Dreaming of her first real apartment, Tenlie emptied her savings account for a studio apartment in Central Harlem. But for weeks she lived in an empty room. As she struggled to sort through hundreds of product pages of look-alike products, she wondered why she didn’t have the same kinds of the content and community shopping for her home as she did shopping for skincare and have since spent years exploring this question.
Tenlie believes that a space feeling like home has less to do with the objects inside of them, but the stories behind them. Dendwell exists to help preserve the stories of the objects we live with, where we make spaces that are not just beautiful but full of meaning.
Tell us who you are.
I am a NYC based creative and entrepreneur — isn't everyone these days?— and my current, big project is Dendwell. However, I think a lot about this question of "who am I?" and try to take a cohesive view of all of my identities, which I am learning to see as all of the things I get to be. That said, I am also a black-bi-racial woman finding myself in my mid-twenties, a daughter with four parents, a partner to a very cool guy, and friend to a lot of people I respect and admire.
What does home mean to you?
Home is the place where I create myself. My definition of home was forged during my afternoons and late nights as an only child: me in my room, imagining who I wanted to be and finding ways to make that person real. My home has historically been my lab for imaginiation, dreaming, and self-development. Now that I share a home with my partner, that definition is expanding to include a place for deep connection and cultivation of the most important relationships in my life.
How would you describe your home's personality?
Like me, in flux! Everyday I have a new vision and style and desire for my space. I moved into a new apartment last summer and through the very difficult process of decorating and doing some light renovation on it am finding that its personality is both self-assured and in total identity crisis.
How do you rest, restore, and reenergize?
The pandemic has definitely challenged my desire and willingness to restore and reenergize though things that might be traditionally considered healthy. Rather, I binge-watch ridiculous television (currently on season 11 of Grey's Anatomy, but anything Discovery+ in a pinch), cook insane quantities of complicated foods with my partner, and clean my apartment.
What inspired you to create Dendwell?
There is a moment that my best friend remembers me telling her about from my third year of college where I was walking down the street and I thought to myself, "hmm, home goods," as I fantasized about my future — which is to say that I think I have always had some propensity for space and the things that we fill a space with. But it was really this convergent moment in my life after college where I had been working in beauty and seeing the rise of Glossier, ManRepeller, and Refinery29 as they defined how my generation was thinking about beauty and fashion and style, coupled with my real-time experience of trying to create a beautiful studio apartment and truly not knowing how. I was living in this empty room, assembling these IKEA shelves and said to myself (in tears): "this sucks. I don't know how to do this," and feeling like my dream of an incredible apartment, for which I had labored over mood boards, was suddenly out of reach. So I started Dendwell with the instinct that we should be talking about home the same way we talk about beauty and fashion and that in the future we would.
Tell us about #MakeSpacePledge.
I started the pledge from a real place of pain during the BLM protests in summer 2020. I was seeing the conversations about lack of representation in fashion and beauty industries, and was disheartened that it was just not a real conversation happening in the home category — at all. The home category has been guarded by trade — interior design guild and manufacturing industries — which has kept it largely free from public criticism, complaint, or even thought. Yet, it represents a massive portion of consumer spending and the majority of our lives are (and especially were during that time) spent at home. And the mascot for the home category is the wealthy, educated, white women and the styles, trends, retail collaborations, and editorial spreads reflect that. The pledge was a two-part initiative: 1. to talk about the severity of lacking representation at a category level and 2. to try to raise the point that our homes represent our humanity and not only is it poor business for companies and editorial arms to leave out a black perspective, but that their failure to do so contributes to black humanity's erasure from our culture. I had no network, no clout, and no website, but I found a way to bring together amazing black women who are talking about space for an awareness campaign to encourage editorial outlets to evaluate the stories they are telling. It is an initiative we hope to revisit in the future, at least annually.
What are a few of your current favorite shops?
So many! Our philosophy is that more is always more with vintage. But I love Amo Domus, Nice Vintage Things, Denniston House, and make it look good. — all of which are BIPOC-owned :).
What advice can you give to others who are trying to fill their spaces with intention?
It is so easy to become consumed with what is trending in decor, but I think the best thing to do is focus on pieces that you really love, like feel in your stomach amount of love. Put those pieces together, and fill in with a few trendier items you are willing to rotate periodically and enjoy your space as a reflection of who you are and who you hope to become.