Kingston Design Showhouse Pt. 4
The first Kingston Design Show House by the Kingston Design Connection was a huge success! I got the opportunity to talk with many of the designers during the run of the show but Kate Cummings of Freestyle Restyle and I were only able to connect after it closed. That’s OK because she may have already performed a Holiday Miracle. Not only did I get the lowdown on the now famous Rock ‘n’ Roll wallpaper, I got an item to put on the top of my holiday wish list – a visit from Kate! My living room needs her badly! It's an unsettling combo of an ugly piano, a bizarre green sectional I bought in an odd mood, and a giant African water buffalo head, and an unfinished mantel - because I can't decide what sort of mantel might tie these disparate elements together! After chatting with Kate, I think she might be the only person who can help me. Does your house need a little Freestyle Restyle too?
Freestyle Restyle | Hudson Valley & Catskills Interior Design and Styling
Me: Kate! Thanks for talking with me. I’m so sorry that we couldn’t catch up before the Show House closed, but maybe it’s a good thing. You’ll be my designer with some retrospective perspective! So, let's talk a little bit about your business first, because I don't know that much about what you do... tell me what it is?
Kate: Hi Amy, thanks for calling! My business is called Freestyle Restyle and it’s an interior design service. I can do interior design from A to Z but my specialty is redesign, using a lot of what people already have. I come in, assess it all, talk to the client about what it is they want at home in terms of function - that's always first - and then I see how pieces can be reshuffled, rehabbed and restyled. I fill in the blanks from there.
Me: Where are you based, and where do you do most of your projects?
Kate: I split my time between Hoboken, NJ and Ulster County in Accord on the Stone Ridge side. I primarily work in the Tri-State area including Connecticut because I lived there and tend to get repeat and word-of mouth-clients in the area. We're in our seventh year Upstate -- we bought a kind of nothing house and have been tweaking it ever since. It'll probably be the project in my life that never ends.
Me: Oh! Tell me what your house in Accord is like? I always like to know what people chose to buy.
Kate: It's a box-style cabin that’s stripped down, unfussy and utilitarian, which is exactly what we liked about it. It's a weekend place -- of course, we'd love to retire there but that’s so far away, I don't really think about that part much. We wanted a house that was easy, relaxed and comfortably accessible for family, friends and us. It's a house that sort of unfolds on itself; you can have two people and feel really cozy but we can also sleep 10 and everyone fits, it's a great little place. We’ve been working on it consistently to make it our own but honestly, when we first bought it, our friends thought we were crazy. They were like, "Greeeaaat, you bought the Unabomber’s house, awesome!" (she laughs), it was really ugly but with good bones.
Me: Tell me a little bit about what you consider to be "your style."
Kate: I like a lot of different things so I guess that automatically pegs me as Eclectic. I don't do super-sterile modern, and I don't do high traditional but pretty much everything in-between, there is something that I love. That is part of why I design the way I do; my projects are all different and don’t get a specific “designer stamp" on them. It’s not about me, it's about the people who live in the home and what their interests and style are -- I help cultivate what that is for them. I spend a lot of time uncovering those things for people because sometimes they don't really know. Like I'll find a collection of pieces they haven't thought of putting together before and it ends up telling a story about their past, or something that is special in their life for example. I'm a combination of designer, stylist, archivist, cataloguer, editor and sometimes therapist.
Me: That can't fit easily on a business card! From your great description, it sounds like you generally do interiors not exteriors. Do you do any exterior consultations or is that just totally off the board?
Kate: I’ve done poolsides, patios, outdoor garden seating and social areas, but I am not really a landscape garden person. I'm actually the opposite with a black thumb - I'm an inside girl.
Me: What's your favorite part of the process you go through with your clients? Is it the load-in and the final "Wow Moment” like on HGTV? Or is it something different?
Kate: I think it's when I find the hook that gets my client really excited about the changes. The thing that expresses who they are the most and how they want to live at home -- the thing that decides how we're going to change the energy of the space. And you know, that hook can really be anything, so when you nail it, that always feels good. And yes, when the clients get to see the finished product, live in it and then report back about how comfortable they are, how new but familiar it is, how happy they are - THAT'S the best. It's why I do it over and over again.
