With a New Home, Colony Doubles Down on Its Mission

The design co-op gallery forgoes its longtime Manhattan loft for a Tribeca storefront that affords founder Jean Lin ample more room to foster her community.

Colony’s new gallery at 196 West Broadway

Before she launched Colony, the cooperative gallery that helps uplift and nurture independent American designers, Jean Lin was fueled by the prospect of finding beauty in tough spots to benefit her community. Shortly after Hurricane Sandy devastated New York, a vision of fallen trees languidly draped over cars and power lines sparked the idea for Reclaim NYC, an exhibit she co-founded that invited artists and makers to create work using salvaged storm debris and sold to benefit unsheltered New Yorkers. “Also born from this idea were countless dinners, studio visits, and friendships,” Lin explains in her new book, What We Keep. “It gave me the courage to believe I could run a successful business grounded in the strength of community and the power of relationships, that values the greater good as much as its bottom line.” 

With newfound perspective and a clearly defined motive, Lin launched Colony in a rough-hewn Canal Street loft. In the ensuing decade, she grew the business into a beloved fixture within New York’s design community that offers a welcome platform for up-and-coming talent to reach wider audiences and ensure success within an industry often fraught with high barriers to entry. In the gallery, which Lin painted top-to-bottom in an ethereal white shade, their work mingles with design stalwarts like Fort Standard and Bec Brittain. She’s also stayed loyal to her original vision, having launched drops of limited-run objects to be sold for charitable causes and even establishing an incubator program

Jean Lin

While the loft served Colony well, Jean was itching for a slightly more polished home to celebrate the gallery’s decade milestone. “I love that space, and it’s so sentimental to me, but it was falling apart at the seams,” Lin told Surface during a recent visit. “We tried our best to keep it shiny, but it was really starting to go.” Meanwhile, downtown real estate was tanking due to the pandemic, so searching for Colony’s new home became a “now or never” mission while prices in her neighborhood were relatively more affordable. 

The space she moved Colony into, an airy Tribeca storefront on a picturesque park-facing stretch of West Broadway, checks all the boxes and ensures her roster can reach even more prospective buyers. Echoes of Colony’s previous home remain through white painted brick walls and crisscrossing columns, raw characteristics of the former garage that Lin intentionally preserved. “It feels like an evolution without abandoning what we’re about,” she says. “It’s polished, but still has this downtown industrial feeling that’s really important to me.” Those elements are made radiant thanks to a floor-to-ceiling glass facade with giant doors that allow the gallery to spill out into the sidewalk—perfect for accommodating the hundreds of peers who attend Colony’s frequent openings, cocktails, and community events.

The relocation also brings a refreshed array of objects and furnishings on view. Lin collaborated with textile designer Hiroko Takeda on custom panels that deliberately reveal or obscure parts of the gallery from the sidewalk. Fabricated and installed by Erik Bruce, the drapery increases in opacity the closer it reaches the honed concrete floor. Elsewhere, discoveries lie at every corner, from a wall cabinet by Washington-based Grain and a utilitarian-style walnut dining chair by Sarah Sherman Samuel’s SSS Atelier to two patchwork quilts by M. Callahan Studio. “I’m proud that we’re still somewhere where people can come and discover brand-new things,” Lin says, though familiar faces like Allied Maker and B.Zippy retain their presence. They join a medley of vintage accessories Lin sourced herself, which passersby can buy on the spot.

With the more convenient location, Lin intends to maintain Colony’s role as hub within New York’s design community where industry folks can simply show up, hang out, and feed off each other’s energy. Openings and cocktails are on the planner, as are informal drink-and-draws, yoga sessions, and sound baths. She’s in good company, too—Egg Collective, Cristina Grajales Gallery, TRNK, Superhouse, and R & Company are all neighbors. In the near future, Lin plans to host the launch party for What We Keep during NYCxDesign and is gearing up for the second edition of Colony’s design residency in June. “The experience of design is what makes it magical,” Lin says. “What I hope I can take from the old location and bring here is a feeling of genuine community. It’s impossible to fake.”

All photography by Brooke Holm.

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