It’s not easy to keep track of design’s swelling showhouse calendar. They are popping up around the country like Whac-A-Moles, but in a city two hours north of New York, one is cutting through the noise. We chatted with Maryline Damour, the interior designer and founder of the annual Kingston Design Showhouse, which aims to forge partnerships with creatives working in the Hudson Valley. The house will later be sold at below-market value to an eligible buyer in an effort to preserve affordable housing in the area. The fourth edition opened earlier this month and is on view through October 24. Here, Damour discusses how it all came together.
ELLE DECOR: How’s it going in Kingston?
Maryline Damour: Well, I can tell you that so many people have moved to the area, Verizon has to build another cell tower.
ED: There are a lot of showhouses popping up these days. What makes Kingston stand out from the rest?
MD: The idea with Kingston is to create value in different types of communities, so we’re not only talking to ourselves all the time. Just because you can’t afford design doesn’t mean you can’t be interested in it. The Kingston City Land Bank has a dozen homes to rehab and put on the market. Let’s see if our project, which is a rehab of one such home, can serve as a pilot program. It can be a model for other showhouses to copy. I think it can ultimately help maintain the value they bring.
ED: The mission is “to build community through design.” How was that lacking in 2018 when you first began?
MD: I moved up here in 2016 from Brooklyn. I’m one of those people who was priced out of Manhattan, then moved to Brooklyn, only to be priced out of Brooklyn. I’d been hearing about the Hudson Valley and the amazing creatives up here, but I couldn’t find any of them upon arrival. I started going to all kinds of design events up here to meet people, go to their studios, and I kept hearing the same thing: “I’ve been here for 10 years, and I’ve been mostly working on my own.” There needed to be a way to bring all of these creatives together.
ED: The fourth installment of the Kingston Design Showhouse has been unveiled. How is that community you wanted to build looking today?
MD: Interior designers who went to the city to find makers are now working with ones from up here. They’re really finding connections through the showhouse.
ED: Each designer partners with local makers and artists to realize their visions. Do they have a choice in who they work with?
MD: Yes. They have to feature something local in their space. If you have to do that, suddenly the connection is made. New products have actually come out of collaborations between some of our participants.
ED: What’s your favorite room in the current edition?
MD: I cannot answer that [laughs].
ED: Least favorite?
MD: I can’t say that either.
ED: You and your colleague Mel Jones, Jr. designed the “Anywhere but Here” room. That’s not exactly the most inviting name. Please explain.
MD: I like to have a theme that grounds my showhouse room. Last year, it was about creating Covid-19 spaces and how to showcase diversity in design. This year, it’s “anywhere but here” because we all want to escape. The room is meant to transport you somewhere else. It’s not place specific, so you could imagine being where you want to be. It’s technically a guest bedroom with a daybed and a desk. I’d use it as a home office all day long.
ED: Has anyone bought a home in Kingston just to offer it to you to for a showhouse?
MD: Not technically, but sort of. Last year was the first time we found the homeowner at the closing. We got to work creating the showhouse before the homeowners ever moved in.
ED: Did they keep everything the way you left it?
MD: Unlike the majority of showhouses, the owners get to keep everything we install.
ED: Do you smell that kind of scam coming a mile away?
[laughs] Because we use private homes, we have to be strategic. It’s hard to turn over your home and not have one say. If there’s a color they absolutely hate, I make that known to the designers.
ED: How long do you intend to keep this an annual event?
MD: That’s a good question!
MD: I didn’t found it as an annual event. You create something for your own reasons, but then the market tells you what it wants it to be. We incorporated last year, which means we can apply for funding now. And we’re applying for nonprofit status. It’s a major production to pull off every year, but hopefully it’ll become a little easier after that. Don’t forget: It’s my side job.
ED: Is there an ultimate goal for yourself beyond community building that you’re working toward? Mayor of Kingston, perhaps?
MD: No! I come from a family of politicians. I have no interest in that. We just want to get our work out there, and ideally I would like to have projects that take me around the world.
ED: Will Hudson Valley officially become America’s next major design destination?
MD: Isn’t it already!?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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