Getting ready for the next one; Bob hangs Steve Alpert, oil on canvas, in the foyer Q: How did you come to the North Fork?
A: In 1990 I left my ten-year career in investment banking and moved from the city to Quogue to a short term rental. That summer I helped out a friend and bartended at her restaurant in Southampton. I had planned to leave in August and move to the west coast, but met my partner, Nick Elllis, decided to stay and moved back to the city.
Nick had spent summers on the North Fork and introduced me to it shortly after we met. Before we new it, we were buying a house in Cutchogue. We dolled up that house and then swapped with the neighbor across the street. We renovated, rebuilt and groomed that property, and twelve years later sold it. We live in Greenport now, our little metropolis on the East End.
Q: What led you to the show house?
Bottom line . . . for years and years I have always wanted to organize a show house. Don't ask my why, but I find them fascinating. I am a little bit of a fabric freak and turned that interest into a second career. Nick and I started our own clothing line shortly after we met. It was all about the fabric and the detail.
We started in menswear. Our first customer was Berdorf's Men. I guess one could consider the line a bit androgynous, as that first delivery ended up in Bergdorf Goodman Women's 57th St. windows. Henri Bendel, another specialty retailer, found us and put us on the map in womenswear. It's a bigger market, so we went for it.
The line was called Tapp New York and was a medium sized small business, all manufactured in New York, schlepped on the subway and distributed throughout the US, Japan and a lesser extent in Europe. We worked it for fourteen years and had a little reprise of it five years ago.
I also design gardens, and together we have done some interior design. Nick is an avid antique collector, so with that comes selling to make room for his new stash. I consider that part of our portfolio of small design businesses.
A: I'm done with working, though that is not say I am giving up my gardening business. However, it's much more fun and fulfilling to volunteer. The gifts I have received in my life are beyond measure. Now I am putting my talents to work to help others - the poor and people who simply have had bad luck. For some reason, I received the design gene with a little bit of a circus barker gene when it comes to events. As I mentioned, I always wanted to do a designer show house, in part because of the exaggeration.
Some very good friends of Nick's and mine, were also itching to do something fun and fairly big and new for charity. As a group, we said let's go for it. I cannot emphasize enough that the show house in August, and our holiday event, is a collaboration of very talented and loving friends. In alphabetical order, they are Melissa Buckley, Kate DiGregorio, Nick Ellis, Christine Kosmynka, and Barbara and Tom McAdam. We had a blast pulling it out of our magician's hat.
But back to how it happened. Our group was determined to find a house to produce a show house. If you think about it, that's kind of hard to do. But I had an epiphany. The manse of Cutchogue Presbyterian Church was empty. Our minister, Richie King, is a farmer in Southampton and lives on the South Fork. The manse, though respectably maintained, was glowing, pulsing, with its need for a makeover. I am a member of CPC. I proposed to the congregation, and voila, within minutes everyone said yes. No strings attached.
(Before and after of the exterior:)
Q: That sounds like an overwhelming undertaking.
A: With enthusiasm most things can be accomplished. I think all on the committee had event experience. In clothing Nick and I had seven deliveries a year, each its own event. I find deadlines exhilarating. All of us had a certain buzz about us as it came together. We were a cohesive committee, but worked as independent operators, majority ruling and no one in charge.
Help from an army of others came out of the woodwork. I cannot over emphasize the support from the church. Tom Wickham was incredible about managing the upgrade of the house to make it show house ready. The August show transformed into a gorgeous example of teamwork by a good 150 or 200 people in the community all in the spirit of making our community a better place.
Q: What do you mean by exaggeration in design?
A: My decorative point of view tends to be all about exaggeration. Big things in small spaces. High density decoration. Color everywhere. Stating the obvious sometimes in a big way. My philosophy is if every object is beautiful, it will all go with each other. A show house is a very big exaggeration, because every room has a different point of view, yet all working in harmony.
(Here's a before and after of the hallway that Bob and Nick designed for the August Show House:)
Q: The first show house was in August; why are you doing another one for Christmas? How is this one different?
A: We are doing the holiday event to ride the wave. We are doing a variation on the theme. I know there is still interest in the concept, and we would be remiss if we didn't capitalize on that to help those in need. The August event was a classic designer show house, with twenty designers crafting space indoors and out. It was a wild success. We gave four local charities five figure checks, and had money left over to give to some to the church and to local families in need.
(Beneficiaries receiving their checks:)
The holiday event is not a knock off of the August show. It is its next transformation and is half show house, half pop-up emporium.
Q: Half show house, half emporium—what does that mean?
A. Where there were twenty designers in August, there are forty-one exhibitors for the holidays. Not only will it be beautiful, it will be bulging with merchandise for sale. We are calling it The Best of the North Fork. It is a gigantic example of the uniqueness of shopping local. I cannot over emphasize the economic benefits of buying local and its impact on the local economy.
Six of our designers are back - Conni Cross, Debbie Gildersleeve from Renee's, Lori Guyer from White Flower Farmhouse, Christine McCabe and Yvonne McNab and Clarke's Garden. Three other rooms are being decorated as rooms by Kathy Pettetta of Phoebe & Belle, Terry Hofer and Barbara Bartoloni of Gallery 429.
(Conni Cross's attic in August, before and after:)
All of the rooms are being decorated for the holidays, and everything in the rooms will be for sale. Other rooms will be multi-vendor rooms.
The soft goods department is on the first floor, a room shared by the Peconic Ruggers and woolens from 8 Hands Farm. The hallways are gallery space hung with gorgeous artwork for sale. Think of us as a mini-department store representing local designers, retailers, artists, food makers, farmers, florists, artisans. What could be better? What could be more beautiful.
But Christmas at the Show House isn’t your grandma’s department store; there’s a real hipness and modernity to it. Many of the business owners will be there. Some of the vendors and products aren't even available on the internet. Only at the show house do you have a shot at scooping up their goods.
Q: There’s something really cool though incongruous about having a hipster department store pop up in that building; I mean, it’s a gorgeous old downtown Cutchogue institution.
A: Thank you, and yes. The house was built in 1835 and moved to its present location in 1852. The house has been home to the Presbyterian ministers for 165 years or so.
Think Norman Rockwell when you see our outdoor display. Santa's Christmas Tree Farm is just down the street from us, and has given us the run of the store. We were not bashful about borrowing lots of Christmas lights. Mullen Motors is parking a brand new jeep in the driveway with a Christmas tree tied on top, furthering our, how do you say it?, home-for-the-holidays look.
Q: This show house is for charity too, isn’t it?
A: Yes. This time we’re helping Wounded Warriors, Families in Need and Mondays at Racine. The charities will share in the ticket and raffle proceeds.
Q: After this show house closes its 3 weekend run, will that be it? Is this orchestrate-a-big-charity-design-event bug out of your system?
A: No, this isn’t out of my system. I hope I am just getting started. I’m not happy if I’m not doing something for the first time. I'm hoping we keep our team together, the committee, designers, church, sponsors and figure out our next metamorphosis. Right now I'm thinking it could have something to do with fairy tales. Make it very theatrical.