Me: So tell me what your concept was for the rooms you did in the Kingston Design Show House this year, and how you came to work on the project. You had the hall and the lounge area right?
Kate: Initially I was only assigned to the lounge or ‘parlor’ -- as a Victorian that's what it would have been called back in the day. I love Victorians and grew up in one after we moved out of Manhattan when I was a teenager, so the house itself was a draw for me. Then Maryline painted it that amazing dark green-black and I was like, "I'm in!" -- I love anything Gothic and a little dark. The event was scheduled for October, my favorite month, and then of course the local programming with People’s Place was great. It's the type of project I was looking for and didn't know how to find, so it was a serendipitous Instagram discovery. Anyway, I always wanted to do a floor to ceiling, super-saturated color in a sitting room and a Victorian is a natural canvas for that kind of look and palette. And with no television in the 1880's, I was happy to take the space back to it’s original intent with reading, conversation and music as the focus.
Me: I loved all the records and the record player. It inspired me to put a record player on my Christmas list. And you even incorporated music into the design of the hallway right?
Kate: Truthfully, I took on the front hall because nobody else wanted it, (she laughs), it was a challenging and rough space to start but to get to the Parlor you have to go through the hallway, so I knew it had to be special. Originally, I wanted to wallpaper the Parlor but didn't know if I could afford it. So while I was thinking about that, I got one of the first art donations for the space from One Mile Gallery. It was two collages of ticket stubs and concert ephemera from Ed Rosenbaum, a photographer who went to all these amazing shows in the 70s and 80s in New York. Music is a personal interest and Kingston feels pretty Rock 'n' Roll, so I fell in love with that immediately for the direction of the Parlor. Then illustrator, Jason O'Malley, the Rural Modernist entered the picture. In another serendipitous turn, he had designed this fantastic wallpaper series of four that featured Debbie Harry, Annie Lennox, Siouxsie Sioux and Morrissey set in a Victorian laurel medallion motif; literally the 1880s meets 1980s, it could not have been more perfect. I loved them all and asked if he would customize the four into one with specific colors for the house. Luckily he’s super cool, said yes, and that's how the new wave wallpaper extravaganza happened. I really love it and am so happy it was such a hit -- it was lots of fun to see people recognize their favorite icons.
Me: What did you enjoy most about the collaborative process?
Kate: I think the best part about all of this is how open everyone was through the whole process. There was such an immediately strong sense of community, helpfulness and creativeness – there was no drama among us and that's pretty amazing for a project full of creatives, I adore everybody - and that feels great. Also, in other show houses, everyone kind of does what they want without attention to what the next room is – it can be pretty disjointed. That didn't happen on ours. Even though we all have different styles, the spaces hung well together. We had an agreed upon design brief that we’d go a little bit to the dark side, and what that meant for each designer was different but somehow it just gelled.
Me: And what do you hope the outcome of the project will be from a community perspective or your own business perspective?
Kate: Most show houses are really high-end and set within mansions and this was more, well, not middle market per se, but coming in at the middle. This was a mix of high and low and it was accessible to anybody as design should be for everyone, not just for people who can afford it. The overall premise is that you can have a stylish and unique home on a budget and we were trying to show people how to do that -- I think we pulled it off and it’s an important message for the area. Also, there are lots of creative people who have been Upstate for many years and they tend to know each other, but there are also a lot of newer people like those of us who have been here for less than 10 years and finding each other is a slower process, especially for weekenders. I think the modus operandi of being in a collective like the Kingston Design Connection is that it’s great for all of us. I’m grateful so many businesses and makers said yes which led directly to our success - it became obvious that people were hungry for more connection. I’m very happy to hear there will be another show house happening next year featuring more local talent and making the collective even larger with a printed directory so that we can find and support each other as resources. Kingston is an incredible place with awesome spirit and it's great to be able to support it and the community as the city continues to revitalize and our businesses flourish.
Me: All right, so now for my random interview question... if you could live anywhere in the Hudson Valley, besides the town that you live in, which town would it be?
Kate: I want to live in an in-town Kingston house so that when I get old, I can ride my bike around to run errands and visit friends. A second choice might be Saugerties. It definitely has the right amount of grit and old world charm for me.