Now, in her role as creative director for Common, a co-living start-up, Jenn works on improving urban housing through data-driven design while also teaching at Columbia University.
It’s hardly surprising that Jenn’s work influences her own home. Her office hours are spent thinking about the way people relate to the spaces they occupy, not only in terms of functional elements, but also social interactions. “To me, a good home is simply a place that serves the people who live in it. The space is only half of the equation. It’s the rich collection of personalities that make up a home,” she says. Her apartment in New York City has offered her the perfect canvas: the 1.5-bedroom loft is situated in a building from 1886, once used as a schoolhouse for delinquent girls and which has been repurposed into unusual, almost proportionally cubic living spaces. While the square footage of the former classroom is a modest 96m2, the impressive 4.2m high ceilings and oversized picture windows give a feeling of expansive, airy space. “I knew I wanted something that I can work on and this apartment not only came with amazing bones, but also a set of difficult challenges,” Jenn explains. “The historic structure was a mixed bag of tight crawl spaces in the lofts, a brick wall running through it and a spiral staircase, each of them intriguing in their own way.”
IF THESE WALLS COULD SPEAK
A lot of people who visit Jenn are surprised by how relatively sparse her place is, but, as she notes, the key interior elements – layout, proportions, light and air – are already in place. “I think that there is a lot of comfort architecture can bring with its most simple elements, and I wanted that to speak for itself. I make an effort to keep my home and my life minimal by only acquiring things I love.” In this way, she also has a versatile space that can cater to large dinner parties – “for 22 people!” – or more intimate get-togethers. Having studied design in Copenhagen and worked in Tokyo, she credits both Scandinavia and Japan with her less-is-more style and relying on the craftsmanship of good, basic carpentry for her loft rather than overtly luxe finishes. The simplicity of drywall, maple plywood and raw, unfinished concrete has been utilised for the stark yet warm backdrop, contrasted by custom fabricated blackened steel accents made in collaboration with her friends at the Brooklyn-based design studio Kin & Company.
BRIGHT SHINY OBJECTS
“Furniture and objects are a great place to introduce interesting and contrasting forms, profiles, colours and materials,” Jenn says. Case in point: shiny coloured glass, copper elements, pops of neon and exaggeratedly thick, fluffy wool rugs and pouffes. A lot of Jenn’s interior inspiration comes from her creative friends and co-workers, while one of her shopping tips is to hit up local New York makers’ sample sales. “I usually fall for items with a story or a design with a story. I also love objects with faces,” she says, pointing to a bedside table planter with 3D features. One thing she’s still on the hunt for is a large abstract painting for one of the big white walls. “But I’m growing fonder of the empty walls and they might just stay that way,” she muses. “I am very lucky to have been able to design my own home. I get to live in my work! It’s a constant reminder of my work, my style and who I am as a designer.”
“I think that there is a lot
of comfort architecture
can bring with its most
simple elements, and I
wanted that to speak for itself.
I make an effort
to keep my home
and my life minimal
by only acquiring
things I love.”
COMFORTS OF HOME
Growing up in Taiwan, her family home had a mix of eastern and western influences. Family life centered around meals, and Jenn has continued the tradition of having a large dining table (for the occasional homemade Taiwanese meal). Like her childhood home, she also keeps a unique collection of tableware for everyday use. Today, her home is full of objects with history: a 25-year-old teddy bear sits proudly on the bed; a wood coffee table came to life in woodshop class, while an inexpensive fake antler chandelier was purchased in a second hand store “when I was having a very bad day in 2010." "Most of my furniture and objects are second-hand or flawed,” Jenn notes.
Similarly, she’s very into the current trend for using traditional building elements such as baseboards and crown mouldings to cover up flaws. “They perform a highly functional role as well as a decorative one. I’m working on another project, a very small cabin in the woods, where you’ll see some of this.” She likes to bring tableware or textiles back from her trips, and her home and work organically intertwine. “The loft is the best in the mornings, when the sunlight is spilling into the apartment. I love to sip on coffee while I go through emails at the dining table. I water all my plants before I leave the house. After work I usually change into a housedress and spend my hours under the blankets. On weekends I’m usually cooking up something in the kitchen.” Who would be Jenn’s ideal guest? “My mother. I wish she would spend more time with me in my apartment!”
“To me, a good home is simply a place that serves the people who live in it. The space is only half of the equation. It’s the rich collection of personalities that make up a home”
Jenn Chang lives in Soho, New York.
Jenn is Creative Director at Common Living, where she conducts research on co-living and the housing crisis at large. She also teaches the Fundamentals of Urban Digital Design at Columbia University with the Urban Planning Program.