At first glance at Minna Lee’s Instagram, you’d never assume her bright, plant-filled apartment is in the middle of Brooklyn — but somehow, she’s managed to pull off a totally serene space in the middle of one of the most bustling places in the country.
When it comes to health and wellness, Minna truly does it all. She runs a blog filled with endless food, lifestyle, and wellness inspiration, and even launched her own company, 24k, which sells a turmeric collagen blend for golden milk.
Minna told us how she manages a business out of her 650 sq. ft. apartment, what it’s like living in New York, and how she stays on track when it comes to fitness.
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was at a boutique PR agency. I had graduated back in 2012 into a pretty tough job market — but thankfully I had built up a decent resume, having interned from my freshman year of college at NYU. I was sending out a ton of cold emails in search of a job in the entertainment and media industries. I landed this one pretty quickly, but I ended up quite miserable and realizing that was not the environment for me, so I left in early 2013. I then started going to the gym and getting back to my old athletic roots (I was a competitive figure skater for 10 years), and got interested in getting certified as a personal trainer; mind you, this was before the fitness and wellness industry was “trendy” or the mecca it is now, so a lot of my friends and family thought I was out of my mind! But that was the start of the unfolding of my current career, so thankfully I didn’t really listen to anyone else!
You founded Live 24k, which is the most amazing turmeric collagen blend for golden milk. How did your career transition into this role and what have you learned since founding the company?
As many wellness products do, it started with a personal experience in my life. Back in 2014, my health kind of imploded. A few months after a hip surgery I had to have for an old injury, I suddenly was experiencing chronic and extreme exhaustion, painfully achy joints, weight fluctuations of 10 lb. within a week, and crazy hormonal acne. I was later diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease affecting my thyroid and hormones. The doctors I saw were really unhelpful with offering how to manage my painful symptoms other than thyroid medication, so I set off in search of holistic remedies. I discovered the amazing anti-inflammatory powers of turmeric and an ancient ayurvedic drink called golden milk. After turning my training clients onto it, one of my clients asked me if there was a drink mix so she wouldn’t have to make it herself. After researching what was on the market, I was really disappointed to see products made with inflammatory sugars, artificial sugars, or that were missing the crucial black pepper that turmeric needs to work in your body. So I decided to explore what selling my homemade blend would be like!
My career is now a constant juggling act between my training clients, my blogging and content creation work, and running a startup company. I like to call myself a Jill of all trades because I am my own accountant, lawyer, sales, marketing, and so on, all in one — I have learned that I am the type of person that most definitely thrives on being able to wear multiple hats. I think it’s important to identify what your working styles and skills are best suited for, and adjusting your career accordingly. Not everyone is suited to be an entrepreneur or freelancer, and not everyone is suited to work at a more traditional company; it’s all about finding the place where your skills and mind thrive most.
How do you manage operating your business out of your apartment? What are your tips for working from home?
I admit that this is a love-hate relationship. It’s one thing to be a freelancer working from home, but it’s another thing entirely to have a business operation running out of your apartment. With a startup, your life is already quite consumed with eating, drinking, and breathing your business 24/7, but it can be very challenging for your mental health when you physically can’t separate yourself from your work. I am so grateful that I was able to move into this 1-bedroom space, as now I can at least close my bedroom door to have some degree of separation! I recommend to never bring any work at all into the bedroom (or bed area, if you’re in a studio), to preserve that area as a bit of a mental “sanctuary” for sleep and relaxation only. My other tip for working from home would be to treat your schedule exactly as you would in an office — schedule allotted times in your calendar to work on different things, and have your routines. Let’s be real, I live in workout leggings most of the workdays because I’m running to/from training clients, but I definitely recommend not working in your pajamas, because that just leaves you in a different (aka less productive) state of mind.
Let’s talk about the space: how did you find it and what were your must-haves when looking at spaces? Also, is renting/finding a place in New York as competitive as we imagine?
I loved living in my former studio apartment and lived there for five years, but I was dying to have a separate bedroom space and a kitchen that was large enough to fit more than one person and have more countertop space than the size of my cutting board. When I first moved to my current apartment, I felt like a kid in Candyland in that kitchen — cooking meals at home is so enjoyable (and hey, my first dishwasher too!) now and not a stressful Jenga game like it used to be.
