How would you describe your personal style?
After doing interior design for twenty years that’s still the hardest question to answer. I’ve discovered that the words I would use to describe my style are not necessarily what others understand. I’m more a traditionalist than a modernist. I like rooms that are textured, warm, patterned, complex and layered and, at the same time, comfortable and easy to live in. A room should have depth – I can’t stand the two-dimensional look of rooms you find in catalogues.
When working with clients I find their passions and meld them into a bigger picture. Many designers are known for a certain look or an established theme. I’ve never been that guy.
Do HGTV type shows educate viewers about design?
I’ve never watched a single show because I feel that they lower the common denominator rather than elevate the general level of sophistication. People should aspire to great design.
How did you become a designer?
After college I was working in New York in a large advertising agency on the account side and hating it. It hadn’t occurred to me to do anything creative but then a good friend’s dad who was an architect pushed me into interior design. I went to FIT – the Fashion Institute of Technology and took courses. Since I had no experience, I couldn’t look for a job with a firm, so I printed up cards and started out super small. The most difficult part was teaching myself so I could answer client questions. I ultimately learned a lot about how furniture is made, the characteristics of fabrics, rug manufacture, decorative arts, and antiques. Understanding how things are made makes you a much better designer. One of my key traits is trying to never disappoint people. I struggle to impress clients and create something they will love. To give them more than they had expected.
How do you find clients?
Clients have always found me. Although I have had lots of fantastic magazine mentions no client has ever called me because of them. Here in Amenia, NY, Tent is a great big billboard that is bringing in new clients. Everyday 25,000 cars pass by my store.
Do you work with local resources and trades?
They are harder to find up here than in New York, but I knew they had to be here. It’s easier to make beautiful things here than in New York, and many artisans have left the city. I’ve found cabinet makers, metal smiths, upholsterers, wallpaper hangers, marbleized lamp shade painters, weavers, and artists as well. Actually, I travel the world to find amazing décor: India where you can get anything made, lacquer work in Paris, rugs in Sri Lanka, nightstands in Mexico, light fixtures in Utah. I enjoy finding crafts people all over the world.
What are the most interesting design challenges?
Every project is a challenge – a problem to solve. Just laying out furniture arrangements is a right and left-brain exercise. Recently I came up with a solution to disguise an architectural mess by wrapping the whole room in Madagascar cloth to make it warm and comfortable.
Does having children and family make you a better designer?
My family makes me a better human being and therefore a better designer. I’m also more focused and efficient when I’m working because I want to spend time with my girls. And they add to the possibilities of your life. I would never have gone to a Harry Styles concert if it wasn’t for our 13-year-old twin girls. I was overwhelmed with the kindness, optimism, and innocence of that evening at Madison Square Garden with thousands of young girls.
What products do you design?
I have a large catalogue of furniture, upholstery, lighting, sconces, and rugs that I originally designed for clients. We display some pieces of the collection at Tent. I’ve spent years getting the seat, arm and back height just right on a sofa and making cushions that have the right size, volume and content. Furniture is only available through me – I don’t do any licensing.
What’s the tent outside Tent?
For a long time, I’ve done business with a Persian carpet dealer, and we have access to a virtually unlimited supply of antique rugs of every size, shape, color, origin, and style. Our first sale of around 150 rugs is only for five days but it’s a way for clients outside the city to buy at really attractive prices and avoid the 500% mark-up you might find in New York stores.
Describe your clients? Have you ever fired one?
That’s easy. Most of my clients are curious, open, willing to trust me. They treat the design process like an interesting experience, not like a fill-in-the-blank quiz. They appreciate that the three or so ideas I present to them are the best choices after I have filtered through thousands of possible options.
The interior design business is rife with the possibility of disagreement which can easily happen when money and creativity combine. It’s important to set down the rules with clients to minimize arguments going forward. Clients come with budget, but it’s usually not based on great knowledge. You must work with clients to determine what they want to achieve. Many have not done this before. Once you’ve worked through the language and trust each other you can begin. Clients who have multiple houses are a dream to work with because you already trust each other. A million years ago I did stop working with one very wealthy client because, after six months, she had not been able to select a single item.
Are you ever the client?
Expert advice has been critical in building my business. My attorney and my accountant, who both understand this industry, are always by my side. Before opening the store, I engaged a retail consultant because it was a totally new endeavor for me.
Have you adjusted to having a retail store?
Running a store is very different from having a design studio. The best part is you get to be there all the time and to hear people talk as they experience the space. Every comment has been very positive. Store visitors want to know about the things I’ve chosen and ask questions. There’s something for everyone from $20 to $20,000. We knew that our clientele was up here itching for things to buy. We’re happy to help shoppers with individual pieces of furniture and select fabrics or design a whole house.
What’s your favorite room to design?
I love bathrooms. They exercise the right and left brain – they have to be practical and usable and still be a comfortable room where you look your best naked. Lighting is key.
Do you have a source of inspiration?
People inspire me everywhere, every day. I thanked Iris Apfel for giving everyone permission to be themselves. I’m inspired by Harry Styles, the straight guy with style and his own rules. Individuality, not conformity is inspirational.
What’s your idea of fun?
I love being at home, riding, playing tennis, spending time with our girls, seeing friends. A wonderful thing about Millbrook is that people entertain in their homes, rather than in restaurants. I love going to other people’s houses.
How did you get on Vanity Fair’s best dressed list?
That was back in the days when I went to three black tie events a week and spent a fortune on clothes. Life has changed.
To learn more about Tent and/or Darren, you can call (845) 789-1837, or visit at 4950 NY-22, Amenia, NY, or online at www.tentnewyork.com.