Apartment tour: 1BR Harlem

This Dixie transplant's spacious apartment takes more cues from South Africa than from the Deep South.

  • A $125 Housing Works find, this sofa was filthy when she bought it---but the...

  • A Berber wedding quilt found in Morocco gave new life to a languishing lounger

  • The dining table was fashioned from a slab of flooring found in an old house in...

  • "I have a small problem with antlers," Clendening confesses. "I have to stop...

  • Flea-market finds

  • Clendening first spotted a similar beaded chair while visiting her mother in...

  • Clendening's inspiration for this wall comes from a similar one at Soho's De...

  • Moroccan linens and pillows set the tone for the bedroom

  • Clendening poses for the camera

A $125 Housing Works find, this sofa was filthy when she bought it---but the...

Photographs by Imogen Brown

It's a typical New York story: Girl moves to Manhattan; girl goes hunting for an apartment; girl gets scammed by the first shady "broker" she contacts. But this particular story has an especially happy ending. The con, a stolen listing for an apartment that wasn't actually available, led Nicki Clendening to an 800-square-foot one-bedroom (plus office) in the same building, where she's lived for the last eight years—paying a rent so low she's definitely having the last laugh.

Clendening has experience in public relations, but it's her current pursuit—a full-service design consulting agency, Scout (scoutdesignsnyc.com)—that plays to her natural strengths: the ability to spot diamonds in the rough, to reimagine infinite incarnations of a space and to sweet-talk flea market vendors into giving her great deals. (She is a Southern girl, after all.)

In her own home, however, the only evidence of her rural South Carolina upbringing is an extensive collection of glassware, proof of her somewhat traditional passion for impromptu entertaining. "I have enough glasses to serve 100 people—if I could fit them all in here," she says. The rest of the apartment's distinctive decor speaks more to her extensive travels throughout Europe and Africa, and the "collecting gene" she inherited from her globe-trotting grandmother. With a sister stationed near Cadiz, Spain, and a mother who splits her time among England, France and South Africa, Clendening has plenty of excuses to use her passport—and lug home exquisite souvenirs, like the Moroccan wooden tea tray on her sideboard that supports a cluster of antlers—another of Clendening's obsessions—and the Berber wedding quilt draped over her chaise. "Textiles are some of the easiest things to bring home from a trip, and they're a simple way to change the look of your living space in no time at all," she says. To make it easier to bring home larger items, like her intricate beaded chairs and fiery-red Cameroon feather headdresses, Clendening uses her travels as scouting missions rather than shopping trips: While abroad she finds what she likes and then sources the product back in the U.S. from art dealers at area flea markets. To keep her collections from crossing the line from bazaar-chic to just bizarre, Clendening grounds her space with muted wall colors, a simple white sofa, and elegant white drapes hung near the ceiling to emphasize her living room's large windows (with views of Central Park) and grand 12-foot ceilings.

As well-appointed as her current setup is, it's unlikely to stay the same for long. "When I was growing up, my mother changed our furniture every season—nothing was ever static," Clendening explains. "Because I am constantly acquiring new things and changing my living space, I'm generally not terribly sentimental about my furniture. And since nothing I buy is expensive, I don't feel bad about moving on and redecorating often." Some of the only items she keeps in constant rotation or in storage (rather than giving away to friends or reselling once they've had their run) are a large copper bowl filled with seashells her grandmother amassed throughout her life, and her own accumulation of artwork. "Most people put something in its place and there it stays. That just bores the hell out of me."

Why Harlem?

The neighborhood may have been rocked on a real-estate-value roller coaster (everything has been going up, up, up) in recent years, but for Clendening, Harlem's enduring appeal is the people who've been there all along. "Without a doubt, they make it a very interesting and dynamic place to live," she says. "Plus, you can't beat being right around the corner from the park."

Favorite restaurants

Zoma 2084 Frederick Douglass Blvd (Eighth Ave) at W 113th St (212-662-0620, zomanyc.com) "Whenever I have company up and don't cook, I take people here; it's a really great Ethiopian restaurant that always surprises people with how delicious and different it is."

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que 646 W 131st St at Twelfth Ave (212-694-1777, dinosaurbarbque.com) "As a Southerner, I love good BBQ, and this is about as close to good BBQ as you get in the city."

V&T Pizzeria 1024 Amsterdam Ave between 110th and 111th Sts (212-663-1708) "Old, curmudgeonly waiters serve really great pizza. I've literally eaten here hundreds of times since moving to Harlem."

Favorite shops

Harlem Vintage 2235 Frederick Douglass Blvd (Eighth Ave) at 121st St (212-866-WINE) "This lovely little wineshop has a great selection and a knowledgeable staff who always help me pick wine to pair with whatever I am cooking."

MODSquad Cycles 2119 Frederick Douglass Blvd (Eighth Ave) between 114th and 115th Sts (212-865-5050, modsquadcycles.com) "This is where I take my vintage German bicycle to have it tuned up and repaired. The owner is very helpful and very friendly."

Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market 52 W 116th St between Fifth Ave and Lenox Ave (212-987-8131) "I never leave without buying something!"

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