Jean Lin’s Top 3 Secrets to Becoming a More Thoughtful Collector

Jean Lin has been a major force of change in the New York design world since she founded her co-op and gallery Colony in 2014, which served as a launchpad for many independent designers like Allied Maker and Egg Collective when they were just getting their footing. But when a cold email from a book publisher landed in her inbox two years ago, the impostor syndrome in her made some compelling arguments that this had to be some kind of hoax. “When my editor reached out to me about it, I was suspicious,” she recalls. “But I took the call and it was not a scam.”

What We Keep: Advice from Artists and Designers on Living with the Things You Love is now out in the world via Abrams Books. It serves as an exploration of collections of all kinds and the people who stockpile those shelves of pepper mills, ceramics, textiles, sterling silver pieces, dunny art toys, and beyond. A former writer before starting her own design co-op, Jean Lin dusted off her reporting hat to interview dozens of creators within and beyond the design world on their most meaningful keepsakes, from woodworkers George and Mira Nakashima to ceramist Stephanie Shih, chef Kwame Onwuachi, and AD100 designers like Christine Gachot.

Image may contain Indoors Interior Design Wood Hardwood Stained Wood Furniture Chair Bookcase Art and Painting

Designer Carly Cushnie’s expansive collection of ceramics and glassware, many picked up on her travels abroad.

Photo: Brooke Holm

The book gives readers an intimate tour of collectors’ studios, homes, and belongings, but there’s also plenty of actionable wisdom to mine from its pages—including service-oriented tips on how to go about collecting, styling advice, and playful musings on home design like a bullet point that simply imparts “fuzzy seating always makes sense.” As a nod to the designer’s heritage, each section in the book also corresponds to an element of traditional Chinese medicine: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. “I wanted it to reflect who I am and I am a very proud Asian American daughter of immigrants,” she adds.

For Jean, What We Keep is a natural extension of the work she’s already doing at Colony. “I have always believed that there’s a really important relationship, shared respect, and through line in our industry between the collectors, the designers, and the makers of the objects,” she says. “To tell the full story, I wanted to show all of those different aspects of creativity, because Colony is about bringing all those people into the same room. That’s, like, my whole life.”