We launched our series premier of Secondhand Roadshow with a visit to Charlotte, North Caroline and were welcomed into the home of Seana Freeman. Better known as @bellybaila on Instagram, Seana is a corporate executive by day and part-time designer and interior stylist.
I could not think of a better person to inaugurate this endeavor with than Seana, especially to round out the end of Black History Month and the close of Lunar New Year festivities.
For the full video recording of our conversation, check out this episode on my IGTV series.
Tell us your origin story. How did you evolve into becoming a “designer” and a “glamohemian?”
It’s something I stumbled into – I never thought of myself as a creative person. As you mentioned, I have a corporate job. This has no bearing to anything I went to school for or do during the day. I always had a love for aesthetics and appreciation for style. When I was in New York, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with a lot of architectural details for a really long time. But when I relocated to Charlotte, I bought a new-construction home. So I have this home with all these rooms and much more space than what I was used to. I thought, “What in the world am I going to do with this?”
It’s a nice home, but it wasn’t as soulful to what I was used to. That’s why I became so interested in creating a space that felt like me: to bring my life, my experiences and my style into my home.
People began asking me a couple years ago, “Can you help me?” This last year with the quarantine situation we’ve been in, I had a lot more disposable time than I’m used to. And so I thought, “Let’s start to work with people and see what it feels like.” And I’ve really enjoyed it.
What is your design philosophy?
What I love about it is my belief that we all deserve to live in a home that feels like us. We don’t need cookie cutter homes. It’s not about how much money you spend. Those are core principles of mine. You can have a beautiful home at any price point. You deserve to have a beautiful home at any stage of life. Solving this puzzle for other people is how I fell in love with all of this.
What is one design rule that you abide by?
I try to be “anti-rule.” I think that rules can be stifling, especially in your home. You’re the only one that needs to like it. However, there are some principles and some observations on what seems to work.
I’m a huge lover of art. Hang your art at the right height! Don’t hang your art too high, don’t have a lonely piece in the corner, unless that’s a minimalist look you’re going for.
Make it a practice with layering, variety and contrast in a room. I am not a fan of your whole room looking like it came from Pottery Barn, that’s just not my style. You can get quality base pieces from almost any place, and then it’s all about layering in personality and soul into the room. Aquire things from different places, and integrate contrast into your space.
For me, adding special secondhand pieces is really what makes a house a home, or bringing back souvenirs that you collect from your travels for your home.
Your house is a place to document your life. It’s not about emulating another person’s example of what a “well-styled home” is. I like to ride along the very edge of what bad taste is. I like to have some edge, some personality and also some things that reflect how I’ve lived. And I like to help other people do that, too.
People say “when I’m done with my home,” and if you’re like me, you will never be done with your home. It’s a disease!
It’s definitely some form of addiction! You do reach a point of diminishing returns. Everyone has a different level of density in their homes. I like a home that is layered, but not one that is chock full of crap.
I started acquiring too many things and not seeing how they would really live in my space. The process of editing and streamlining is important, both financially and to the aesthetics of your home. When you have too many things, they all compete with each other and none of them shine. If you’re going the full maximalist direction, you have to go balls to the wall and be very intentional.
And even maximalists have to be very intentional with what they’re using. How do you edit your home and your belongings?
I still have room for improvement, but I’ve gotten better over the past couple of years. This is a luxury that I didn’t have for many years and not everybody has. But now I have a garage, and I admit that I have a hard time letting go of things. I’m not a hoarder but I’m very sentimental.
Get into the place of recognizing that wearing all of your jewelry, all of your clothes and all of your purses and shoes at the same time is not the look that you want. Then realize that’s not great for this space, but what is the space that you want right now? More is not always better.
With everything else, editing is not just a process but a practice. The more time you spend practicing, the more you’ll see what makes that room look good.
How did you start using secondhand finds in your designs?
So many things in my home are secondhand, and for me, my love of secondhand started as a teenager with clothes. For me it was a financial thing at first, then I thought, “Wait a minute, I’m getting way more cooler stuff here than I am at Express.”
Once I started shopping for my home, I noticed I could get things at a better price point and I could get more unique things. The issue is, you just have to get lucky and stumble across it at the right time so it’s not on-demand like at Pottery Barn or CB2.