Yes, New York is definitely challenging but you just have to be persistent and realistic. I think a lot of people get upset about paying the prices we do, and here’s the thing: yes, it is absolutely expensive. But you’re not just paying for your apartment; you’re paying to live in one of the best (the best, in my personal opinion!) cities in the world with access to an unbelievable plethora of opportunity, entertainment, art, culture, and life that you just can’t find elsewhere. So of course there are going to be sacrifices of certain things like space and cost, but it’s worth it to people who choose to be here!
You decided to have two different themes for your apartment — your bedroom is inspired by Paris, and your living room is inspired by the Pacific Northwest (so cool!). What drew you to this inspiration?
I definitely didn’t go into designing my apartment with this concept in mind! All I knew was that I wanted my bedroom to be very clean, serene, and minimal, and that I wanted to experiment a bit more with my decor for my living room/kitchen. True to my personality, I have a hard time picking just one style, so I wanted to take advantage of having two separate rooms in my apartment for the first time and create two very different feelings in each space.
I have always been in love with the chic aesthetic of Parisian design that resonates throughout their fashion and interior styling, but when I went to Paris in spring of 2017, I was seeing more modernized evolutions of Parisian style while keeping their core themes: minimal, clean and often geometric lines, and no fear of pops of colors. So my bedroom was lots of black lines (with the bed and the clothing [or in my case, plant] rack), with crisp whites of the walls, marble nightstand, and linen sheets, then pops of gold and a softer blush with the velvet dusty rose rug, copper arch mirror, and blush mid-century planter.
For my living room, my first thought was just plants! I had started becoming a crazy plant lady because I loved how much life plants breathed into a space, not to mention a lot of their air-cleaning capabilities. Based on that, I wanted to incorporate some earthy, organic colors into the living space and make it feel very warm, welcoming, and rich with textures and patterns. I’ve been to the PNW four times now, and each time I always love how connected to nature everything seems to be there when it comes to their design. Based off that, I wanted to have lots of dark woods, warm colors (currently obsessed with all things mustard and yellow!), tons of greenery, and lots of variety when it came to textiles. The living space really came together exactly as I imagined it, thanks to my trying desperately to be patient and wait until I found pieces I absolutely loved, one at a time!
Were there any quirks in the apartment you had to design around? If so, tell us about them.
There is a giant structural pillar, smack in the middle of my kitchen/entryway. I initially thought it was going to be an eyesore, but thankfully the way the living space and kitchen is laid out, it doesn’t really impede the room. In my bedroom, there was only one way the bed could really fit, but that is pretty typical of a New York apartment and I really can’t complain.
Do you have a favorite spot in your home?
Right now, it’s really my couch from Article that was my ultimate dream couch. I knew I wanted to have a bolder couch, and the Sven sofa was THE exact shade of tan I knew would pull the PNW look of the living room together to make it a warm and cozy space to bring people I love together. I went my entire first year of living at this apartment without a couch, which made it hard for me to have a gathering of people over. But now that I have this roomy and ridiculously comfortable couch as kind of the centerpiece of the living room, everyone sinks in and finds it hard to ever leave my apartment because it’s all so cozy — which was really my goal!
How would you describe your decorating style? And what elements in the rooms help you achieve this look?
It’s difficult to describe my decorating style per se, because I think I like a lot of different looks! But across the board, I am very into clean, minimal, and really big on textures and geometric lines/patterns. I really don’t like busy or chaotic spaces with a million different colors and patterns, as I am really sensitive to my environment and find that I feel scattered when I’m in a busy space.
For my bedroom, I think the clothing rack that I turned into a hanging plant rack, combined with my copper arch mirror, help achieve that sleek and sophisticated Parisian vibe while still making it feel homey and not cold. For my living room, I think it’s the juxtaposition of the fun stylized pieces (the accents of my mudcloth pillows, my red vintage rug I found on Etsy, my wall art from Minted, basketweave + wooden planters, and of course, the plants themselves) and the smooth, classic furniture (my walnut wood + mirrored credenza, white mid-century dining table, the tan Sven sofa) really balance things out so that it feels cohesive, fun, yet still minimal.
Your home feels so bright and inviting. What advice would you give to someone trying to achieve the same thing?
