TCQ&A: Jean Lin of Colony

Jean Lin first opened Colony on the south side of Canal a decade ago as a (fabulous) gallery-slash-cooperative that showcases up-and-coming designers of furniture, lighting, textiles and objects. And as of late April, she has her first storefront, a gorgeous, sunny, wedge of a space running along the very bottom of Varick just south of Franklin (the address is 196 West Broadway). Stop by and say hi.

The rules of the TCQ&A: Answer as many of the 50 questions as you like (but a minimum of 15, and you must answer #1–5).

1. Where do you live? Where are you from originally?
I live in Woodside, Queens – I own an house and I share it with my brother. He lives in the apartment upstairs and I live downstairs.
I am originally from Massachusetts, near Wooster, just like a normal, non-descript place. I went to U-Mass Amherst and moved to the city to study at Parsons in fashion. After I graduated I had two roommates on the Upper East Side and I thought, what neighborhood can I afford to live in? and I ended up in Astoria. Then I wanted to buy a place and I couldn’t afford Astoria, so I looked around in Queens and ended up in Woodside and I am glad I did.

So then how did Colony end up in Tribeca?
I had the idea for the business and I didn’t know anything about real estate and didn’t really know the neighborhoods other than my own personal experiences, but I knew I wanted to stay downtown because the design scene and the design world –- there’s a certain connotation to the vibe. I knew what I wanted to make, and I knew it was a Downtown business. I looked below 14th and the space on Canal was just right for me. Soho was such a design hub 11 years ago and Tribeca felt creative but refined. It just felt like the right place.

2. Married? Partnered?
I have a boyfriend, he’s an architect.

3. Kids? Pets?
I had a dog but he died three years ago – I had him for 15 years. His name was Bosco. He was a rescue.

I have a 2-year-old boy named Juno. He has his own little loft area in the gallery –- in the back. He commutes with me every day and we have a great nanny who takes him to Ya Ya Preschool and he spends a lot of time over at Cocoon on Greenwich. It would be most convenient if he could go to elementary school here. We sleep in Queens but we live in Tribeca. That’s the life of a small business owner.

5. How did Colony come to be?
It started when I was curating a charity show for ReclaimNYC after Hurricane Sandy as a sort-of passion project for me and my friends when the city was in the throes of recovering from the storm. It got everyone involved and doing something. The idea for the gallery grew from there.

Producing an independent show like that was largely about finding the real estate, and in Manhattan space is the equivalent of power or influence –- and we had very little of it. So finding a space to call our own was really exciting. It was a huge leap to put all our eggs in that basket. We opened our doors in 2014.

Colony is run in the spirit of a cooperative –- a traditional gallery will take significant commissions, and we don’t have that structure. We charge a monthly coop fee which is similar to rent, and then we take a small commission. We only work with independents –- small to medium sized studios that make their own work.

Where did the name come from?
It was meant to be like-minded people and I was thinking trailblazers in unchartered territory -– like a colony on Mars. Manhattan felt like Mars to me at the time.

What’s your favorite thing in the gallery right now?
That’s like trying to pick your favorite kid! I am very excited about the retail program that we have launched which is a curation of vintage accessories that you can just walk in and buy. Most things here are made to order and we sell mostly to trades, but we wanted people in the neighborhood to come in and get a wedding gift or something special that they can buy right off the street. It adds a layer of texture and nuance.

I love every piece and I love everyone we represent, but the retail is like my baby.

How do you source stuff?
On the coop side we represent the designers’ entire collection, so I have to feel really comfortable with their entire body of work, since I don’t sit here and tell them what they have to send. I like to work alongside the designers. I always have one eye out for that to see what’s new, what’s out there, who’s launching something in our design community.

We also have people submit all the time, and that’s always interesting. And we do have a residency program, where we take young design studios through an eight-month curriculum. They work part-time in the gallery while developing their line. It helps them transform their practice from a side hustle into an actual business. This latest cohort will be launched on June 13 and I am really really excited about that.

6. The best deal around: An egg wrap from the deli on the northeast corner of Canal and Sixth (Tribeca Finest). It’s not actually a good deal, I was shocked after the pandemic that it was now $9, but some delis, their egg wraps are very very skinny but this egg wrap is fat, and if you eat half of it for breakfast and half of it for lunch — that is if you can control yourself — that’s a good deal.

