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Photos by Alan Barry

It’s been an unpredictable last year, but the home design industry has weathered the storm better than most. As consumers hunkered down—working from home, schooling at home and finding renewed comfort at home in general—many design brands and interior designers have found themselves busier than ever. We’ve been hearing all about the supply chain issues and backorders on everything from furniture to kitchen appliances, as demand has soared with stuck-at-home homeowners realizing just how much their spaces could benefit from some overdue upgrades and added comfort.

And while many design professionals may be seeing their businesses booming, their spirit of giving back is equally alive and well. From scholarship funds and mentoring programs, to events that focus on food insecurity and homelessness, the design industry has continued to flex its muscles when it comes to philanthropy.

One such event that is making a difference is ‘Rooms With a View’ (RWAV), one of the East Coast’s longest-standing charity events. Now in its 26th year, the event returns to the Southport Congregational Church in Southport, Connecticut November 4-7. The organizers had considered going virtual this year, but as the world started to reopen, it became clear that the community and design industry were as eager as ever to bring it back in full force.

As part of the event, 12 designers have been enlisted to create a totally immersive series of vignettes. We’ve seen the talent designers can bring to a showhouse, but this concept pushes the envelope even more-so given the time and space constraints. With the help of sponsors like Waterworks, Stark and Circa Lighting, design teams have less than a week to transform their blank canvases into showhouse-like vignettes, each one measuring six-by-eight with three sheetrock walls, a ceiling, and electricity.

One would never know these are temporary spaces given the detailed art and craftsmanship that goes into them. Past participants have plastered, wallpapered, stuccoed, mirrored, lacquered and paneled their three walls plus laid parquet, sisal, antique tile, marble, limestone, and carpet, then built bookcases, windows and sometimes fireplaces before installing furnishings, drapery, antiques, objects, and art. The result is a masterful pop-up that beckons guests to engage with the creators, discover new resources, and be inspired by an overwhelming show of creativity.

In total, 600+ rooms have been fabricated since ‘Rooms With a View’ launched back in 1993. There has been an artist’s garret, a gentleman’s office at the beach, a Park Avenue houseboat (in a nod to global warming), a study featuring Mary Tyler Moore’s tarot collection, and even a meditation room that subtly changed colors when sensing movement.

Albert Hadley, the preeminent American designer who counted the likes of Brooke Astor and Jacqueline Kennedy as clients, played a prominent role in getting RWAV off the ground. He continued to be one of its best advocates up until his death in 2012, serving as the event’s hands-on design director and honorary chairman. Hadley also developed a formula for inviting the participating designers which carries over still to this day: six men, six women; six New York-based, six Fairfield County-based; six established, six new. 2021 designers include:

Alexis Blake (Eleish van Breems Studio) • Christopher Maya • Edwina Hunt and Pimi Pampill • Eneia White • Fiona Leonard Interiors • Fisher Interiors • Laura Casale Architect • Nicky James • Olivia Charney • Interior Design • Ruger Interiors •  Sean Desmond •  William Lyon Designs

Since its inception, ‘Rooms with a View’ has raised over $1.775 million dollars for 18 charities throughout Connecticut, supporting multiple causes. A few years ago, the event also launched a scholarship fund with the New York School of Interior Design (NYSID).

As part of the program, one upper-level NYSID student is invited to join the RWAV designer roster the following year. The scholarship’s most recent beneficiary, Sean Desmond, was selected in 2019 before the pandemic-induced hiatus, and now finally has the chance to put his work on display.

“The college is incredibly grateful that our RWAV friends established the scholarship. In addition to the financial support provided, what makes it even more meaningful to the student is the opportunity to design and install a vignette, giving them a taste of what their life as a designer will be like.  It is invaluable to someone about to graduate and embark on their new career”, says NYSID President David Sprouls.

Tickets start at $25; event details can be found at www.roomswithaview.org.

A Sense of Home

And over on the West Coast, designers are at it too, putting their skills to work for those in need. One organization that is leveraging such designer talent is Los Angeles-based ‘A Sense of Home’ (ASOH), a group that helps prevent homelessness by creating first-ever homes for youth aging out of the foster care system.

Started in 2015, ASOH has now created more than 630 homes with donated furniture and home goods, helping 1,500+ former foster youth and their children. When you learn that 50% of those struggling with homelessness are former foster children, you further grasp the organization’s critical mission to keep these kids off the street.

A-list interior designer Kelly Wearstler is the first in the charity’s new Design Challenge Program, where once a month, designers decorate a home with their own items and other “gently used” donated furnishings. Furniture and appliance brands are called upon to make sure their excess is given a second life rather than going to landfills. Brand partners like Casper, Lamps Plus and Parachute have stepped up and generously answered this call, helping to turn empty interiors into homes.

“I’ve always been an ardent supporter of the organization. We most recently helped create a home for a young mother, and I was moved knowing that she will be able to provide a safe, permanent place for her daughter, where they will be able to create memories and experience life together. I love to include my own family, studio and vendors in the experience too, and I hope to inspire others to take part”, says Wearstler.

Looking for ways you can give back and round out your charitable contributions as we enter the final months of 2021? Visit our website for a list of ideas. To give does feel better than to receive, after all!

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Megan Reilly covers the interior design and home furnishings industries, and is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of WestEdge Design Fair, an annual tradeshow and lifestyle event held in Santa Monica. She splits her time between Los Angeles and Palm Springs, two great destinations for all things design-related.

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