Without a doubt, I am lucky that I have a good amount of windows to allow a lot of natural light in — but there are definitely many ways to keep a room feeling bright and welcoming! I’ve always been a fan of bright white walls, as they really open up a space. I also think that large floor mirrors strategically placed in a room can make a room feel much bigger. To breathe life into a room, nothing is better than plants, in my opinion. Something I think people can fall into when decorating is to go with what their favorite aesthetic or colors are for things like clothing or just visually — whereas I like to start with how I want a person to feel in that room, and then choose the palette to create that vibe.
How did you choose the wall art you have in your home?
By spending hours on Minted.com… All jokes aside, it really did take me a painfully long time to decide because wall art has some serious power to affect the feeling of a room! I knew I wanted sleek, matte black frames to have a strong but basic framing that didn’t detract from the artwork. Then, I knew I wanted a very simple gallery of 3-4 pieces — I ended up going with one large frame and two smaller ones that frame the sofa really well. I chose the “quotation marks” piece because I am a writer at heart and felt it was very fitting. Then the sketch of the nude woman sitting is very similar to a charcoal drawing I made back in high school that I loved, so I loved a reminder of that. Finally, the yellow leaves are because autumn is my absolute favorite season, and the colors of the photograph complemented the living room perfectly to complete that PNW vibe. And the thing I love about Minted is that they highlight local artists and do limited runs of each piece, so it allows people to get unique art at a more affordable price!
What’s your favorite part about living in Brooklyn? How does living in New York influence your living space?
I lived in Manhattan for nine years before moving over to Williamsburg last summer! I adore living in Brooklyn, because it feels like I have more of a quiet neighborhood than my old place that was above four very popular neighborhood bars; but it is also very convenient and there is so much to do and explore in my neighborhood! Everything from mainstream shops like Madewell to the smaller vintage shops that have been around for years, amazing coffeeshops, and lots of amazing restaurants.
Living in New York doesn’t feel like it affects my living space too much; I think the biggest takeaways I’ve had from it are my desire to simplify and live as chaos-free as possible. I’m running around so much and my life is hectic by nature of my work, so my home is truly my sweet haven that I get to retreat to at the end of a crazy New York day.
We get so much fitspo from your Instagram! How do you stay on track when it comes to wellness?
Aw, thank you! For me, I actually don’t like of thinking about health and wellness as staying on track or maintaining balance. I always say this, but I think balance is BS. I think a lot of us women tend to drive ourselves crazy, striving to uphold this “work-life” balance, whereas reality usually just isn’t that way. Sometimes it’s all about work and your personal life, and maybe that’s not the time you’re setting PRs in the gym or the leanest you’ll ever be; and other times, you’re getting a lot of fulfillment and self-growth from movement, and maybe that is more of a priority that social events like drinks with the girls or killing yourself at work. All of that is okay! It’s all about being able to ride the waves, rather than trying to control the tide. I find myself being able to maintain a much healthier body and mindset with this approach, personally.
What are your tips for staying healthy while being busy?
Respect the nature of the waves, set reasonable expectations, and make certain things non-negotiables. By respect the nature of the waves, I mean that if it’s a really high-stress time, don’t book HIIT classes and expect yourself to be a monster in the gym — pencil in meditation, make food at home to eat well, and prioritize sleep. In terms of expectations, don’t expect that you’re going to get it all right — you just set yourself up for feeling like you’ve failed, and more stress. Pick your priorities (mine are usually sleep, movement, and staying hydrated) and make them non-negotiable, aka hold to those things as if it’s a promise you’ve made to a friend.
What advice would you give your 22-year-old self?
You’re not married to a lot of decisions in life, so stop stressing so much about making the “right” decision. Your definition of what is “right” and also your desires will evolve so much, so it’s not worth getting caught up in that fork in the road. A lot of choices can be reversed and you are always able to alter course if you really need to!
Also, stop searching for so much advice — I know that seems ironic, because that is my advice, but seriously. No one holds the right answers for you, so do what you feel gives you the most peace and growth.
Minna Lee is The Everygirl…
Strength training, all the way! Kettlebell circuits are my jam.
Last item you splurged on?
Plane tickets to Paris
Favorite meal to meal-prep for the week?
Grain bowls with roasted veggies or curries! So healthy and customizable.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Brené Brown because she elevated my life with her work in a way I hope to lift others with mine.