Kay Wang, The Things We Keep

If you only knew Kay Wang through her Instagram — and chances are you might, considering her 33,000 followers — you wouldn’t necessarily immediately know what she does for a living. She could easily be a baker, a stylist, a ceramicist, or a woodworker; in December alone, she posted pictures from her Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, apartment of the frangipane tart she’d baked, the cherry cutting boards she’d sanded and oiled, the canvas bags she’d dyed with onion skin, and the silk cord necklaces she’d strung with hand-carved brass pendants. (And you’d certainly never guess that she spent nine years before moving to Brooklyn as an online marketer in Los Angeles and Seattle.) What she is, very clearly, is a restless creative spirit; so much so that even though her main focus right now is as a jewelry designer who crafts under the moniker The Things We Keep, she has trouble pinning herself with a specific label.

“It’s not that I don’t consider myself a designer, but I think there’s a big difference between people who design and people who make,” Wang explains. “I do things from start to finish. I design and I also fabricate, and though jewelry’s specifically what I do, it’s not beadwork. It’s casting, it’s working with wax, it’s working with metal. It has traditionally not been considered an art. It’s traditionally been considered skilled labor, which adds another layer of complexity. So I guess the short version is I don’t have a particular label. It’s more that I find a lot of value in designing something — seeing it in my mind and being able, with my two hands and through a craft that I’ve honed, to make it into something tangible that I can feel and I can show you.”

No matter what it is she’s doing, though, it’s found her a good deal of success in the time since she switched gears three years ago — or at least enough success that she felt brave enough to make jewelry a full-time gig. Wang says she felt inspired by the small community of makers in Brooklyn who seemed to be in the same boat: “It’s incredibly liberating to find that people you think are doing really well still had day jobs that they didn’t let on before they made the leap. To know that you can do something and a number of years down the road, you can say this is not for me and move on to something else.”

We recently caught up with Wang in the live/work space she shares with her boyfriend, her dog, and her two cats, Sushi and Chops, inside a converted textile factory. Her apartment seems of a piece with her jewelry line — a small space that’s been carefully edited to let each item breathe and show off its quiet simplicity. Also: a space to chow down on flourless peanut butter cookies topped with sea salt, which Wang had baked the day before we arrived. Either way, it’s a nice place to spend the afternoon.