Last year’s iteration of the showhouse — the second annual — brought together 17 interior designers and over 180 artists, makers, and businesses to transform over 16 designed spaces and showcase their work in a way that people can walk through and experience.
The message is clear: Hudson Valley design is here, in a big way.
The showhouse was a rousing success, not only attracting numerous visitors and forging connections between local designers and artisans, but also attracting regional and national press attention. Better yet, the project now feels more permanent: Kingston Design Connection has assembled a board of advisors comprised of five internationally-renowned interior designers — superstars in their field — with Hudson Valley connections.
Projects by Maryline Damour / Damour Drake. Clockwise: apartment renovation in Brooklyn, kitchen gut renovation, front porch design/build and selecting house colors, custom front door design/build, home office design/renovation in Brooklyn.
How do you describe what you do?
I’m an interior designer and I have a design and construction business. We build houses from the ground up, and we also do interiors — that can be anything from gut renovations to custom work, custom furniture, that kind of thing.
The construction side is mostly in the Hudson Valley, and every once in a while we’re in the city. The interior design side, just because it doesn’t really matter where you are, I can do globally. I’ve done some work in the Caribbean as well as in New York and elsewhere.
How did you discover the Hudson Valley?
I had a weekend house up here about 15 years ago, and I had it for about four or five years. I was living in the city at the time. I went to school further north up here, so I was familiar with the Hudson Valley from way back when. I wound up selling that house, and I moved back up here permanently four years ago.
What made you want to stay in the Hudson Valley?
Part of the reason was because I was switching careers and I wanted to have my own business. I was a working interior designer in the city for about a year before I moved up here. I was in Brooklyn at the time, and everybody from Brooklyn was just beginning to discover the Hudson Valley, and Kingston specifically, which is where I am, so it was good to see so many creative folks moving up here. A lot of entrepreneurs as well. It’s a lot easier to have a business up here than it is in Brooklyn or Manhattan.
Kingston especially has been blowing up!
Oh yeah! I’m here a little over four years, and it’s gotten to the point where I recognize people from Brooklyn walking down the street; not people that I knew, but neighbors. There are so many people here from Brooklyn, it’s interesting.
I’m a Hudson Valley lifer, so it’s been great to see that huge influx of creative people to the area, in the last five or ten years especially.
Yeah. I know some folks who moved up from the city ten or fifteen or twenty years ago, and a lot of them have said they’ve seen waves like this come through of people from the city, but that it feels different this time because a lot of the folks who are moving here are moving here with the intention of starting businesses. They’re committed to being in the area.
How has the Hudson Valley influenced your creative work?
The biggest thing is landscape design. In the city, that was something I never had an opportunity to do, and it wasn’t something that I studied formally when I went to school to study design. Coming up here, it’s such a huge part of people’s lives, so I’ve had the opportunity to do some landscape design — mostly hardscape, like fencing, pathways, that sort of thing. That’s been really fun, and that’s something I’d probably never be doing if I were still in the city.
It’s been really fun! I’ve become less of a city girl over time.
Where are some of your favorite places in the Hudson Valley to visit?
Last summer I went to Opus 40 for the first time, which was amazing. And I’m surprised — it’s literally right down the street from me, and I’d never been!
What’s surprised you about living and working in the Hudson Valley?
When I first had the idea to do the Kingston Design Showhouse, I talked to a bunch of makers and artists and shop owners. A lot of people didn’t necessarily understand the concept of a design showhouse and had never visited one before, but I was so impressed with people’s willingness to come together and support the creative community. It was really something to see.
The first year, last year, I didn’t really know what to expect. But we wound up getting around 100 participants between local businesses who donated and made significant investments to pull off the first design showhouse.
There’s a sense of community spirit here.
Exactly. In the city it’s easier to find people and meet them, but people are so spread out here because the Hudson Valley is such a large region. I think that people in the Hudson Valley appreciate opportunities to come together and connect with each other, and I think that’s one of the reasons why the design showhouse has been successful — people have seen it as a way to get together and meet other folks in their field.
How did you get the idea to start the showhouse?
When I moved up here, I partnered with a construction company. My partner Fred Drake has been building houses up here for about twenty years, and I brought the interior design part of the business into his practice. After three years, I realized there was a huge difference between getting construction work and getting interior design work. He’s never advertised because he’s well-established and everyone in the construction community knows each other and works together. After three years on the interior design side, I still had a really hard time meeting other designers and meeting makers, and I decided I needed to try to do something more specific to get our name out there as designers as well as builders.
I started visiting design events across the Hudson Valley, and I noticed that there were a ton of design events, but they mostly focused on makers. You could go to Field + Supply and other events throughout the year to meet makers and see their work, but if you’re an interior designer or a landscape designer or an architect, there’s really no way for you to participate in those events. They’re not really set up to showcase that kind of bigger-scale, three-dimensional work.
