Now in its third year, the Kingston Design Showhouse is bringing creatives, designers, and the general public together (safely and socially distanced, of course) from November 27 – December 13, 2020. The showhouse and its overarching organization, the Kingston Design Connection, were the brainchild of one woman: interior designer Maryline Damour. A native of Haiti with a passion for giving back and bringing community together, Damour has a unique background in marketing, business development, and PR that gave her the perfect skill set to take on such a daunting challenge.
We spoke with Damour about the creative community in the Hudson Valley, how she found her second act as a designer, and — of course — what it’s like to put on a showhouse during a pandemic. Read what she had to say, see some of the interiors of the showhouse, and be sure to get your tickets to visit.
First things first: What’s it like putting on a showhouse in a pandemic? How have the designers and sponsors reacted, and what are the biggest challenges and opportunities?
My two biggest concerns this year have been providing a safe space for showhouse participants working in the house and for attendees, as well as raising enough money for our nonprofit partner. Last year, we raised a good sum for Family of Woodstock because we had over a thousand attendees to the showhouse and were able to donate those proceeds.
The big surprise is how amazing our sponsors have been. This is the first year that we’ve asked for and received financial support to produce the showhouse from design companies and PR firms in the industry. I’m grateful for the recognition that design showhouses are an asset worthy of supporting, even in these trying times.
Tell us a bit about the process of setting up the showhouse these days. How has that worked in terms of installation and the designers’ involvement?
A few designers who had accepted wound up not being able to participate because — especially for those from out of state — the upheaval across the design & build industry due to COVID proved to be too much of a challenge for them meeting the showhouse deadlines.
This is the third edition of the Kingston Design Showhouse. What are some of the things you’ve learned that you wish you’d known in the previous iterations?
I wish I had known how all-consuming it is! It’s been rewarding and difficult balancing being a working interior designer and a showhouse developer. I’m lucky to have an amazing board of advisors. We also created a strategy & development team this year to institutionalize processes across Kingston Design Connection (our organization that produces the showhouse) and continue developing valuable programs for our community.
The showhouse features a mix of designers, landscape architects, and artists primarily from the Hudson Valley, rather than New York City itself. Why was it important to you to include so many locals?
I started the Kingston Design Showhouse in 2018 specifically to connect designers, contractors, artists and vendors across the Hudson Valley because, when I moved here from NYC, it was a need I identified and thought I could help address. Because this was my goal, 100% of our participants were from the Hudson Valley that year. Last year we had about 5% from New York City and, this year, we had participants apply from all across the U.S., from Massachusetts to Utah. It’s great to see the continuing and growing interest in Hudson Valley design.
How has Kingston itself changed? The area has transformed over the last few years, with an influx of city residents — many coming to live full time. My design & build company Damour Drake designs interiors and builds houses from the ground up. Over the past four years, our mix of clients in the Hudson Valley has changed significantly, from the majority being from the region to today, where half our clients are transplants from New York City (like me).
Kingston has a growing body of creative entrepreneurs who have opened up businesses. We have new restaurants, design shops, art studios, etc. The city is also looking at ways to support these efforts. I’m hopeful this will provide more opportunities for creatives to have sustainable and successful businesses.
Tell us a bit about this house in particular: What made you select it, and how does it differ from previous showhouses?
It was a key criteria this year to have a house large enough where people could be indoors safely. The house is a large turn-of-the-century mansion. We are using four floors but only twelve spaces so that we can safely social distance as we develop spaces and open for tours (November 27 – December 13). Previously, I used as many rooms as possible in our showhouses to engage and connect as many creatives. We had over 185 participants in the 2019 showhouse.
The third annual Kingston Design Showhouse will include virtual events for the first time. Because of the pandemic, we ventured into virtual programs when the shutdown happened. We’ve been hosting a panel discussion since the shutdown, At the Design Table, with Chronogram Media, where we invite creatives to discuss relevant topics. This is another way we’re continuing to achieve our goal of building community through design.
Who are some of the beneficiaries of this year’s showhouse?
Every year we select a local nonprofit partner and donate proceeds from our showhouse events. This year our partner is the Hudson Valley Senior Residence, a long-standing establishment in Kingston. As we know seniors, and senior residences specifically, have been especially hard hit during the pandemic.
You worked for years in marketing and PR for big corporations before going to Parsons to study interior design and found your own firm, Damour Drake. How did that background help in your work on the showhouse and your approach to your own business?
Before becoming an interior designer, I was a business consultant. Developing the showhouse was a sort of self-directed consulting project. When I moved upstate, I was surprised to find that this community of amazing creatives didn’t really know each other. They were eager to connect and collaborate. The idea of the showhouse came out of a year’s worth of research to develop a mechanism to enable us to collaborate for greater impact and continue bringing attention to the Hudson Valley design scene.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about the showhouse or your ongoing efforts?
We’ve gained a lot of recognition for the Kingston Design Showhouse. However, our organization Kingston Design Connection develops programs throughout the year to connect creatives. Last year, Kingston Design Connection invited 15 Hudson Valley artists and makers to participate at the Architectural Digest Show and DIFFA Dining by Design. My design partner Melvin Jones and I created a dining room together with these participants that was featured in The New York Times and Interior Design magazine, providing a national platform and opportunity for greater recognition for our creatives and Hudson Valley design.
Lead photo: Bedroom design by Ariana Winston
All photos by Ariel Camilo Photography