Category Archives: Up Close

Up Close with UnHappy Hipster’s Jenna Talbott

…Photographed and Dotted By Leslie

It was a swanky party at The Boston Design Center  that brought Jenna Talbott into my world. I was busy being pleased that there was a sushi bar and hefty looking swag bags when I bumped into one of my favorite people, Steve Twombly, Publisher for Design New England magazine. We chatted for a while until he spotted his colleague, Jenna, then the acting Art Director for DNE magazine. He introduced us and I was immediately taken in with her  warm smile and contagious laugh.

Since that first meeting, I’ve been laughing at her witty captions underneath photographs from Dwell magazine on her blog, UnHappy Hipsters, that she co-founded with writer Molly Jane Quinn. One viral bloggers-dream-day and a book deal later, Jenna quietly resides in Adams Village, which is where I caught up with her one unusually warm spring day as she rotated a ‘Death Star‘ composter in the garden. Take a peek into the life and times of this artist, blogger and avid gardener in the next installment in our Up Close series.

Jenna Talbott, UnHappy Hipsters founder and blogger and Illustrator of It’s Lonely In The Modern World 
(See what I mean about that smile?)

I’ve been a fan of UnHappy Hipsters for a while now and didn’t realize that you were the driving force behind it. Why did you start the blog?

Unhappy Hipsters started when my co-founder Molly Jane Quinn and I decided that the people in Dwell magazine were looking increasingly miserable. It became a game to imagine their depressing life scenarios, which of course contrasted — though sometimes complimented– their very carefully designed homes. We blogged anonymously until our book published last fall because we realized pretty quickly that nobody cared who we were (or they enjoyed guessing who might have a bone to pick with Dwell) and that our audience had more of a personal connection to the posts if the authors were unidentified. We sensed we were putting into words what everyone was already thinking about Dwell, that these homes were becoming more and more inhabitable, and more and more out of reach for the average design enthusiast.

How did the blog evolve into a book?

Though we never imagined our silly captions would become a book, the blog-to-book idea came about rather quickly. Because of the popularity of the blog—which was instant, within twelve hours we had gone viral—we were contacted by agents eager to connect us and our captive audience with a publisher. Once we decided on an agent, we were instructed to put together a proposal that outlined how our content would translate into a book. Molly and I drew upon our experience in magazines to craft a multi-sectioned, illustrated gift book that would not only showcase our custom-captioned Dwell photography, but also elaborate on the design decisions key to the elusive Unhappy Hipster. The resulting book, It’s Lonely in the Modern World, is almost exactly how Molly and I conceived of it back when we put together the proposal. We were really lucky to work with an editor at Chronicle Books that encouraged us to make the book we wanted.

In Jenna’s studio, some of her illustrations from It’s Lonely In The Modern World

What were some of the challenges you faced in getting the book published?

Once we determined the angle of our book, the challenges that remained were mainly logistics: creating the enormous amount of original content and finding a photographer with a wealth of imagery that could grant us permission to use the images the way we do on the blog. We were very fortunate to connect with California-based photographer Dave Lauridsen, who did a lot of shoots for Dwell, but also seemed to share our sense of humor. All the ‘case studies’ in our book are from his stock files and all the homeowners agreed to being lightly, but respectfully, chided by our captions.

What’s your day job?

I currently work for Boston University’s in-house creative agency, designing alumni magazines.

Favorite pizza in Dorchester? Favorite Restaurants?

We don’t have a favorite pizza but we do like takeout from Shanti or Pho 2000. We plan to try Pho Le and Van Shabu one of these days and we liked Savin Bar + Kitchen on our first visit recently. In the meantime, the bar at Tavolo is our favorite place to meet after work.

Why Dorchester?

My husband and I have lived in Dorchester for 5 years and we have a very happy routine here. Its nice to come home to a quiet neighborhood but still have easy access to downtown Boston and work via the red line. It’s super nice being close to the highway, too. I really love the bike path between Pope John Paul II park and Lower Mills along the Neponset.

