Eboni K. Williams and Her ‘Harlem Jewel Box’
When Eboni K. Williams moved to New York from Los Angeles in 2014, to take a job as a correspondent at CBS News, she knew exactly where she was going to live.
“No disrespect to any other borough or any other part of the city, but being a Black woman from the South, it had to be Harlem U.S.A.,” said Ms. Williams, 39, a native of Charlotte, N.C. “It was important for me to walk out my door every day and feel the spirit and energy of the ancestors who lived there — James Baldwin and Malcolm X and Lorraine Hansberry and Josephine Baker.”
Ms. Williams, a lawyer, writer and broadcaster (Fox News, WABC Radio and REVOLT and GRIO cable networks), who is probably best known as the first Black cast member of “The Real Housewives of New York City,” landed at Riverton Square, a large rental development near the F.D.R. Drive, between 135th and 138th Streets.
“Looking at it, you would think it was a housing project, but it has a real legacy. Baldwin lived there, and so did David Dinkins,” said Ms. Williams, referring to the former mayor of New York. “If it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me.”
But life is complicated, and love sometimes requires a change of address. From 2019 to 2021, Ms. Williams, the author of the recently published “Bet on Black: The Good News About Being Black in America Today” and the host of the podcast “Holding Court with Eboni K. Williams,” found herself in TriBeCa, in a three-bedroom sublet at the Four Seasons Private Residences, with her fiancé, a financier. They have since ended their relationship.
Eboni K. Williams, an author, lawyer and TV, radio and podcast host, lives in a one-bedroom condo in Harlem with her tricolor Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Carey James.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Eboni K. Williams, 39
Occupation: Lawyer, journalist, author
Harlem on my mind: “It meant something to me, as a Black woman, to land in a neighborhood that has meant so much to Black people.”
“I’m glad I had that experience,” Ms. Williams said. “Because as gorgeous as the unit was, when I went to buy a place coming out of the lease, I had learned what was really important to me.”
For starters, that meant an apartment that was a little more down-to-earth, literally. “We were on the 67th floor, which was not my jam,” she said. “I have a fear of heights.”
An open kitchen was also a must. “That was a $7 million apartment, and it had a galley kitchen,” she said. “I love to cook, so I hated the galley kitchen.”
And also: Who needs a dining table? “I never used it,” she said. “I ate in front of the TV.”
But having three bedrooms was nice. It allowed for a dedicated office, and she realized she “needed a separate work space.”
And she will not soon forget the abundance of storage space at the Four Seasons. “That place introduced me to California Closets,” Ms. Williams said, referring to the company that creates custom organizing systems. “I had them do every closet in my new apartment.”
About that new apartment: Ms. Williams went into contract two and a half years ago, based on the model unit, in a building under construction in central Harlem — one bedroom, floor-to-ceiling windows, nine-foot ceilings, high-end finishes — and moved in last June after many delays, with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Carey James (named for her grandfather).
“It was the only place I looked at. I’m very decisive in that way,” she said.
“I’m a girl from the South, and I’m a pageant queen, and the finishes were very important to me,” Ms. Williams continued. “It was important for me to have Carrara marble countertops. It was important for me to have the beautiful white-oak herringbone floors throughout. I’m allergic to carpet. Not really, but you know what I mean.”
Ms. Williams’s brief to her interior designer, Ty Larkins, was simple and to the point: “Imagine if Josephine Baker lived in Harlem today. That’s what I want this apartment to look like. I want it to be a Harlem jewel box.”
In something of a nod to Ms. Baker’s adopted city, Paris, a 19th-century French mirror leans against the wall in the living room. A French desk of the same vintage anchors the work space. Baccarat candlesticks catch the light on the coffee table.
Ms. Baker sometimes performed in head-to-toe pink. For her part, Ms. Williams used to be “pink, pink, pink, pink, like a 12-year-old lives here,” she said. But she has learned moderation. True, the two velvet accent chairs in front of the tall windows in the living room are dusty rose, the side chair has pink-and-gray stripes, and the grasscloth on the walls is a very pale blush, “but there are also some masculine elements,” she said, pointing to the oversized chocolate-brown tufted sofa.
If you want to get invited back, don’t touch the earth-toned Hermès blanket that’s neatly folded over an arm of the sofa. “It’s just for show,” she said.
Although Ms. Williams chose her apartment quickly and surely — and although her determination to plant roots in Harlem was unswerving — it was an emotionally complicated business.
“I was going to buy a million-dollar condo somewhere in New York,” she said. “But because people are paying that and more in my building, it’s displacing many of those who have called Harlem home for years. That’s the truth. It’s like any privilege — what do I do with that privilege? To me, it’s about preserving the culture that came before me, so it still lives beyond me. The moment you walk through the door, there is this explosion of Black-centeredness and Black celebration.”
Busts of the journalist Ida B. Wells and the abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass are on display in the cozy alcove Ms. Williams uses as her office. The bathroom walls are papered with designer Sheila Bridge’s pattern Harlem Toile de Jouy, which trades France’s classic pastoral motifs for those reflecting an African-American heritage.
On one wall of the living room is a print depicting the stowage of a ship carrying enslaved Africans. Almost directly opposite is a painting by the Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai featuring a Black woman in front of a line of microphones. “This is about the amplification of the struggle and liberation,” Ms. Williams said.
“This place,” she added, “is dripping with Black identity. That’s me. Literally. It’s my name: Eboni.”
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