By Cindy Clarke

Each November for the last 28 years, the Southport Congregational Church in Southport, Connecticut, has hosted a select group of interior designers, architects and artists to create a cohesive work of art in makeshift vignettes throughout the church. These “Rooms with a View” were imagined by the Dean of American Design himself, Albert Hadley, who, along with three other church members, established this design showcase in 1993 to celebrate the work of talented area designers, six men, six women, six from New York, six from Connecticut, six established, six new.

The event not only provides a priceless resource for attendees seeking inspiration for decorating projects of their own, it also helps the church support neighbors in need in Bridgeport through the work of 19 different agencies. Since its inception, Rooms with a View has raised over $1.9 million for local charities.

In 2023, 12 designers and 5 artists participated, wowing some 20,000 visitors over five days with talks by interior design experts and landscape architects, during hands-on presentations that shared tips of the trade, book signings by acclaimed designers, in intimate six by eight foot spaces imaginatively transformed into visions of comfort and style by the industry’s best, and a reinvented café that dazzled with the dreams of renowned hospitality design guru Christian P. Arkay-Leliever.

It’s all about the experiences people have in the environments he creates that make Christian P. Arkay-Leliever’s work come alive with unexpected energy and excitement. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hair salon, a curated butcher shop, a high-end restaurant or a pop-up café, his designs engage like no other, turning a space into a destination that brings people back again and again.

He thinks of himself as fairly energetic, hard-working and passionate about what he does. But he takes it up a notch with a non-stop dedication to design and detail that electrifies anything and everything he undertakes with distinctive theatrical vibes distinctively his. He told us that he aspires to bring something different to the projects he undertakes. What he does is elevate brands and transform venues with a creativity that inspires imaginations, defies comparison and whets the appetite with new perspectives and possibilities.

We sat down with him after experiencing his work on behalf of Southport, Connecticut’s 2023 Rooms with a View showcase, arguably the best and biggest design event that Connecticut offers.

“There’s no other design event like this in Connecticut,” he told us as we were thinking there’s no other designer out there like Christian either.

Actively involved with Rooms with a View since 2002, Christian created the Hadley in 2012 and. Has reimagined the space three times since. The café, named in honor of the late Albert Hadley, the founder and driving force behind the event, is a pop-up venue located in the chapel of the church where Rooms with a View is held. After the 2019 event, the church began using the Hadley as a community space that can easily transition to different types of meeting rooms for Bible studies, women’s group, knitting circles, men’s groups and more. Christian uses it as a canvas for his collaborative dining experiences.

“I’m given free rein to create what I envision for the Hadley,” he explained, with one critical caveat that could be a show-stopper for other designers. “I can’t touch any of the walls. I can’t touch the ceiling or floor. I can’t disrupt the architecture of the space.”

What he did disrupt for four years running was any semblance to the cafés of the years before, exceeding expectations with innovative new concepts for this community-oriented space.

The first year he orchestrated a sit-down dinner with five differently deigned private tables and a 17-foot long community table with barstools underneath in the center of the room, choreographing the meal with the plates, the colors and the presentation. He had an entire flagstone walkway leading to the altar of the chapel, brought in 50 yards of sod and sodded all the sides with it, picking willows branches to make enclosures for the tables. Christian collaborated with students from the NY School of Interior Design to decorate over 100 paper doll cut-outs of Albert’s drawings to create a 15-foot mobile in the center of the room that moved with the heat of the candles below.

“This all happened during Hurricane Sandy so we had to improvise along the way. It was crazy but fun and everyone loved it,” he recalls.

The furniture and lighting were donated by sponsors and vendors, remaining at his disposal for the next two cafés he created. His last HADLEY café incarnation was different, birthing a vision nine long months in the making, and introducing all-new design elements to refresh and revitalize the space.

While he is the go-to designer for many notable restaurants and retail spaces from Connecticut to New York and beyond, “It’s the only time I’ll probably ever own a restaurant,” he admitted, so like everything he does for his clients, he pulled out all the stops to make it uniquely unforgettable for his guests.

