Design is a powerful tool that transforms our daily lives. Everything from the colors we select in our homes to the subtleties of lighting, evokes a mood and creates ambiance.
After devoting many years of marketing, business development, and public relations expertise to Deloitte, Ernst & Young, PwC, and Accenture, businesswoman Maryline Damour was inspired to make a change in the wake of the earthquake in her home country of Haiti in 2010.
In 2005, she purchased her first house in Kingston, NY. “For the first time, I had rooms to buy furniture for and lots of walls to paint. Back then, it was much more difficult to find and connect with professionals in the field,” stated Maryline Damour, founder/CEO of Kingston Design Connection.
In 2010, she sold her Kingston home, so she could study interior design. After pursuing an education at Parsons School of Design/The New School in Manhattan, Damour co-founded Damour Drake with Fred Drake who already had a successful construction company in the Hudson Valley. The dynamic duo rebranded that company into a full-service design and construction firm. Its office is based in Saugerties.
While still a student at Parsons, Damour had the opportunity to work as lead designer on a project that involved renovating and redesigning an 18th century cathedral that was damaged in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. “We designed custom furniture, stained glass windows, lighting, and more,” revealed Damour.
An avid reader and writer, Damour’s foray into a design-related career was rather unexpected. She majored in literature when she was in college.
That was only the beginning of design for Damour. In 2018, she created Kingston Design Connection and the annual Kingston Design Showhouse. Its purpose: to create spaces and community.
It is a key program through which the non-profit organization achieves its mission to build community through design. The initiative unites designers, artists, makers, contractors, and vendors who collaborate to produce something that is truly unique in the area.
“I wanted to keep dollars in our communities instead of sourcing design/build projects in New York City and elsewhere. The Showhouse is a showcase of the best of Hudson Valley design. Each year, we select applicants that reflect that and then we allocate a room to each designer. Designers are free to create what they like and the public is welcome to visit and get design inspiration as well as meet design/build professionals in their area,” said Damour.
Every year, between ten and 17 designers are selected to participate in the Showhouse via an application process. Another application process invites homeowners in Kingston to submit their houses to be considered for the Showhouse.
Through the Showhouse, participants make lasting artistic and business connections, which strengthen individual businesses and boost the local economy. The annual event also encourages more projects to be sourced locally and promotes Hudson Valley design on a national platform through press and social media. It’s also a wildly inspiring showcase of some of the most creative, skilled talent in the region.
The organization’s Instagram has more than 12.8K followers – the vast majority are creatives in the New York state area. Its Instagram is a key way that creatives in the region find each other. It also provides new residents with a ready community to engage and is a landing spot for anyone wanting to learn more about designers in the Hudson Valley.
Teaming up with non-profits
Each year, Kingston Design Connection appoints a local non-profit to benefit from proceeds generated through the Showhouse ticket sales. For 2022, Damour, her Board of Directors, and executive director, Jennifer Salvemini, chose Ulster County Habitat for Humanity – an organization that builds simple, decent, affordable housing in partnership with people in need.
“It’s increasingly hard to find affordable housing in Kingston. Ulster County Habitat for Humanity plans to build three houses per year, going forward. We were excited to do our small part in support of this effort,” said Damour.
She is proud to speak of the many successes that have emerged from previous Showhouse events. “Through the Showhouse, we engage between 150 and 200 participants (through a series of other annual events) per year. Some of the participants have started businesses together or developed new products through their work in the Showhouse. Last year, we did something unique and partnered with Kingston City Land Bank to help create affordable housing while incorporating high design. Everyone should have access to good design,” stated Damour.
Past partners include Valley Senior Residence in 2020. The year before, Kingston Design Connection teamed up with Family of Woodstock – a network that provides confidential, fully accessible crisis intervention, information, prevention, and support services to individuals and families, and Ulster BOCES, which provides shared educational, administrative, and technical services to Ulster’s eight component districts. In 2018, it selected Marist College and People’s Place – a thrift shop, food pantry, wellness empowerment center, and Community Cafe.
The 2022 Kingston Design Showhouse included a few special events. There was a cooking demonstration with award-winning cookbook author, Maya Kaimal, founder of Maya Kaimal Foods in Red Hook. There were also book signings. One signing was held for Alexa Hampton, president and interior designer at Mark Hampton. In 1998, Alexa took the reins of her father’s iconic firm. She is regularly named to Architectural Digest’s AD100, House Beautiful’s Next Wave designer list, and Elle Decor’s A-List for best interior designers.
The other signing was for Hudson Valley-based textile artist, Shellie Pomeroy who is also the owner of Silk & Willow – a sustainable wedding décor company in New Paltz. In her first book, Natural Tables, Pomeroy shares her secrets to creating beautiful tablescapes with ease, with nature as the foundation of every styling element.
Beyond the annual Showhouse event, Kingston Design Connection develops pop-up events and panel discussions. The organization also brings its community together to showcase their work at regional and national events such as the Architectural Digest Design Show and The Rhinebeck Crafts Festival.
There’s a bevy of other benefits that come along with being a participant in the Kingston Design Showhouse. Participants are granted photographs of all interior and exterior spaces. The photos are taken by a published photographer. Participants also receive a set of images of their work along with full marketing rights, so that the colorful, captivating images may be used for public relations purposes.
Each participant’s contact information is listed in the printed guidebook for attendees and on Kingston Design Connection’s website. Of course, the organization uses many social media posts to highlight participants’ and their work.
Beyond that, there are opportunities for participants to meet press as well as other design professionals and potential clients. Regional and national press includes Chronogram, Upstate House, and Hudson Valley Magazine. Since 2018, the Showhouse has sparked annual coverage in Architectural Digest, and House Beautiful, which was the media partner for 2022.
After previous Showhouses, participants have joined forces to develop new businesses. Participants have also hired one another and sourced from local makers and vendors. In addition, they’ve created new products together (for example, an interior designer who partnered with a maker). Finally participants have been hired by Showhouse attendees.
Many people in the community have voiced their opinions about the strength of this community design initiative. “This house is a true testament to the creative, talented, joyful, generous, collaborative, diverse community of people there is in the Hudson Valley. Thank you for having the vision, fortitude, and maybe insanity to corral us creative cats,” said a spokesperson at Freestyle Restyle – an interior design and styling service in Kingston. Artist Kat Howard added, “Each room feels like a unique portrait of someone who would live there.”
Kingston Design Connection is proud of its Board of Advisors, which boasts the names of several creatives with international acclaim and a stake in the economic vitality of the community. The group includes Sheila Bridges who was named “America’s Best Interior Designer” by CNN and Time Magazine; G. Riley Johndonnell, an award-winning artist and co-founder of art/design collaborative for social causes; and Sabine Rothman: producer and former editorial market director of Hearst Design Group.
Damour is continually inspired by the Showhouse and draws inspiration from the world around her. “It could be the leg of a chair; the mood of a movie, or a piece of music,” revealed Damour. Her list of favorite designers includes Sheila Bridges, Alexa Hampton, and Alessandra Branca.
Although design is a very personal choice, Damour points to two trending home design looks. “There’s been a lot of interest in soft, plushy furnishing and textiles and more organic forms in furniture.”
Tune into her radio show, Maryline By Design every week for strategies that can be used to develop successful creative businesses. It airs every Friday at 11am on 88.7 FM WHCL. Damour launched the engaging program in 2020 as a means of keeping creatives connected. She is certainly doing her share to keep the design community united and thriving.
To learn more about Kingston Design Connection, you can visit kingstondesignconnection.com, or to reach Damour Drake via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit damourdrake.com.