In New York City there are a couple of really famous showhouses, and they basically do the job I was trying to do. It’s a way to be colocated with a bunch of other makers and designers and architects for a few weeks or a month, and instead of it being just a networking environment, you get to work with people actively on a design project.
That seemed to me like the best vehicle to get people to meet each other in a real way, where we’re creating something instead of just meeting over cocktails or something.
It’s definitely been a different vehicle to see artists in a way that I haven’t seen up here before. You can walk through a room and see how these pieces live in a decorated space, and I think that’s been interesting for the general public to check out.
That’s such a great idea. Do you intend to keep it going?
Yes! I only meant to do it for a year — in the first year, we had 10 interior designers who took over 10 spaces in a house, and between them and the makers and local businesses we had about 100 participants. At the end of that process, I thought: “This is great. I’ve met 100 people who I’m now connected with.”
After the first showhouse ended, we started getting a lot of regional and national press, and other people who weren’t part of the showhouse started approaching me and asking to be part of the next one. I thought, “Okay, there’s real value in continuing this.”
We just finished the second year. It was a much bigger event this year: We went from 100 participants to almost 200. We had 17 spaces, compared to 10 last year. It grew quite substantially.
I thought this year that I’d focus on making it a permanent thing. Part of that was putting a board together so there’d be different perspectives on how we’d continue to add value. In addition to being nationally and world-renowned designers, our Board members also have a connection to the Hudson Valley, whether they live here full or part-time or have businesses here.
It’s been really great to just see these amazing people with huge careers who, because they’re in the Hudson Valley, are willing to engage with smaller programming and smaller community efforts.
I 100% agree. That’s the idea that Creative Hudson Valley is predicated on — it’s much easier to interview people who are superstars in their field if it’s a local project instead of a national publication.
I was on your site and I saw that you did a piece on Stella Abrera, the ABT dancer who’s working at Kaatsbaan. That’s a great example! I studied ballet when I was younger — she’s a huge name, just massive.
That’s the Hudson Valley in a nutshell — you can just meet up with people and talk about what they’re working on.
I went to Parsons in New York City, and when I was doing the showhouse last year, I thought about contacting the New School to work with me. I reached out, but it was difficult to get connected with the right people in time.
I wound up getting five interns from Marist College who worked with me as part of their senior thesis, and they helped me last year with all the brand development, logo, and messaging — figuring out how to develop marketing packages to sell this new concept.
The colleges around here are extremely receptive. I think it’s fairly recent that they have interesting internship and early career opportunities for their students.
For sure, absolutely.
This year, because we’re right in Kingston, I thought that we’d try to partner with a local institution. We wound up going to BOCES, a vocational program for high school students that has things like carpentry, plumbing, and that kind of program. They had a bunch of high school students who came over and we partnered them with the various designers. They got to help do electrical work, etc. It was really neat for them to be in that environment and get a sense of what it’s like to work in a real-life experience with other designers and builders.
We’re talking to them about pulling in fashion students next year. It’s easy to think about electric and plumbing and carpentry, but there’s a ton of crossover between fashion design and interior design.
What do you hope to see for the Hudson Valley creative scene in the next five years?
One of the reasons I did the showhouse was to create a mechanism for the creative community to actually meet each other.
The other thing was to showcase Hudson Valley design specifically. I feel like there’s a difference between what creatives are doing here versus elsewhere.
There’s something unique and different about how we in the Hudson Valley are thinking about design, and how we’re showcasing design, and that this could be a hub for people who are looking for designers and makers.
The more that we celebrate Hudson Valley design as a concept, and really make it clear to people from a marketing standpoint, then the more we can all grow together economically and keep that money locally in the area.
What do you think is the difference between design work in the Hudson Valley versus elsewhere?
People up here are used to building houses, so they’re really clear about when to hire a builder, when to hire an architect. But people haven’t really been focused on interior design services — there hasn’t been that kind of discretionary money for it. Now that’s changing, but there needs to be more client education.
I find that a lot of clients will hire an architect, and when we come into the process they’ll have full sets of construction documents and are ready to go, and it turns out that I could’ve done that work — it’s work that an interior designer could do, they didn’t need to hire an architect. I can do construction documents, I just don’t do structural work.
The more that we help clients understand the value of interior design versus architecture and all the other related stuff, the more effectively they can make decisions about where they can spend their money.
It’s coming. The types of houses we build have changed dramatically — they’ve gotten much more modern. The price points have doubled in some cases. The types of houses that are being built naturally pull you into the interior design conversations. People are building custom homes.
You can’t ask for a better backdrop than the Hudson Valley.
I think it’s up to us to keep the focus on Hudson Valley design. There’s been momentum in the press focusing on it, and it’s up to us to take advantage of that. That’s what the showhouse is meant to do — to keep us in the forefront of people’s minds.