Artist Spotlight: Old Things Become New & the Art of Storytelling
Updated: Apr 1, 2022
Within the last year or so, I have been more conscious of where I spend my money. Which brands do I support? Is there a way to get what I need from small businesses instead of large chain stores? Of course, I still go to the big-box retailers (you may never get me to give up Target).
Though being a conscious consumer is important, I must admit that habit was a byproduct of something I was prioritizing much more - looking for and writing about local Chicago artists. In my quest for creators in this big city of ours, I came across a brand called Amo Domus. Amo Domus is a vintage homeware online shop founded by Kadeeja Best. Kadeeja’s husband and their cat named Bear are also part of the fun. Interestingly, both are musicians (Kadeeja and Boyan, not Bear, of course). Maybe it’s my nine years of middle school/high-school flute lessons talking, but when I heard about these two, I was truly inspired. I don’t think I know anyone else who is a professional musician, let alone one who runs a vintage business. Can anyone spell “multifaceted”?
Kadeeja sure hopes you can. I was able to interview Kadeeja and ask her if there’s anything about being an artist that people misunderstand. Her answer? The fact that we are all multi-dimensional. We are not defined by their day jobs or main source of income. People are allowed to have many interests and passions as she says, “I think it’s often misunderstood that being an artist or a musician means you can only be that. We are multifaceted people with interests that reach beyond our art form. We can be more than just a musician!”
Maybe it’s because we expect musicians to be so devoted to their craft that we fail to see them in any other way. In my head, the combination of vintage curator and musician seemed so cool, but not necessarily complimentary. That is, I didn’t think they were until I heard Kadeeja explain how she discovered these interests: “When I was younger, I suddenly became very interested in learning about fashion history and had an obsession with the weird and wild world of the Victorian Era was [sic]. That spiraled into pursuing classical music and my love of all things vintage. In fact, my cello was made in 1965, making it vintage! I think when you spend the majority of your time playing music that is 50-300 years old, you develop a love and respect for things of the past.”
You might still be thinking… what does a career in professional classical music and vintage curation have anything to do with one another? Well, both fields require storytelling skills! Kadeeja loves learning about the objects she finds and figuring out how to stage them and make them shine. She even says that’s what sets Amo Domus apart from other vintage curators and sellers: “the storytelling of the items is really important to me. I think it’s what makes vintage magical, and I hope that comes across in my visual presentation.”
Telling stories is perhaps the oldest art form. Much like writing, it requires selecting the right method to convey an idea. Whether fictional or based on real-life events, it’s a communication style that requires creativity and vision. A tale as old as time (literally), storytelling has a place in every culture, every society, and people of any age can participate. It’s not hard to see that all other art forms require some ability to tell a story. Music tells its story using notes and sounds. Writers use words. Painters depict a story using colors and brushstrokes. Movie directors tell their story using a combination of things - a well-written script, music, and visually impactful cinematography. There are so many other types of art, but I can guarantee that they all attempt to tell a story. There’s so much out there.
When I asked Kadeeja if there was anything she wanted to say to any aspiring musicians, she replied, “It’s okay to do things outside of music! Don’t let that stop you from exploring. In fact, having more life experiences will make you a better musician and artist!” Although I am not a vintage curator or classical cellist like her, I can attest to what Kadeeja is saying. Discovering new passions, whether it be writing, drawing, speaking with artists, or becoming invested in sustainable fashion and consumer culture, developing those interests supports others. In my case, for example, connecting with local artists and business owners opened up my world and forced me to evaluate my shopping habits and values. This process not only changed the way I express myself through clothes but also provided me with new perspectives from which to write.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about how my desire to support small and local business owners brought me to find Amo Domus at a pop-up last summer. Since then, I followed them on Instagram and browsed all their drops. I never considered furnishing my home with vintage or second-hand pieces, but they’ve opened my eyes! Now I see it as the best way to cultivate a personal style. How does Amo Domus find such unique pieces? Kadeeja explains, “We source in every way you can think of! From hunting down rare pieces in a thrift store to scouring estate sales and online auctions. It is really a game of luck and speed when it comes to finding items, and sometimes you miss out on some dope stuff. It’s part of the game.”
Games are fun and all but they can also require a lot of work. I’m sure getting Amo Domus to where it is now was challenging. Kadeeja realizes the hard work involved but doesn’t shy away from it. She explains, “running a vintage shop is extremely demanding. You have to be sourcing all the time while also learning how to properly clean/restore and care for these aged pieces. It can be overwhelming sometimes, but totally worth it.”
From my point of view, I see Kadeeja’s hard work paying off. In January of this year, Amo Domus announced the launch of dendwell.com, the most curated vintage marketplace that Kadeeja had a hand in creating. In her own words, Kadeeja tells us about the venture: “Dendwell is the first Black Woman-owned, curated marketplace for vintage furniture and decor. Tenlie, our founder and CEO, is the genius behind the brand! The process of creating the Dendwell marketplace has been really exciting—and challenging!”
When I saw dendwell.com I was blown away. I could feel the power the Amo Domus brand now held, even though they just nearly turned one year old in early December 2021. It just goes to show that a lot can happen when you put your heart into something. Speaking as a woman of color, it was even more inspiring to see Kadeeja accomplish something this amazing.
I couldn’t help but realize the space in which Kadeeja is thriving in. To me, classical music and vintage curation feel very much like “white spaces”. What I mean by that is classical music and vintage curation seem like interests or professions often occupied and controlled by those considered to be White. Not to be cheesy, but the way Kadeeja stands confidently in the music world and Amo Domus succeeds in the vintage one, makes me smile. Behind the smile is happiness for Kadeeja (and family) and satisfaction that these traditionally White spaces are gaining a unique perspective. Instead of being told the same story by the same narrator, it’s good to hear it from a new voice. I asked Kadeeja what’s rewarding about being a Black woman navigating these two worlds and she shares my excitement: “Being part of bringing diversity to a space that has been historically gatekept and smashing those glass ceilings!”
Hearing stores like Kadeeja’s changes the way I see the world, how I interact with others, and how I think about my own story. Through speaking with Kadeeja and learning more about Amo Domus, I’ve heard another Chicago voice, one of many which enrich the story of our city. And it all started by walking up to the Amo Domus booth at a pop-up last summer.
Please check out and shop Amo Domus on dendwell.com. They curate such special pieces that are worthy of a loving home.
Thank you to Kadeeja Best for letting us interview her!
Edited by: Ariana Jenkins