A Designer Couple Talks Small-Space Living In The Time Of Covid
The Third Crown founders invite us into their 800-square-foot Brooklyn apartment.
Kristin and Kofi Essel never set out to design dainty pieces. In fact, "fine jewelry" isn't a term the married couple and designers subscribe to.
"With my jewelry experience, I made Kofi a rosary for Christmas one year and he kept getting compliments from different people, offering to buy it off him," recalls Kristin. "He came home one day and asked what I thought about us actually starting our own jewelry line together. So we did some research and found that the industry was really lacking bolder, unique, and gender-neutral pieces — in contrast to the traditional fine jewelry that occupies the majority of the market."
"Our brand name derived from us deciding to join forces to create a third entity — Third Crown. Together, we fused our love of geometric shapes with the details found in our architectural surroundings to create our very own collection of unisex jewelry."
Fast forward seven years, several New York apartments, and a four-year-old later, and Third Crown — the statement-making jewelry line favored by the likes of Beyoncé, Solange, and Cardi B — has been praised for remaining steadfast in its vision, uncompromising in its design, and touted as one to watch among a rising tide of prolific Black-owned businesses and lifestyle brands.
Yet, it's here at home, in their newly outfitted 800-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn, New York, that the Essels, their son Gareth, and beloved family dog spend the majority of their time. Living, learning, creating, and working together under the confines of Covid life. While 2020 has presented an entirely new set of challenges for many small brands and designers, the Essels refuse to let the year's uncertainty hinder their growing momentum.
"We’ve actually managed to focus more on our business during Covid," explains Kofi, who grew up between London and Ghana, where he attended art school before relocating to New York City. "The difficulty mostly stems from working from home, together, while trying to schedule work calls, Zoom meetings, and juggling tons of emails. We do all of this while simultaneously attending our son’s Pre-K zoom class, roughly three times a day."
The Essel's space is small — tiny, even — but the couple haven't let square-footage stifle their shared sense of style. Narrow hallways and living room walls boast vintage prints from around the world, among the standouts is a seated portrait of Kofi's own mother, poised in a patterned sundress, her gaze just out of frame.
"Our home style has definitely evolved over the years," admits Kristin. "Our approach to decor consists of a lot of photos and memorabilia, most of which we’ve acquired during our travels to Ghana, Mexico, Jamaica, and Australia. We have gradually become more and more confident in finding the pieces that we like, pieces that tie back to our own African and Caribbean heritage."
Throughout, there's a strong sense that the couple's own design approach — from the weighted gold cuffs to the more intricate layering pieces — hark back to the fundamentals of traditional dress, designs that feel equal parts trend-driven and ceremonial. While assorted creations from the Arc, Marcy, Hedron, and Prizm collections all speak to the designers' multi-faceted interpretation of style.
"Our day begins with our son waking us up every morning, we'll have tea and breakfast together and then our workday starts," begins Kristin, when quizzed about the couple's ongoing Covid routine. "Besides our son’s classes, we divide and conquer emails throughout the day. I usually take care of all sample requests for press as well as our social posting schedule. Kofi typically handles the line sheets and retail operations, as well as newsletters and online orders. I handle all of the product development — because that’s my area of expertise. I communicate with our factory about all development samples, final production, and restocking. When we’re designing a new collection, after we’ve gathered inspiration, we'll bounce ideas off one another and gradually come to a focused, collaborative vision. Lunch, grocery shopping, naps, and laundry are sprinkled in there, somewhere in between."
In the main bedroom, gilded Third Crown creations litter the couple's IKEA dresser, dripping over small jewelry trays and photo frames. Outside, minimal IKEA furniture decorates an open-air patio while the sleepy city quietly buzzes below.
"We love the terrace because we’ve never had our own outdoor area in the city," admits Kofi, of his favorite space."It's refreshing to watch the sunrise and sunset while sitting on the couch. Over the summer, we would barbecue often and we even bought an inflatable pool for our son."
"I would definitely miss this terrace," adds Kristin. "Having our own large outdoor space in New York City is a privilege. Especially during Covid times, when we want to be outside but don’t necessarily want to be around a whole bunch of people. We moved in to this apartment at the start of the global pandemic, so that was definitely challenging. I hated this space at first because it took us a while to furnish and to put things in order — particularly since a lot of my go-to furniture stores were closed and there were major delivery delays with all online shopping. It took around six weeks for the terrace furniture to arrive, but now that we’ve settled in, I absolutely love it here."
While living and working together in such close quarters is no easy feat, the Essels somehow manage to make it all look fluid and effortless.
"For us, it’s all about the accessorizing," notes Kofi. "We like to mix up our pieces and swap them out. Just recently, Kristin picked up my dog tag necklace and layered it with hers. I like wearing all of the studs in our collections and I'll also wear some of the chokers, too. The idea is that if it fits, try it out. The final finish might surprise you — those little changes in accessorizing can make a big impact."