For Sincerely, Tommy founder Kai Avent-deLeon, the energy in a space has to be pure and compelling. When she and her partner began looking for a property in upstate New York last year, the couple deliberately sought out spaces that evoked a sense of serenity and grounding. Kai has lived in Brooklyn her entire adult life, but found herself feeling trapped during the pandemic lockdowns in early 2020 and seeking a respite in nature.
“COVID-19 really magnified things,” she explains over the phone. “I have a three-year-old son [and], suddenly, I couldn’t leave the house comfortably or take him to the park. A friend of mine has a house upstate and we were able to utilize it a lot during the lockdowns. It was such a lifesaver and really inspired me. I thought, ‘Oh, I want something like this.’”
Kai Avent-deLeon, founder of Sincerely, Tommy, sees land ownership as a key to building generational wealth.
Kai added a cute airstream on the property for friends and family to utilize. Photo: Kai Avent-deLeon
While touring properties in Sullivan County with a real estate agent last June, Kai couldn’t help but notice that the move-in ready homes lacked the vibe she was looking for. But then she found one listing, stretched over 2.5 acres, deep in the middle of the forest, that drew her in immediately.
“It was really beautiful and lush. I liked the greenery more than anything,” Kai recalls. “There’s a river in front of the house, and just being able to hear the river is incredible. There are so many butterflies, so many trees, and very plush grass. There are also some apple trees on the property, which is really cool, and some blueberries. It felt like its own little private kingdom.”
BEFORE: Although it required more work than expected, the renovation took five months to complete. Photo: Kai Avent-deLeon
AFTER: Red clay bowls from Casa Ahorita by Su Wu line the kitchen shelves.
The property also houses a unique structure: a 720-square-foot, two-bedroom mobile home from the 1960s. The previous owner had used it as a weekend hunting trailer, but it hadn’t been given much attention or care over the years. Rather than tear it down or move it, Kai decided to renovate it and add to the existing structure.
Taking full control of her destiny, Kai put in an offer the same day, but promptly hit an obstacle–she was unable to get approved for a mortgage. “It was actually a really disheartening process,” she says. “I’d never applied for a mortgage before, and almost every mortgage broker I spoke to was either extremely unhelpful, or made me feel that this wasn’t an accessible thing. I felt really defeated at times, because you have to get all this paperwork together and you get your hopes up, only to be told ‘OK, you didn’t get approved because of this and that.’” In the end, Kai took a leap of faith and completed the purchase in cash, using her savings.
BEFORE: Kai loves the woodburning stove, one of the things that she kept from the original home. Photo: Kai Avent-deLeon
AFTER: A brown sofa from Nest, an upstate New York furniture store owned by Anna Bern, placed beside the wood burning stove and a pair of stools.
Upon digging into the mobile home and pulling things out, Kai’s contractors assessed that the renovation was going to require more work than expected. Because the home didn’t have a real foundation, it needed to be secured with concrete footing and interior pillars. (Mold was also discovered in the original insulation.) So, all of the paneling and carpeting was removed, and one of the bedrooms was taken out in order to open up the space. “Ultimately, it really ended up being like building a house from scratch,” Kai adds. “Almost everything was taken out except for the original woodburning stove, which I love! I think it’s super charming.” The renovation process took five months from start to finish. The contractors began on the same day the couple closed on the property last September and completed work in February this year.
The extension added 700 square feet, including an extra bedroom, making the entire home just over 1,400 square feet. Other features include self-leveling cement on the floors, exposed wood beams, and Andersen windows, which lend a light, airy feel to the space. But Kai’s favorite features are the steps in each room. “The way to get from the mobile home into the extension are these concrete steps that just kind of flow into the extension’s concrete flooring, and it just looks very minimal and clean,” she explains. “It also reminds me of the adobe homes in Mexico and New Mexico, which I love. Although I’m not in a desert environment, I definitely wanted a little bit of that aspect in the house. The concrete floor is where I was able to sort of bring that in.”
BEFORE: Instead of tearing the mobile home down, Kai decided to renovate and add to the existing structure. Photo: Kai Avent-deLeon
AFTER: Each bedroom features a colorful textured quilt made by Katrina Sans.
As for the design elements, Kai kept it minimal and cozy, and chose to be intentional about purchasing pieces from local designers and women-owned businesses. She also incorporated items from her travels, including various wooden bowls from Kenya and Ghana, and pottery from Mexico and the Dominican Republic. In selecting pieces from places that she has a strong connection to, Kai added depth and warmth to the space, infusing each corner of the home with meaning and value.
AFTER: Kai kept the design minimal and cozy, being intentional about choosing pieces with personal meaning.
Ultimately, Kai views land ownership as a key to creating generational wealth, and a path toward Black liberation. Throughout this entire process, she was surprised by how many people reached out to share their fears and hesitance about plunging into land ownership. “I really encourage Black people to do it. I think it’s important that we take up space,” she concludes. “It connects us back to our roots, gives us more sovereignty, and allows us to feel more independent. And, if you can’t afford to do it on your own, gather a group of friends or family and purchase together.”
Kai plans to eventually equip the property to host small retreats, meditation sessions, yoga classes, and other events, and list an Airstream, as well as the soon-to-be-renovated shed, on Airbnb. But, for now, she’s booked and busy taking in the allure of nature from her home’s massive deck, envisioning all of the dinners, discussions, and kinship that will unfold as she holds space for loved ones in the middle of her lush kingdom.
AFTER: Kai incorporated a bit of desert decor through the concrete steps and flooring. Exposed wood beams are featured throughout the space.
"It just looks very clean," Kai says about the flow of the home.