Inside Jon Batiste and Suleika Jaouad’s 19th-Century Brooklyn Town House

With the help of designer Hallie Goodman and architect Ravi Raj, the musician and author created an art-filled space that inspires their own creative work

The vision for the house was deeply tied to who Jon and I are as humans—to our creativity and our lineage. We began to meld Tunisia and New Orleans into a style we call “Tunisiana,” an homage to our shared Francophone and African roots. We wanted a home that felt soulful, timeless, and elegant, with a playful twist.

It’s there in the poetry of the arches and curves of the millwork. It’s there in the contrast between white lime-washed walls and those drenched in color. The pink kitchen, inspired by the New Orleanian love of saturated hues, pairs perfectly with the blue Tunisian tile backsplash. (The tiles were made by my friend, Mokhtar Lahmar, who hand-makes and paints each tile in a garage turned atelier in the seaside town of Nabeul.) It’s in the 19th-century beaded Moroccan light in our bedroom, and the giant, drippy chandelier in the living room made of upcycled water bottles by artist Willie Cole. It’s in the art, which ranges from paintings by my Swiss mother, Anne Francey, to the Haitian American artist Patrick Eugène, to my grandfather’s collection of vintage posters. It’s in the traditional Parisian furnishings and the North African pottery, textiles, and rugs, collected over a lifetime of trips back to the fatherland.

Gucci’s Lillies wallpaper highlights a wall of the studio lounge.

Striking this balance wasn’t seamless. At times we found ourselves at a stylistic impasse, though often those yielded absurdly humorous exchanges. Once I fell in love with a pair of vintage Poliedri sconces, made up of smoky Murano glass polyhedrons. I thought they were weird and beautiful, like sexy, moody dinosaur jewelry. I texted Jon a photo, certain he would love them too. He responded: “Like an enemy starship descending upon earth, with several ports to launch flames and laser beams through.” Then, “they look like trash hanging on the wall, or a fungal growth.” And then later, “I feel assaulted by this design. But if you want them, go for it.”

With that, I let the sconces go—though light became a guiding principle for us. Once, in reference to a lamp, Jon said in an exaggerated fashion, “Now this light is healing!” It cracked us up, and we put it on repeat. About anything that we loved, anything that was beautiful and life-giving, we’d say, “This is healing.”

Those words took on a new timbre and became a more literal guiding principle last winter when I learned that after a decade-long remission, my leukemia was back. A relapse so far out is extremely rare, and my chances of survival were slim.

At that point, we could easily have put the renovation on pause, or dropped it altogether. Instead, we doubled down— as Jon said, we had a plan, and we were not going to let cancer derail it. On February 5, 2022, the night before I entered the hospital for my second bone marrow transplant, we got married in the living room in an intimate, impromptu ceremony. The house was mid-construction, but Hallie had the first floor swept free of debris and filled with flowers and candles. We served fried chicken sandwiches and champagne to the handful of guests who joined us, and Jon serenaded me on a grand piano that he’d rented just for the night. It felt like an act of defiance, to make a promise to our future life in that space, a wager that all the hopes contained there would come to pass—to say, “We will be here. We will live here.” It was another leap of faith.

An antique jewel-toned stained-glass panel filters light in the prayer room.

To have cancer is to live for the next deadline. You have to get through this chemo protocol, survive this procedure, get to this milestone. But the biggest goal for me was making it to this new home. For years now, I’ve relied on a creative practice to navigate illness by alchemizing life’s interruptions into something beautiful, and this time was no different. I spent the next two months in the hospital doing two things. The first was painting watercolors of one fever dream after another, like a self-portrait with a giraffe as my IV pole. The second was scouring the internet for delightfully imperfect objects to make our house completely our own.

I entered the hospital in winter. The day I was discharged was sunny and fully spring. I was weak, in need of a walker to get around, but I was so happy and relieved. As Jon and I made our way through the house, I had tears in my eyes—not just because it far exceeded our expectations. We had finally made it home.

Jon Batiste’s latest album World Music Radio is now available. Suleika Jaouad is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Between Two Kingdoms. Batiste and Jaouad’s original documentary, American Symphony, directed by Matthew Heineman, a portrait of two inimitable artists at a crossroad and a profound meditation on art, love, and the creative process, will be released by Netflix globally later this year.

Jon Batiste and Suleika Jaouad’s home appears in AD’s November issue. Never miss an issue when you subscribe to AD.