If you love handmade goods, Dayna Isom Johnson may have your dream career. At Etsy headquarters, just steps from the Manhattan Bridge, she researches the latest design trends and mentors virtual shop owners on how to cash in. She’ll also judge eight crafty competitors on the upcoming NBC show Making It, co-starring Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, and Simon Doonan. (The show premieres July 31.)
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I visited Isom Johnson’s two-bedroom home in the Crown Heights district in Brooklyn, which she shares with her husband, actor Ryan Johnson, and their blind Lhasa apso, Paco. The trio occupies the first floor of a limestone row house that’s as simple and unassuming as the steel-colored leggings the hostess slipped on for our chat.
The apartment’s interior is a different matter. Since relocating here from Harlem in late 2017, Isom Johnson has created a bohemian-meets-modern haven that’s not only pretty, but also peppered with personal stories and strategies for inspired living that you’ll want to steal. Here are five takeaways from my tour.
1. Tell tales with decor.
Enter the home of many young women these days, and one dull story unfolds: She shopped at Ikea. By contrast, Isom Johnson fills her space with meaningful objects—often handmade, of course—that spark lively conversations with guests.
“These are very special to me,” she says of the Jonathan Adler metallic coasters that were a gift from Simon Doonan, a creative ambassador for Barneys New York and her fellow reality show judge. In her best British accent, she playfully recalls his presentation: “Darling, I think these are perfect for you.”
2. Celebrate your roots.
Some non-native New Yorkers scrub their apartments of any trace of life before the Big Apple. Not Isom Johnson: She grew up in Louisa County, Virginia, “making mud pies and dandelion necklaces,” as she puts it. Those rural roots shine through scores of family photos, framed artwork painted by her 10-year-old nephew, and other decorative mementos.
“These are original recipes written by my great aunt,” she says, pausing near framed instructions for corn muffins and other Southern fare in the galley kitchen. “I love to have that close.” She adds later, “My family foundation and the values they taught me remain intact, and are what make me who I am today.”
3. Live with plants.
Easy care plants like African ZZ and spiky aloe bask in the sunlight streaming through the living room’s bay window. Air plants in wall-mounted ceramic vases form a grid of green in the hallway. Isom Johnson appreciates the pops of color, and she says indoor gardening is a kind of therapy. “After a long day at work, plants absolutely help to melt my stress away, keep me connected to nature, and put a smile on my face.”
4. Know your crystals.
“Ryan and I are super spiritual, so we always like to have the right crystals around in the right room,” Isom Johnson says. Amethyst sparkles on the coffee table because it’s beautiful, sure, but also because it’s “good for conversation starting and flow,” she explains. “We host a lot of parties, so we want to make sure that if we’re in here, the conversation is flowing. It’s good energy; it’s good vibes.”
5. Honor your heroes.
Isom Johnson tucks reminders of her personal icon, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, into nearly every nook—a sepia-toned portrait in the dining room, a quote etched into a small bench in the living room.
“I love to have a little piece of Frida everywhere I go, because she is such a great [source of] strength to me,” she says. “In my eyes, she represents perseverance, confidence, and she was unapologetic. All of these traits are things I hope to embody and channel within my own life.”
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