In New York, the curated Colony furniture gallery boldly reinvents the retail model.
The first time you find yourself in front of Colony you might not know it. With its nondescript entrance situated between graffiti-tagged garage doors, the second-floor Chinatown furniture gallery is a quintessential hidden gem. And its Balance/Unbalanced showcase during NYCxDesign was a must-see. Defying the prevalent Memphis-redux trend, the collection offered up mature polished pieces, such as Toronto designer Paolo Ferrari’s Balance Lounge (in nubby linen-wool with a walnut base and a brass pivot), Washington studio Grain’s mixed-material Walling Rug (which evokes a stacked-stone wall spilling onto the floor) and Hiroko Takeda’s Brooklyn-made thread-art tapestries.
A former design editor, Jean Lin laid the ground-work for Colony in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. She commissioned a group of young designers to craft furniture from storm debris for charity and learned of the unique challenges this cohort faced; specifically, they lacked a place to show their work without handing over a huge cut of their profits. This information sparked Lin’s lightbulb moment: She would create a non-traditional showroom, based on the model of a co-op. But first she needed to contend with Manhattan’s fierce real estate market. After scouting 50 locations, she made her Hail Mary find: “I said to myself, if it’s not going to happen in this space, I’m not going to be able to do Colony.” Four years later, the Canal Street gallery has nurtured a culture of designers supporting one another and has established a retail approach that emphasizes relationships.
“We curate designers, not pieces,” explains Lin, who has built her impeccable ensemble by encouraging the unique vernacular, process and aesthetic of each studio she works with. The challenge is finding designers who are established but not yet ubiquitous. This year she added four: Toronto’s Hollis+Morris and New York’s Phaedo, along with the aforementioned Grain and Paolo Ferrari, whom she calls the “best surprise discovery of the year.”