His goal for a night at the HADLEY in 2023 was to build a reimagined dining chapel within the chapel, mixing modern-day elegance with cutting-edge creativity in design and technology, so people could experience something different wherever they looked. Collaborating with leading Connecticut vendors and suppliers, he turned the community space into a culinary-inspired experience that pulsed with food, fellowship and fun. He installed LED lighting from MIZ Lighting and Jesco (NJ) on the wall and ceiling that seductively moved up and down with music artfully mixed by his daughter Bree and experienced through Pioneer Pro Audio and orchestrated in eight different lighting and sound programs. He remade existing tables with new wood tops by Quality Woodworks and solid marble tops from Fame Luxury Stone cut to size on site from his marble man Avi of Sela Marble (NJ) chose contemporary stained black benches from Heller and Hurdle chairs from Grand Rapids Seating; covered the floor with custom-quilted Chilewich vinyl carpeting; and worked with Chemetal to fabricate mirrored and perforated metal ceiling panels that reflected the energy at work in the space with framework built by New Haven Awning.

He catered to the senses with a feast of color-coordinated choreographed platings prepared by Connecticut‘s 2023 Chef of the Year Winner, David DiStasi of Materia Ristorante for the event’s private gala dinner, along with area food and drink experts – Copps Island Oysters, Saugatuck Provisions, Vita Pasta, Atelier BE Chocolat and Benziger Wine – who together wowed guests at weekend cocktail receptions. Heller’s contemporary black dinnerware and Steelite’s cutlery and stemware added culinary contrasts and drama to Christian’s dining adventure.

Not one to take all the credit, Christian told us that he blessed to work with a team of long-time partners who are as passionate about their work and local community as he is.

“They believe in what I’m building and they love the idea that everything we achieved in creating a memorable night at the HADLEY was for charity, in this case 19 different Connecticut charities,” he said.

He explained that everything is choreographed months ahead to flow together seamlessly and create a theatre in the space. His job is to take all the key elements, design, build, food and wine, and do something beautiful with them.

“Three or four months before the event, Chris Benziger from Beziger Wines and chef David DiStasi did a wine pairing for the chocolates we were serving at the event as well as each course we served. Benoit from Atelier BE Chocolat made new chocolates to go with each wine we poured, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Prosecco, and Cava. He also surprised our guests with a massive tabletop chocolate bar flavored with caramelized pumpkin seeds and spice that his staff hammered into pieces and handed out to a deliciously delighted crowd. Everything by every talent that you could possibly imagine participated in this Hadley to make the entire experience unforgettable. I worked closely with Vita Pasta Lab who plated fresh pasta all night, consulted with Connecticut Chef Matt Storch of Saugatuck Provisions who provided us with the prosciutto I hung from clothes hangers over his cooking station and the local Copps Island Oysters, as fresh from the sea as you can get. We had breadsticks handmade by Westport Fatto a Mano baker, Pierluigi, whose Italian panettone landed him on TV with Martha Stewart, that Matt individually wrapped with prosciutto and truffle butter. Everyone we worked with for the event supported our mindset and mission. The entire process was akin to how a chef plates a meal. There’s a lot of preparation, design and detail. It’s the same thing with the designer who plates the room for you.”

“We’re very blessed at the church and as a community to have the benefit of some great relationships and people that care enough to participate in an event that makes a big impact,” he added. And we are similarly blessed and oh-so-grateful for the magical moments and memories he shares in spaces where the art of hospitality is taken to new heights. ☐


Congratulations to the talented Class of 2023 Designers who participated in Rooms with a View.

Scot Meacham Wood

Ross Alexander

Amanda Reynal

Stamford Modern


Lindsey Coral Harper

Amanda Essex

Jasmin Reese

Smith Gardner

Robin O’Neil

Jennifer Gresinger

Save the dates!

Rooms with a View 2024
November 8 – 10
Opening party, November 7

For more information visit:

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