When I moved into this house, it was a big investment for me and I’m a very frugal person. I put myself on a budget and I’m not going to meet that budget at Crate and Barrel. But if I go to thrift stores, yard sales and well-priced consignment shops, I can find things that I can afford. Over time, I just likeed this aesthetic so much better. I’m glad I couldn’t afford a whole home from Room and Board because it wouldn’t be as interesting.
What are some of your favorite secondhand finds?
Alistair, my life-sized stone greyhound – I love greyhound dogs. A wood-carved sculptural figure, and my collection of hands. I’m sitting on this $10 chair from a garage sale. My most recent secondhand find is this huge antique frame, and even the doorknobs in my room are secondhand.
This was like asking me to pick my favorite child when you have 55 children!
Tell us about the “one that got away.”
There are a couple of things that got away, but usually they get away for a reason. The most recent thing that got away was a set of post-modern Saporti dining chairs. I saw them twice in Texas in different upholstery and I never got them out of my craw.
Then lo and behold, I see them at a local consignment shop but they were in a fabric I didn’t like. Plus they were $1,800, and to me, that’s a lot. That’s an incredible impulse and an unnecessary buy for me. But then the seller reupholstered these chairs in leopard. Now they’re perfect – I couldn’t dream up a better set of chairs! And it’s been a span of 18 months that I’ve been stalking these doggone chairs. By this point, because they’ve been reupholstered, they’re now $2,200.
It wasn’t so much that it got away, I let it go. I couldn’t justify buying something like that. But I have continued to think about those chairs at least weekly. I didn’t get them for a reason, and that reason was cost and need.
Maybe wait for a sale…
If they’re meant to be, they’ll come back in my life. But they’ve already circled back three times, and I said “no” three times!
What is the one of the craziest things you’ve done to acquire something and bring it home?
Being in North Carolina, anytime you leave Charlotte proper, you’re going into some interesting “natural habitats” for people that I don’t have a lot in common with. (I’m trying not to get political.) North Carolina is the furniture capital of the world, so there’s a lot of great furniture. But I’m driving to small towns with Confederate flags and people with beliefs that I don’t share. Going into some places in North Carolina for a person of color is risky.
I don’t have a truck so how I’m hauling all of these things is in my 12-year old convertible. She’s my pickup truck! So you might see me with a big ass piece of furniture in my convertible in the winter in 40 degrees, driving on the highway with the top down because that’s how it fit! But I’m going to save on my delivery fee!
I’m usually exposing myself to the elements, whether it be to people or the weather, to get things.
You talk about being a person of color in North Carolina and I noticed that you use a lot of Black and African pieces in your decor. How would you advise someone who isn’t Black on how they can use these pieces in their homes while still being mindful of these cultures?
I don’t know if I have the answer, but I will share my answer. For me, I don’t think there is anything wrong with appreciating and wanting to enjoy the art of another culture in your home. What makes life interesting is exposure to other people, cultures, food and art.
I think there’s a way of doing so respectfully and honoring the culture, to take the time to learn more about the pieces you’re acquiring and recognizing that these artforms come from actual people and having an interest in these people. It’s all about honoring and supporting the people who are making the work, and not about pumping these people for tchotkes that make you look cool.
Aside from Facebook Marketplace, where do you like to physically go to find secondhand items?
“Physically” is my favorite because you get the thrill of the hunt. There’s a couple of consignment shops that I like here in North Carolina: Slate is one and Dressing Rooms is the other. Both are highly curated secondhand shops – they’ve done all the work finding things and styling them for you.
What is one cool thing about your state?
I mentioned it’s the furniture capital of the world, so you have families here who are three to four generation furniture makers. So there’s a lot of people who know upholstery like it’s an art form. We might not have as much Art Decor or Hollywood glamour pieces on our Facebook Marketplace, unfortunately, but if you want an antique sofa with amazing lines made out of solid oak, you will see 10 new ones a day! (Maybe not 10, but you will see a lot of them daily.)
What is one thing you’re proud of about Charlotte?
Our mayor. We have the first black female mayor! Vi Lyles is doing a really good job governing in Charlotte. I feel proud of this city for the work that it’s been doing to be a more progressive southern city. It has a lot of historical issues that are still being addressed, but it’s making a commitment to be a different type of southern city.
It’s really a nice place to live and the people are very kind here. Overall, it has its pros and cons but it has been good to me.
Seana, this was such a blast and I’m so grateful to have you as the premier guest for Secondhand Roadshow. Thank you!