Tell the people of Tribeca that I want to find a deli closer Colony that has a fully stuffed egg wrap. I am scared –- I don’t want to pay $10 for something that has a half an egg in it.

7. For special occasions, I go to: Frenchette is definitely up there but it’s a little pricey for me, so it’s a special occasion thing. However before our opening party, I took my whole team out for a snack – we are always so busy and rushing around like chickens with our heads cut off and we are exhausted but we look pretty – so my innovation was to take an hour at 3pm and go for a snack. Frenchette has a shorter menu between 2:30 and 5 – it wasn’t inexpensive but I think I will do that as ritual before opening events.

7. Most-frequented restaurants: I do like Two Hands, and we get takeout from Bubby’s, and Gotan is right here and they have this thing called the Gotan breakfast (eggs over easy, Mediterranean salad, Labne cheese, zchoog, potatoes, pita bread). They serve breakfast all day, but they don’t serve that dish between noon and 2, so if its creeping up 11:30, I am rushing over there. We were into Belle Reve but they closed.

9. Best sandwich: The paninis at Grandaisy. I go for this one called Lo Spagnolo. I always think I am going to get something different but I always go for that one.

12. I usually order in from: Go Catering and I always order the chicken chili if its on the specials menu but not if the lobster roll is available, then I will go for that –- it’s a rare bird over there. On the regular menu there’s a mushroom panini thing I like.

You eat a lot!
Definitely. It’s a big part of my life. There’s a lot of conversation about food, a lot of thinking about food and a lot of eating food.

14. The last non-essential item I bought:
I am not buying clothes this year – 2024 – and I only buy clothes and food so since I am not buying clothes I really haven’t been buying anything. I try not to partake in fast fashion, but I realized if you don’t, you spend way more money. You actually have to stop participating for a while – it’s important to build in pauses. Clothes are very important to me, and I want to make sure I am buying the clothes that are right for me and not just let myself buy more stuff.

I thought it would be way harder than it has been – I actually feel empowered. It’s amazing how much time and energy goes into it. And it makes you appreciate what you have in your own life. I love it.

For someone who owns a store, isn’t that a tough policy?
People think about these purchases in our store for a really long time. This is like a dining table in your house – you’re going to make sure it’s right for you. It actually takes most customers six months to a year between the first spark of interest to the actual purchase.

15. When I walk into my apartment, the first thing I see that I bought around here is:
A piece that one of our designers made. I used to have an open shoe rack that started to drive me absolutely crazy. I asked one of our first residents to make me an entry way cabinet and now I throw all my shoes in there.

16. I’m so glad Cocoon is in the neighborhood, because without it I’d have to give up my business and become a full-time mom? I don’t know! Juno loves it so much and it gives me such a sense of peace because it makes him so happy. Everyone who works there is so lovely. They really have a little community over there.

17. How I stay fit: I work out at Equinox Printing House.

18. Where I get beautiful: I see Dr. Kim at Idriss off Bryant Park. I started seeing him because I had dark spots after I had my baby and they were bothering me and he told me what to do and I did it and now my skin has never looked better.

19. What’s the area’s best-kept secret? Colony! Us!

22. A recent case of sticker shock: The rent for the place I am sitting right now!

23. When my kid is older… I hope he will remember being here at work with me and being with all these creative people every single day.

26. Kids’ classes you’d recommend: I really do love Ya Ya. They have a singalong for young-young kids that is very reasonably priced and it’s all in Chinese and they are very open and welcoming.

30. I tend to take out-of-towners to: the piers in Hudson River Park.

31. I wish I lived in… I would LOVE to live in Tribeca. Are you kidding me? That’s the dream. We do interior design too, and we had a project on Franklin right around the corner and I love that spot. I love Harrison, N. Moore — close to the train but very quiet.

32. My very favorite spot: Colony.

34. If money were no object, I’d live in Tribeca.

40. If I could change one thing about the neighborhood: I think there are parts of it that can get a little unkempt – there’s trash everywhere. I think it’s because some of the storefronts are still coming back?

48. Best reason to go AboCa (aboveCanal): I mean, I don’t like it. I don’t do it if I don’t have to.

50. I wish you had asked me about: I think we got it!

196 West Broadway | Leonard and Franklin
Monday through Friday, noon to 6p
or by appointment

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