21 questions for design gallery owner Jean Lin

Photo illustration: braked; Photo: Christie Blickley

new York‘s 21 Questions is back with creative New Yorkers in mind. Jean Lin is the founder of colonya collaborative design gallery and Interiors strategy company in Tribeca. Lin and her team have worked with designers and developers such as Worrell Yeung, De Muro Dasand Douglas Elliman in interior design and styling projects.

Surname: Jean Lin
Age: 40
Area: Woodside, Queens
Profession: design entrepreneur

What’s hanging above your couch?
A large round mirror from Blu Dot with an oxblood frame. This makes the room look bigger and more luxurious, and the round shape looks less conspicuous.

What was your first job in New York?
My first paying job was for J.Lo’s fashion brand. I came straight out of Parsons and only lasted a few months. All those clichés you hear about fashion assistants are based on reality. Jennifer Lopez has always been professional and downright nice, but the company culture was kind of unfortunate. We once worked well past midnight to enchant these nude skullcaps on styrofoam mannequin heads with Swarovski crystals. Another time I was asked to dye a white cashmere sweater red. I was given a small bottle of dye and a bin liner and led to a sink. It turned out bad. Dying fabric requires heat that would have ruined the cashmere. This job taught me that you can work very, very, very hard and not get rewarded for it. And indeed, your success at work doesn’t always correlate to how good you are at something.

What color are you always attracted to?
My whole apartment is painted mauve – walls, moldings, doors, ceiling. The color is masculine and feminine at the same time.

What art or artifact are you most surprised by?
I had a baby in January and I have his umbilical stump in a glass terrarium that I bought 100 percent originally for a plant. When you cut the umbilical cord and it dries up, it’s like that caked thing on his stomach. It’s gross, and I didn’t think I would be the kind of person who would hold on to my baby’s umbilical cord. But when it fell, it felt like a momentous moment. And then I What do I do with this thing? Throw it away? That seems strange. It didn’t feel like trash and I had left this terrarium empty so I threw it in.

Which New Yorker would you like to hang out with?
Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. She represents my district. I would just talk to her about the city and shitty politics and complain about things. She is inspirational and I would definitely look for inspirational words to inspire some hope for the future of our country. She also seems like a normal person who happens to be in Congress so I want to ask about her dog and skin care routine.

What was the last thing you did with your hands?
During lockdown I started making a top out of vintage kimono fabrics I used to collect. I didn’t finish it and it’s still on my dress form.

Is there one thing that you have multiple versions of?
I’m the type of person who buys a really comfortable sneaker in multiple colors. I have Stella McCartney Ultraboosts from Adidas in white, yellow and orange-pink.

Which New York museum do you keep going to?
The Noguchi Museum is a complete retreat and hideaway from the city. Noguchi’s sculptures are so textured and layered that even if you see the same piece more than once, you’ll discover something new about it.

What do you always have next to your computer?
boxing I don’t really consider myself a collector, but I have a lot of them and people are giving them to me now. I have maybe 40 in total. They are decorative, functional little gems and I can store anything in them: stones, lipstick, loose change.

Where do you have the best view of the city?
Gantry Plaza State Park is a really nice place to slow down and relax. The park is a place where you can spread a blanket, have lunch, drink bubble tea and hang out with your dog or your baby or whoever and just enjoy the city.

What building or object would you like to redesign every time you see it?
There are a number of tall buildings in downtown Manhattan and on the Brooklyn waterfront that feel rampant. They are eyesores. They have “poor doors” and don’t go with everything else that’s going on in this neighborhood.

What would you change about your specialty?
While I love design, it’s not as comprehensive as I’d like. Design should be about diversity of thought and problem solving. It just makes sense that hearing more voices makes the design better. Unfortunately, going beyond the 100 or 200 people who typically contribute to the conversation is very new.

If you could live anywhere in New York City, where would it be?
I love where I live now but if money wasn’t an issue I would move to Tribeca. The N. Moore, Beach, and Franklin area feels like a small town. At the moment we have clients out there and I would take their apartment in a heartbeat! It has a roof, loft style top floor and downstairs bedrooms.

What would you hoard if production stopped?
beauty products. Growing up as an Asian girl, the products and tutorials in magazines never made sense for my face. So when I find something that works for me, I’m very loyal. I will be 70 and So outdated! I’ve been using the same Maybelline Great Lash waterproof mascara since I started wearing mascara. I like this Givenchy lipstick that looks black but falls off like a berry color. I use Niod’s Photography Fluid every day.

What do you do to break out of a creative rut?
Improve my self-care: I will exercise longer, stay in a steam room longer, get a massage. I let myself relax physically so that I can release creative blocks.

Where was your first apartment in NYC and what was the rent?
It was located at 96th Street and Third Avenue in Normandie Court, which we knew as “Dormandy Court” because it was cheap and big. I lived with my then-boyfriend and a roommate in a one-bedroom, and the rent was $1,400 divided between three people.

Where in town do you go alone?
I take a walk to the piers on the Hudson River. You’re very close to my gallery, so it’s a convenient haven.

What was the worst career advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t want to throw my dad under the bus because he was my most supportive person in the world. But out of love and concern, my parents told me to study economics and finance and get a job with health insurance and a good salary. I think it’s good advice for a lot of people, but it never really clicked for me.

What have you given someone that you wish you could get back?
I don’t give things away unless I really know I’m ready to let them go. I never wanted anything back.

What is your favorite New York restaurant and what is your regular order?
There is a restaurant in Flushing called Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao. It’s known for soup dumplings, but in the mornings there’s fan tuan, a fried stick of dough with mustard and pork spongy, wrapped in sticky rice. I ordered it every weekend when I was pregnant. Some days I got two in case I wanted some later.

What meaningful sentence would you like in your obituary headline?
“Bold and caring.”

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