Looking at the simple and timelessly elegant pieces at Brooklyn-based jewelry shop OTEM, you might expect the company’s founder to exude the same minimalism in her personal style.
However, one look at Isadora Tang’s colorful studio loft quite decidedly proves the opposite. The designer’s bright and airy condo—which used to be a factory building—is full of color, plants, artwork, and mementos collected from all over the world spanning years of travel. By contrast OTEM (save for the boldly political “Resist” collection, of which 15 percent of proceeds benefit Planned Parenthood) is modern and sleek.
Tang is aware of this dichotomy: “There’s definitely a part of me that loves minimalism and clean lines,” says Tang. “I originally conceived OTEM as something that’s classic and can be worn everyday but still feel special.”
She officially launched OTEM in mid-2017, the culmination of a lifelong passion for jewelry—both her parents were in the industry—and a desire to see change happen. “OTEM came out of me looking at [the industry] and feeling like modern fine jewelry hadn’t adapted to the needs or values of the modern woman. For example, we’re coming out with an engagement ring for men, which is something that doesn’t exist because even the idea of a woman proposing is kind of shocking to a lot of people,” explains Tang. “But in today’s society, men propose to men, women propose to men….the way that fine jewelry represents moments as strong symbols and tokens hasn’t really adapted.”
Changing the fine jewelry industry is no small task, so it goes without saying that Tang’s home (which includes a working “studio” area) needed to be calming and a place where she could escape. From the day she bought the loft, she set about making substantial changes: Building out a mezzanine to create a separate bedroom, sectioning off nooks for meditation and work, and finding items that would highlight Tang’s personality.
“I liked the open layout; it’s really intuitive,” says Tang of her light-filled space. “It somehow just came together really well, little pieces here and there. Because it’s an open space, it all blends seamlessly together.”
We spoke to the designer to learn about how she created this vibrant oasis.
What was your thought process like when decorating your home?
I really wanted it to feel like me. My mother and I share this funny trait where we don’t want anything that other people would like; it has to be really unique. It does have these huge windows so I started there and populated the windows with all these plants and eclectic things I had collected from all my travels, and that probably set the tone for the apartment right off the bat. That was the first thing I did. I wanted as many plants as I could fit in here, because I moved from a place where I had a bit of outdoor space.
Did you look anywhere for design inspo?
I was obsessively looking at a lot of different blogs. I definitely wanted color; I love a sleek modern home, but my personality is so much more colorful. So I looked to bring in elements of modernism that were still eclectic. Please don’t ever write the word “boho-chic," but there’s definitely a bit of a hippie California vibe! It’s warm and eclectic, with pops of colors and textures.
Despite those eclectic elements, the base of the home is actually pretty plain—white walls and cement floors. Why keep it so neutral instead of adding wallpaper or colorful paint?
Because this apartment gets such good natural light, and the light really bounces off the white. The apartment had original cement floors and I’m a big fan of cement so I just buffed and polished them. I did think about painting them white or black to add a bit of drama, but there’s actually a lot of pattern and color and pebbling within the cement, so I wanted to keep that a little bit raw. I like the industrial element.
From all the gorgeous artwork you have around your place, is there one piece that particularly stands out as memorable?
There are ones that are sentimental, like a framed photo of my mom from when she was younger. She is actually a secret influencer through all of [the decor] and I didn’t even realize it! When I moved in, she brought in fringe curtains that just happened to fit perfectly in my windows. It’s such a big piece of the apartment that makes the whole space so special. It’s interesting because she’s influenced me in so many ways with my design aesthetic and my wardrobe. So I also have a few pieces of art that she painted.
Then there are a lot of things around that my friends have done—a big colorful painting that a friend did, for example. And there’s a lot of random stuff that I’ve done too.
Can you speak a bit to how travel has influenced your design?
I’ve been traveling forever, again thanks to my mom! She wasn’t allowed to travel when she was younger so she enabled me to travel a lot, and that was a big part of my life.
Every time I go somewhere I want to bring something back that’s unique, so basically everything around the apartment is from [my travels]. Pillows from Mexico, a rug from India, a throw from Peru…it’s such a big part of my identity, and when I travel I find so much joy in hunting for those pieces and bringing them back to incorporate into my daily life. It brings the travel back with me so my apartment feels like home but so I can also feel like I’m on vacation sometimes.
What’s your favorite part of your home?
I have a lot of nooks: I basically started my business out of this apartment, and as you can imagine with starting a jewelry business there’s just lots of stuff and it was driving me crazy having packages all littered around. I built a little nook area to keep everything really organized. And I have a little meditation nook with a rocking chair, a painting my mom did, and a rug that I think is really peaceful.