Photography by Tommy Lei

Published on March 9, 2021

man drinking tea Pin It
Photography by Matt Misisco

Tommy Lei, the voice and designer behind MyBelonging, associates tea brewing and -drinking with morning time. It was a breakfast ritual for the creative and his family. “As we slurped our noodle soup, we got ready for school with a strong cup of oolong tea,” he recalls. “It was an essential, something to start the day with.” For as long as he can remember, Lei sipped his drink at the dining table, but when the pandemic hit, he decided to make his routine more meaningful by carving out a room dedicated to the practice. Luckily he had a space that would be perfect for it. 

When Lei and his partner, Braden, moved into their Craftsman-style Los Angeles home, the small nook off the dining room, right around the corner from the kitchen, was staged as a workspace. But once Lei realized the proposed setup wouldn’t work for him (it was too tight of a squeeze for any of his office furniture), he knew it would make for an ideal tea-slash-meditation lounge—a place where he could mentally reconnect with himself. Plus all the natural light coming in from the south-facing windows had a calming effect. Coffee nooks have nothing on this bonus zone. 

Commit to Calm With Painterly Wallpaper

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Wanting to preserve and work around the home’s original details, Lei decided to keep the wood paneling on the walls. “It really adds so much warmth and color to the room,” he says. To modernize the focal point, he covered the upper portions of the wall with a peel-and-stick mural treatment from Minted that’s fittingly named Lost in Time. The sweeping brushstrokes printed on the panels make up original artwork by Sarah Lund. “It felt so apt, because you’re kind of locked in meditation and your tea sessions while you’re in there,” says Lei. 

The designer hired a pro installer to do the job, but notes the treatment is forgiving, so if you do decide to DIY, it’s okay if you mess up. For some unexpected visual interest, he added a cutoff from a panel below the wood paneling in two spots. 

Balance Comfort and Soul

The most treasured piece in the space is the vintage wood screen clad with gilded gold paint in the corner—a family heirloom. The designer’s mom had the screen in his first childhood home in America, after the family emigrated from China. “I’m so happy she gave it to me, because it’s something I will continue to cherish forever,” says Lei. 

Completing the space: braided chairs from Miami-based furniture company Jaimeluis Organic; a Carrara marble–topped coffee table from CB2 that Lei scored for a fraction of the cost from a home stager years ago; and floor cushions from IKEA. Lately Lei has been sourcing his teaware from vendors on Etsy, but when he’s shopping local, he’ll go to a spot in Chinatown that’s a “tea store meets modern emporium” where you can snag delicate dishes and a variety of teas directly imported from China and Taiwan. 

Finally, Zen Out

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Once his cup is empty, Lei will meditate for a solid 10 minutes (Headspace and Bloom are a few of the podcasts and apps in his rotation). “That’s the bare minimum,” he says. “It’s really helped me during quarantine, when there’s been so much anxiety and uncertainty.” When he’s done, Braden—a music educator and composer—might pop into the space to detach and be alone, too. “We switch on and off,” says Lei. When they’re able to again, he looks forward to having friends come by for proper tasting sessions. Cheers to the room we never knew we needed!

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