and I’ve been resourceful in finding ways to keep a roof over my head. I have never taken housing for granted at any point in my life, but even more so now that I’ve witnessed firsthand the lack of care and responsibility by the government for this country’s citizens even in the most unprecedented situations. The number of humans currently unhoused and/or housing insecure with no rent relief throughout this pandemic continues to rise as we go into colder months. It breaks my heart to hear people argue about frivolity while people starve, battle harsh weather, and illness. Throughout the pandemic I’ve continued to raise rent relief awareness, advocate to stop evictions and push for fair, safe and decent housing for all.
What are three things that you love most about living alone?
After an 11 year long relationship I got you on this one. The three things I love most are:
- No negotiation of my time, energy and brain capacity. I have the freedom to rise and rest when I want. I don’t have to clean up after or cook for someone else.
- Having a smaller, more intimate and intentional circle. No longer obligated to be in relation to those who I didn’t select as my chosen family.
- The general peace of mind that comes with getting to know yourself rather than living for other.
But I must fess up that I’m not completely alone. I’ve loved having a roommate for over a year. Morgan Everhart is an incredible artist and human being. She literally saved me when she moved in. I would not have been able to pay the rent previously split between myself and my ex. She moved in last September and when the pandemic hit decided to live with her boyfriend but keep her room so I have had months of Solietude. She also has an art studio nearby where she basically lives. I go to bed early and she comes home late. It’s a beautiful balance of spending time on purpose and doing what we do individually.
Which is your favorite room in your home and why? What are a few of your favorite elements in your home, be it art, a certain nook or family heirloom, etc., and why are these areas/pieces dear to you?
The bedroom is my light-filled sanctuary. It’s mostly white, blue, cream, wood, and brushed metal. I wake to the sun’s rays moving throughout the space to welcome the day. I adore seeing the shadows play with my jewelry tree, sleeping nude and repositioning so my yoni can sunbathe, watching my philodendron’s new growth, stretching out on my yoga mat, exploring new CBD products sent from brands I love or work with, doing weekly breathwork from bed, and connecting to both my ancestors and myself through moon rituals on my altar.
Some of my favorite pieces and nooks include:
- Leaf & Wood rolling tray: I met the founder Robert early on in my Humble Bloom journey. Not only does he make trays and display pieces but also a grow cabinet!
- Ritual space with pieces from Saint Seneca Store: The owner Yuka just celebrated 5 years in the neighborhood and I only recently ventured in to find a frame for a birthday poem. Left with several pieces including a wall hanging, moon matches, and sage. Will be back to support this small business especially for gift giving.
- Jewelry tree: Several years ago outside of a creative space and art gallery called 7 Dunham I found this treated wood piece when cleaning up from a party I hosted. Asked the owner Jonny to hold on to it. He didn’t but when I came back the next day I scooped it up off the street and brought it home.
- Candleholders by Dena Paige Fischer: My friend made these concrete and plaster sculpture pieces. She works in so many mediums and is such a talent.
- Disco mirror ball: I threw a party at a spot called the Church of Electric dirt. It needed a disco ball so I bought one. It’s now a staple in all my zoom calls.
- Wall hanging by Meghan Shimek: Last October we were fortunate to connect with Meghan and visit her Oakland studio. Her organic wool art pieces were going to serve as decor at our HB Field Trip. She generously let us borrow them for the weekend. I mentioned how much I adored them when I was returning them to her and she said take whatever you can get on the plane. I couldn’t believe it. She packed it up and I took it on my flight.
- Cannabis vignettes: Throughout my space there are mini altars dedicated to cannabis. In my bedroom a shelf of CBD products + scene surrounding a fave pipe by ceramicist Debbie Carlos. The aforementioned tray moves throughout the apartment. In the living room, my Laundry Day Clio pipe sits above the booze in the bar cart.
How do you feel in your space? How do you want others to feel upon entering your home?
When I walk into my place I feel relief and freedom to be authentically me. I want people to feel a sense of belonging. When most people come in for the first time they usually say something about the positive warm energy they feel. I love hearing that and want vibe to last. If invited to my space you can dance, smoke, nap, laugh, cry, eat, and feel the full spectrum of connection. A house should be a home, not a museum. Just remember to take off your shoes.
For more beautiful women, words, and spaces, see all of our past features of Single Women & Their Spaces here.