After a long workday, sitting down (via Zoom) with Jenna Hochman reminded us of the feeling of freewheeling conversations and late summer days sitting in the park with a close friend. She was a breath of fresh air and yet earthy enough for us to dig our feet in solid ground. We talked about fantasy and big ideas but never strayed too far from the reality of the spaces we occupy in our own unique lives.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Tenlie Mourning: To start, where do you live, and how long you’ve lived there.
Jenna Hochman: I am in Bushwick, in Brooklyn, and I’ve been in this particular apartment for a year and change. I actually recently moved back to New York. I’m a born and raised New Yorker, but I lived for a couple of years in a house — for a third of what I pay now — in Charlottesville, Virginia. And we’ll be here at least until next June. My partner and I really love this space.
Julian Wright: For someone born and raised in New York, what was it like moving to a place that’s so not New York. Are there parts of it that you miss now being back in the city?
JH: I would say that I missed New York the whole time I was there, but, the experience of being in Charlottesville… I have to start with what I miss, which is the resilient, beautiful, intimate, anti-racist community of Charlottesville that I feel I connected with quickly. In a smaller town like that, I think I stuck out like a sore thumb and very quickly, this community was like, ‘okay, you’re one of us’. There was a lot of love and life and food and support and community care that I’ve had trouble building now or getting right back into in Brooklyn, in the pandemic. Maybe I’m succumbing to the ‘grass is always greener’ mentality. I don’t know if you have that experience of constantly missing another place, the restlessness.
JW: I’m listening to you talk about Virginia and I’m hearing words like love and food and community. And I think of those words as words that we usually associate with home and our feelings of being home. Do you have any thoughts as to what home particularly means to you?
JH: Home is people. I’d love to say I generate home within myself, but it really is built communally. It’s people, but also those you carry with you. So it’s both an individual, emotional thing that you can hold onto, and yet it also involves what you can share with other people and what you and others can build together.
TM: How does the space that you’ve created for yourself, help to create that sense of home? How did you create that feeling?
JH: I have been drawn to things that bring me unfettered joy and laughter …I have skewed even more kitschy than I ever was before, turning into my ancestors and gravitating towards any sort of tchotchke that is evocative, borderline creepy-science-fiction, with hands coming out of walls. [Things that are] goofy, silly, colorful, and childlike. I think I want a reaction. I mostly do the home styling, but everything has to be approved by my partner Erik, because obviously, it’s his space too. He sometimes begs me, “please don’t turn this into a children’s room.”
TM: If you had to give advice to someone who was moving in with their partner, I was trying to do this. How would you advise them to get through what can be a kind of difficult obstacle?
JH: I would see where and what are the needs and wants of each person. Needing natural sunlight for your mood or plants is different from wanting subway tile in the bathroom. Each person has to have their needs met, and wants are bonus. I’m talking about compromise, I guess, but it’s more so about each partner nailing down the difference between need and want for themselves. It feels a little bit like relationship counseling in general!
JW: When it comes to your space, what would you say your needs and your wants are, what are your absolute must-haves and what are the things that you in a perfect world would love to have?
JH: I need sunlight, for sure. Even if it’s just one room that’s pleasantly lit. That’s already enough for me to lift my head in the morning. Storage is a need. The dream is… even more wild shapes and textures. A dream element for me is probably one of those fantastic mid-century Burl wood cabinets. They always cost in the thousands if they’re real, legitimate Burl. Not a purchase I can make at this point in my life, but maybe one day.
TM: How do you find inspiration? And you just have such an inspired style and such an inspired perspective on design inspiration.
JH: I rely pretty heavily on Pinterest. I’d love to be cool about this and say, ‘I have this old, like, 80s design and architecture book’… where, I really rely on Pinterest; that algorithm has gotten to know me. I really do tell it when I hate things. And also a lot of my ideation process is Instagram-based.
TM: Since you’ve been engaging with that community, have you noticed a difference in the way that you approach your own space or styling your space?
JH: I’ve gone through probably more inner conflict before purchasing things because now I’m starting to recognize when I’m being influenced. I really want to understand if it’s my own, or if it’s a communally-generated choice. It’s caused me to slow down and really get at what is the intention behind any corner, any space.
TM: Yeah. What questions do you ask yourself to figure that out, like to figure out is this really me?
JH: I feel like I have to assemble it into the space. I use Photoshop pretty heavily. And for me, looking at something I’m usually able to tell, ‘is this a flat image on social media, or do I feel like I could jump into this picture almost and live there?’. Does something call out to you with life or does it seem sort of flat, where you don’t have that deeper personal connection?
JW: Is there any single piece that you have that reminds you of a specific person or a moment or a memory or a story that you can call back to?
JH: I have two. Actually. I’m going to introduce you to my late father, David Hochman. He begins our story in East New York, in Brooklyn, and begins my family line. I commissioned a painting of him by my friend Emily Baldasarra. When I look at it, I feel really grateful that it doesn’t look exactly like him. It looks enough like him that you can immediately recognize, ‘that’s David Hochman’. And it looks enough not like him that every time I look at it, my memory of him tweaks or fills in little details. It reminds me that our relationships with people are not bound by time and space. Our relationships with each other, no matter how small, are deeply impactful, deeply meaningful. They continue living in you and with you, and you continue to be in conversation with people who have touched your life.
And then the less obvious answer also reminds me of my family. I have a burgeoning, ceramic bagel jar collection forming. I just have two (so far) and it reminds me of our ritual of eating bagels for special occasions — my Dad with a Nesquick, my mom with decaf, my sister and I drinking coffee. I mean, memories start flowing when I look at these bagel jars.
TM: Yeah. It’s so interesting because it seems like you’re a person who has this perspective on home that’s not bound by place yet is invested in your space. And so how do you reconcile those two things. If home is maybe not about the place itself, why should we invest time in our space?
JH: Any place where you spend a lot of time, I think in some way should make you smile. For some people, that’s an A-Frame in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by moss and trees right outside your window. For some people (me) that’s their insides on the outside. For other people, it’s, ‘I work at this restaurant and the people I work with are my family; behind the bar, we hide all of our photos and knickknacks’. Like, you’ve done the thing. You’ve interacted with your space, you’ve made it yours. Your space contains memory or contains a little bit of yourself.
TM: We so appreciate the energy and the vulnerability you’re bringing to this.
JH: This was amazing. This has been a very nourishing conversation, but, in the future, I want the chance to interview you guys. I think maybe over coffee or drinks?