Des­ti­na­tion by de­sign


Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Food & Dining - By Christina Hen­nessy chen­nessy@ hearst­medi­; Twit­ter: @xti­na­hen­nessy

Suzanne Blum recalls the cus­tomer whose trav­els on a mid- May day took her from Bos­ton to Green­wich and through the doors of the Water­works show­room. Af­ter soak­ing in the scene for a spell at the bath­room and kitchen de­sign store, the woman headed for the door – but not be­fore ask­ing for ad­vice.

“She said to me, ‘ Now that I have been here, be­fore I go back, what do you sug­gest that I do, where do I go. I just want to get in­spired,’ ” Blum says of the ex­change.

It was rel­a­tively easy to direct her. Blum, who is the store’s gen­eral man­ager, merely ad­vised her to head out the door and start walk­ing. Put­nam Av­enue, where Water­works is lo­cated ( 23 W. Put­nam to be ex­act), has a string of home furnishing and de­sign stores, all within a short dis­tance of one an­other ( not to men­tion art gal­leries, bak­eries, cof­fee shops and restau­rants). “I gave her some places to stop, but I said, re­ally, you can just go up and down the street and find some very interesting shops. She left ex­cited.”

Since Oc­to­ber, more than a dozen stores, of­fer­ing cus­tom fur­ni­ture, de­signer light­ing, art, wall­cov­er­ings and dé­cor, have come to­gether un­der the ban­ner of the Green­wich De­sign District. Or­ga­nized by Darien- based pub­lic re­la­tions firm Im­ages & De­tails, it helped to an­swer the ques­tion of how to trade those clicks on a mouse for heels on the pave­ment.

“I have seen that area be­come more densely pop­u­lated with de­sign- re­lated busi­nesses. I thought they needed to pool to­gether to help each other, as well as be­come a des­ti­na­tion for con­sumers and de­sign pro­fes­sion­als,” says Beth Dempsey, pres­i­dent and founder of the firm.

The idea of an in­te­rior de­sign cen­ter is not new. The New York De­sign Cen­ter and the Dec­o­ra­tion and De­sign “D& D” Build­ing in New York City have served the trade- only busi­ness and con­sumers for decades, as has La Cienega De­sign Quar­ter in Los An­ge­les. The San Fran­cisco De­sign Cen­ter started in the early 1970s. The Mi­ami De­sign District and the Chelsea De­sign Quar­ter in Lon­don ar­rived more re­cently.

In the past sev­eral years, how­ever, de­sign dis­tricts have popped up in smaller cities and sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties, such as the one that opened up in Philadel­phia in April, the Sara­sota ( Fla.) De­sign District in 2014 and Stam­ford’s Wa­ter­side De­sign District in 2016. There are oth­ers in West Hart­ford, Nashville and Washington D. C.’ s Ge­orge­town neigh­bor­hood. Most mix na­tional and in­ter­na­tional brands with lo­cal bou­tiques and ser­vices.

“Greater in­ter­est in in­te­rior de­sign is be­ing driven largely by so­cial me­dia and on­line con­tent, which is fu­el­ing a higher de­mand for de­sign ser­vices and prod­ucts,” says Ch­eryl Durst, the ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and CEO of In­ter­na­tional In­te­rior De­sign As­so­ci­a­tion. “More peo­ple are seek­ing out sources and in­for­ma­tion that help them ex­press in­di­vid­ual de­sign pref­er­ences and in­spire their own unique sense of place.”

Home­own­ers- turned- de­sign en­thu­si­asts, she says, want to work with in­te­rior de­sign­ers and in­vest the time and money. “The pro­lif­er­a­tion of de­sign dis­tricts across the coun­try is a re­sponse to this new wave of in­ter­est.”

Real- life brows­ing also pro­vides a more tac­tile ex­pe­ri­ence. Go ahead and run your hand over plush tow­els or blan­kets, turn the han­dle on a faucet, or nudge that bar cart and see how it moves.

“For peo­ple who love de­sign, it’s an ex­cuse to get out of the house, meet peo­ple and be in­spired,” says Amy Crain, who runs Home, with her hus­band Shawn Miller, at 36 E. Put­nam, which is full of cus­tom fur­ni­ture and light­ing from Ap­pa­ra­tus, Bocci, Lind­sey Adel­man and oth­ers. “It gives you fresh eyes. You see things you have never seen be­fore. It leaves you in­spired.”

Ev­ery­one is wel­come to walk in to Put­nam & Ma­son ( 34 E. Put­nam), a de­sign ate­lier lo­cated next to Home. Launched a year ago by New York de­sign­ers Kim Alessi and Robert Pas­sal, it pro­vides a so­phis­ti­cated, cos­mopoli­tan feel to the leafy, tree- lined av­enue. The show­room more re­sem­bles a so­phis­ti­cated city abode than a store.

“We all do things a bit dif­fer­ently, and I feel the oth­ers can fill in the gaps that we can’t ful­fill,” Alessi says, adding that she also ben­e­fits from pop­ping in on her neigh­bors when time al­lows.

Since form­ing, the group has hosted sev­eral events that brought in top names in de­sign for talks and pre­sen­ta­tions. The district is poised to ex­pand its vis­i­bil­ity with a new web­site and ef­forts to mar­ket it as a des­ti­na­tion – a re- flec­tion of how the in­te­rior de­sign in­dus­try has shifted.

“Pro­fes­sional in­te­rior de­sign­ers — those spe­cial­iz­ing in both res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tions — have long had ac­cess to trade- only re­sources housed within de­sign cen­ters. This move­ment to­ward the de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion of de­sign has ex­panded se­lec­tion and pur­chas­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and is pro­vid­ing greater ac­cess to in­te­rior sources among pro­fes­sional de­sign­ers as well as home­own­ers,” Durst says.

The district’s fu­ture is its evo­lu­tion as a re­source and point of ref­er­ence for de­sign­ers, de­sign watch­ers and visi­tors sim­ply out for a stroll.

“It goes beyond see­ing this as a com­mer­cial des­ti­na­tion, but also a leisure des­ti­na­tion for fans of cre­ative entertainment,” says Do­minique Ma­son, a sales as­so­ciate at Water­works and li­ai­son for the district. “Over time, we would like our de­sign district to be con­sid­ered a go- to al­ter­na­tive to the city, but also sim­ply as a place to have fun, a place to learn, and an area that can cre­ate buzz and ex­cite­ment.”

B. Rus­sell / Con­trib­uted photo

The Green­wich De­sign District in­cor­po­rates 18 shops and re­tail­ers who spe­cial­ize in in­te­rior de­sign, home decor and fur­nish­ings.

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