Frank Gehry or Philippe Starck?

Not really a fan of either. Is that surprising? I’ve always been a bit uninterested, or perhaps clueless, to the hot shot designers du jour. First of all, how does one keep up? I have a lot of respect for architecture and design and while I learned so much as art director of Design New England magazine, and working on the book with Molly, none of it has changed the way I decorate my home. I’m more of a bargain shopper and would rather customize something cheap from a yard sale or found on the sidewalk on garbage day. Yup, I’m a trash-picker.

Have you found any gems at Dorchester’s yard sales?

The neighborhood yard sales are pretty amazing. I have a stack of gorgeous fabrics I found one year (still haven’t done anything with them) and my husband found an Andrew Wyeth print that I love.

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Want more of Jenna? Then check out her awesome interview in the New York Times.

Up Close: French Lessons with Stéphanie Grossier

….Photographed and Dotted By Leslie MacKinnon

“Parlez-vous le français?”

On a recent sunny afternoon I found myself considering that question while having slight anxiety on the way to tea with my new French neighbors. I was having flashbacks to four years ago … on my first visit to France . One of my dearest friends, Liz Andrews, had married  a man from Degré, and their son was being Christened. Later in the trip and during our stay in Paris, I brazenly ordered dinner for my husband, my parents and I at a very fancy restaurant (recommended by The New York Times, nonetheless) while using my best high school French; only to be told by our waiter: ‘Pleasssse. Miss. Speak in English, it’s much easier to … understand’.

The Andrews family homestead in Degré….nice digs, eh?

I need not have given myself worry lines, however, because the charming Stéphanie Grossier made me feel instantly at home in her sunlit apartment on top of the Carruth Building in Lower Dorchester. Walls of windows had me slightly distracted by the setting sun, passing birds and stunning views of the Blue Hill Reservation area in the distance. We chatted over Mickey Mouse shaped apple gateau (cake en francais!) and cups of  tea. Our four children didn’t let the language barrier get in the way of their good time and proceeded to squeal with delight  as they played ‘tag’ on the small balcony hanging many, many feet over Dorchester Avenue. Despite the children’s risk taking adventures, I felt warm and comfortable as Stephanie encouraged me to use my limited French vocabulary and at times offered gentle corrections on my pronunciation. I actually felt quite proud of how much I remembered from um, the early ’90’s. Maybe I could go back to that Parisian restaurant and try again with Monsieur Waiter.

My new friend Stéphanie and her adorable family moved to Dorchester from Marseilles when her husband Romaine acquired a research position at MIT.  They settled in our humble ville after seeking a place that ‘reminded them of home’. Marseilles and Dorchester? Sister cities? What could they possibly have in common? According to Stephanie: beaucoup de choses! For example: close proximity to the ocean; a good place for families and delicious baguettes. That’s right – delicious baguettes courtesy of Green Hills Irish Bakery, which Stephanie gives her stamp of approval. And before they purchased a coffee pot after their move, her husband found grateful refuge in Flat Black‘s authentic espresso and cappuccino. Stephanie says that a day doesn’t go by in Dorchester without encountering  French speaking people from Haiti, Guadelupe and France.

Back in France, Stéphanie is a practicing Social Worker concentrating on Child Welfare. Here in Boston, while her husband works at MIT, she raises her two small children and offers French Lessons for adults ($30 an hour) and children ($20 an hour). She can be reached at stephgrossier@gmail.com for more details.

I plan on signing up for a few lessons of my own since I plan to return to France sometime soon. Yes, you heard that correctly, Andrews family. Get ready for another MacKinnon visit! In the meantime I’ll practice the basics thanks to  lessons with Stéphanie and this little ditty, Foux Da Fa Fa, by my boys The Flight of the Conchords.

Photos of Stéphanie and daughter Charlotte in their home here in Dorchester.