Mahen and Mariama
New York

Mahen Bonetti came to NYC as a teenager in the 1970s. 45 years later, she still lives in the same home that showcases the richness of her life and NYC’s cultural heyday.

The two-story apartment Mahen Bonetti has called home since 1978 is a museum of memories. Located on the third floor of a formerly industrial building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, the space was one of the first to become residential in the ‘70s when the surrounding streets were jam- packed with printing factories. Back then, the area was dangerous after dark, but Mahen and her husband Luca took the risk, started their family there and never looked back.

Today, almost 50 years later, their home hasn’t changed much. They preserved the original oak floors, the quirky rippled ceiling that was built to withstand the immense weight of printing machines and even the old IKEA kitchen, which they had installed in the 1980s. Every inch is overflowing with books, photographs, textiles, artworks, and objects that have meaning. The space is a collage of meaningful moments.

“For me, the notion of home can be refashioned wherever you are because you plant roots,” Mahen explains.

“This is my second home because I created my world here. And even though this is now a very sought-after address, I would never give this place up because it’s priceless. Our DNA is stamped into the walls. We have built every inch, every corner.”

Mahen arrived in New York City with her parents in the early ‘70s, as political exiles from Sierra Leone. Her coming of age took place in parallel with the social and political awakenings of the time. She went on to join the ranks of the city’s cultural pioneers as the founder of the African Film Festival. Her husband Luca was a renowned photographer and art restorer.

Together, they created a home that was open to the world, inviting strangers, friends, employees and colleagues in to share their space. A primarily analogue home, Mahen is currently restoring precious archives of film on VHS, floppy discs, and betas. It contains a door-length chalkboard covered in hundreds of hand-scrawled phone numbers, each belonging to a person from their past.

“We had an open-door policy here,” Mahen says. “We threw the most amazing parties, and everybody was welcome.”

“We still get calls from people who kept our number for decades asking if we’ll be hosting our New Year’s bash again! Some people would come and stay three days because they were having such a good time here,” says Mahen. “It was the kind of home where everybody felt at home, even strangers.

Mariama keeps her childhood bedroom in the house, even though she works in Los Angeles as a commercial producer. She says that despite a blossoming career, she has spent the majority of her time in New York in the place she will always call home.

“People say that my family always understood each other, even without expressing words,” Mahen says. “And that’s because we built this home together, so we knew every corner, every inch. It’s all about comfort, and that comes from familiarity. Our home is like having a pair of worn pants that just slip right on and fit perfectly, like a second skin.”

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