Tucked away in the serene village of Athens, New York sits The Mae House—a century-old colonial-style home. Built with the BIPOC community in mind, LaTonya Yvette has nurtured a warm and welcoming environment for others to come, connect with nature, and simply, rest. Inspired by The Mae House’s charming interior aesthetic and radical "Rest as Residency” ethos, we asked her to take us through the design details and vision for the space.
"The name 'Mae’ means mothering, caring and nurturing—things I hope this place brings to me, my family, and the community that will grow here. I believe a name is not just a name; it is a spirit we choose to carry along with the people and places we call home."
Tell us about The Mae House. What inspired your vision? And how did you know this home was the one?
The Mae House is a 200-year-old house in the village of Athens, New York. I purchased it in 2021 with savings and part of the advance of my third book, Stand In My Window (to be published by Dial Press). The idea of purchasing the home was, truly, borne out of research I was doing for the book.
Reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer during the pandemic while sheltering in place with my two children in New York City left a memorable impression on me. All of these events—along with being born and (mostly) raised in New York City—inspired me to purchase the house.
“The design intent is: soothing, storied, colorful, & intentional.”
If you had to describe the interior aesthetic in five words or less, which words would you choose?
WOW, that’s hard. Soothing, storied, colorful, & intentional.
What were some of the challenges and highlights of the renovation process?
The challenges were distance, finances, and the fact that the house is old and quirky. I live in New York City, and I didn’t have a general contractor (IT WAS ME)—it required a lot of communication and a lot of traveling back and forth to check in on the space. Finances, because I AM NOT RICH. AND I AM SINGLE. And everything, everything, in the home is slanted. So, that says enough.
Could you walk us through the creative process? Where did you draw inspiration from?
I am a storyteller at heart. I find myself creating stories for people, places, and things constantly. It's how I see and view the world, and it isn't something I can turn off (even when I’ve wanted to).
So, I didn’t necessarily seek inspiration for the house—it came to me by experiencing other people's homes, my childhood homes, and changing adult homes. From there, I refined my vision for The Mae House by honing in on creative mood boards, which came in handy during design and renovation.
What do you hope others feel or experience when they step into the space?
While creating it, I hoped (but also heard, thankfully) that the space felt like home. The Mae House is a matriarch, but in home form. That is truly the spirit in which I renovated and restored it and how it cared for me. It's a dream come true to make room for others with the same space, energy, and care.
“The Mae House is a matriarch, but in home form. That is truly the spirit in which I renovated and restored it and how it cared for me.”
To you, what makes a house a home?
The little things: good music, a good scent, good pots and pans, and BOOKS!
Beyond being a beautiful space, The Mae House is also a place to rest. In your opinion, how does our environment influence our well-being and ability to rest?
In my previous life as a blogger, there were no clearer experiences of how quickly things move and how the “flip” of a house is translatory in not only our consumption but in our capitalistic society. My work with the house is, in part, driven by my resistance to the very thing that allowed me to buy the house. It is what I hope to offer, inspire, and teach others (in my little corner of the world) as society continues to move on.
I have to call attention to Tricia Hershey from The Nap Ministry, who speaks of this often in her work. Still, as someone who needs to work to provide for her children and needs to rent the house so it can sustain itself (while also offering space to others), I see The Mae House as a place that refuses to contribute to the “flip it” culture. It is not a part of my hope to gain more and more wealth for the sake of it (although I have gained some wealth for my children by owning something). Our ethics offer things to our environment, which influences our experience and how we move in this ever-changing world.
“Our ethics offer things to our environment, which influence our experience and how we move in this ever-changing world.”
Could you share a few of your Schoolhouse favorites and why you selected them for the space?
Oh, I love so much. We have the Ray 17" Pendant in Dune in the Kid's Den which is also the meditation room. It’s the perfect amount of color—soothing for the blue walls while still being sophisticated and reliably simple.
We also love love love, the Allegheny Sconce in Butterscotch that we have on the outside of the house. It is the ideal color combination with the green/yellowish tint of the house and feels familiar yet elevated.
And finally, I purchased the Grant Mirror for the Primary Bathroom as one of my final bits and bobs of the house. It's a beautiful mix of metals, and I adore the way it hangs directly across the window.
Do you have any design or life philosophies you abide by?
Create a story, allow the story to be told, and offer others to make one too.
“Create a story, allow the story to be told, and offer others to make one too.”
Oftentimes, it’s the slow moments that are the most memorable. What are some things you and your family enjoy doing together?
Cuddling and reading for sure. My youngest is now eight and can read well, and my daughter is a big reader—I am trying to keep up with them.
Community and hospitality often play a big part in human happiness and seem to be a core value for The Mae House. What are some ways you’ve managed to stay connected to others over the past few years?
It’s funny, the other day, we were in the house and realized we're offering so much to guests. I don’t think it can be articulated through interviews, instagram, or even posts about the house.
It’s not just the Rest As Residency program but also in the gifts we give during regular stays or other thoughtful moments that can only be felt by those who experience the house. Although we are not about making money for the sake of it, I will tell you, for all of us, the hospitality portion, and for me in particular, the opportunity to continue to build a community brings me intense satisfaction and peace—if I do NOTHING else, I did this. We offered this.
“The opportunity to continue to build a community brings me intense satisfaction and peace—if I do NOTHING else, I did this. We offered this.”
Last but not least, if you had to pick a song or poem that captured the soul of The Mae House, what would it be?
Otis Redding, That’s How Strong My Love Is.
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Photography by Nina Elsbeth