Design Destination: The Greenwich Design District
February 8, 2018
The eighteen shops and showrooms that make up the Greenwich Design District offer an abundance of all things wonderful for the home.
Text by Debra Judge Silber Photography by Laura Moss
The traffic cop raises a gloved hand to guide me through the phalanx of cars that appears, to the occasional visitor, a permanent condition in Greenwich’s bustling business district. Applying a human touch to traffic control may simply be good public safety, but it also strikes me as representative of the personal attention bestowed on even the most casual transactions that take place in this affluent marketplace.
This kind of white-glove attention is a hallmark, too, of the design trade that has taken root here, along a stretch of U.S. Route 1 known as East and West Putnam Avenues (with apologies to Rudyard Kipling, here is where the twain do indeed meet). While Greenwich’s namesake avenue focuses on clothing—Mitchells, Saks Fifth Avenue, Brooks Brothers, and Tory Burch all have stores here—Putnam Avenue has evolved as a home design destination, offering custom furniture and designer lighting, window treatments and wallcoverings, fine art and bathroom fixtures. Its mix of widely recognized brands and local boutiques promises one-stop shopping for designers. Never mind that its refined, small-town architecture, alluring window displays, and wealth of dining options offer multiple excuses to wander its wide sidewalks.
None of this was lost on Darien-based marketing strategist Beth Dempsey, who recognized the neighborhood’s potential and, late last year, literally put the Greenwich Design District on the map by convincing eighteen shops to add their names to an illustrated plan highlighting the district. With tangible proof of the area’s design vitality, Dempsey then pulled a dozen of those shops together for a “Taste and Tour” last October in which visitors were treated not only to cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, but also book signings, giveaways, and freshly made nosegays from McArdle’s. The district promises more as 2018 unfolds, with Dempsey hoping to solidify the organization, add local design service companies, and launch spring and fall events.
In advance of the coming buzz, photographer Laura Moss and I set out to explore some of the stores that make the district unique.
We soon learned what designers who frequent the area already know—that the best place to start a tour of Greenwich’s Design District is at Oomph (21 West Putnam Ave.), where an adjacent parking lot was just one of the benefits that New Canaan designers Amy Rice and Louise Brooks found when they established a brick-and-mortar home for their successful online furnishings business. Customers are drawn by Oomph’s signature high-gloss lacquered furniture—much of it locally crafted. An ever-changing inventory of pillows, tabletop, linens, and other grab-and-go accessories make the shop a sure thing for designers in need of a quick dose of—what else?—oomph to finish off a room. Online sales still dominate, Rice tells me, but the store provides an opportunity to gauge the appeal of new products and for customers to experience Oomph craftsmanship firsthand. “We never pictured ourselves as a store,” she says, “but people like to come in to touch and feel the pieces.” Meg Leo, who is minding the shop when we visit, notes the effect this has on skeptical spouses—usually husbands—who don’t see the appeal of the brightly colored furniture. After they’ve slid their hand across the mirrorlike finish, she says, “They understand what their wives are talking about.”
Just steps from Oomph’s door, we slip into Circa Lighting, the well-known supplier whose online inventory far surpasses the capacity of any store. But that’s okay, explains sales associate Sue Pinzon. “It’s a very well-edited collection, so it’s not overwhelming.” Still, it’s a visual feast: sparkling glass chandeliers, voluptuous ceramic table lamps, and industrial-chic pendants by designers Christopher Spitzmiller, Thomas O’Brien, Alexa Hampton, and E.F. Chapman, among others. Local designers constitute the majority of Circa’s clientele, as they do for most shops on the avenue.
Completing the trio of showrooms is Waterworks. The luxury kitchen and bath source just expanded to a full 6,000 square feet of tile, bath fixtures, vanities, mirrors, hardware, and most recently, kitchens. “Everyone was asking, when are you bringing kitchens to Greenwich?” says general manager Suzanne Blum as she shows off the expanded showroom that includes three kitchen vignettes, a collection of sprawling work tables laden with kitchen accessories, and drawers housing a hefty selection of hardware in leather, wood, and more than a dozen metal finishes.
Waterworks and Circa are among the national brands that count downtown Greenwich among their many locations. Others include furniture and accessory source Lillian August (26 East Putnam Ave.) and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams (45 East Putnam Ave.). Notable specialty retailers making a home here include The Shade Store (48 West Putnam Ave.), Hästens (23 East Putnam Ave.), Togas (51-53 East Putnam Ave.), and Farrow and Ball (32 East Putnam Ave.). In a clever pairing, Nanz displays its luxury hardware beneath lighting by Remains in a shared space at 44 West Putnam Ave.
A new Greenwich original, Putnam & Mason is located (as its name implies) a few doors down from the intersection of those two streets. The showroom, a partnership between New York designers Kim Alessi and Robert Passal, stands out for its sophisticated urban aesthetic. One of the two is always in the store; today it is Alessi, and she’s with a client—giving us a moment to explore P&M’s mix of vintage objects, contemporary furniture, and fresh artwork arranged casually to evoke a cosmopolitan pied-à-terre. “The concept is to create a living environment in the space,” Alessi explains. “It’s not just a shop, it’s a lifestyle.” Don’t get too comfortable, though—pieces sell regularly, necessitating frequent restaging. What doesn’t change (at least not yet) is the showroom’s deep-blue walls and its powder room, memorable for its mirrored molding, vintage French mirror, and elegant Schumacher wallpaper. Also in the rear of the store is a “sample bar,” designed by kitchen design partner Chuck Wheelock, where clients can spread out wallcoverings, fabric, and floor samples from Brett Designs, Phillip Jeffries, Cowtan and Tout, and others.
Lunch at this point seems like a good idea, so we swing by Coffee Café Roasters at 118 Greenwich Ave., a brick-walled bistro that serves an array of coffee beverages, pastries, salads, and panini. Feeling adventurous, we share a beet toast—an open sandwich topped with beets, crumbled goat cheese, lemon pepper, olive oil, and California walnuts.
We arrive restored at Isabella Garrucho Fine Art, where Alex Trimper, Garrucho’s son and the gallery’s managing director, has just hung The Puzzle, a visually perplexing portrait of a zebra by British photographer David Yarrow. It’s not unusual for the gallery to arrange an in-home trial to ensure that a client’s choice is the right one; the perfect pairing of art and owner, whether for investment or pleasure, is Trimper’s goal. Yarrow’s arresting wildlife photographs dominate the narrow gallery, but come next year, they’ll have more room to roam as the gallery doubles in size to 3,800 square feet of floor space and 6,200 square feet of wall. The expansion will allow more display space for the thirty artists the gallery represents. In addition to artwork, the gallery offers furniture designed by Trimper and Joe Calagna of Anthony Lawrence–Belfair, the manufacturer. The sleek and sinuous sixteen-piece collection is inspired, Trimper explains, by “everything amazing about Art Deco and midcentury-modern style.”
For style of a different kind, we drop in at Room at 36 East Putnam Ave., where Amy Crain offers a comfort-driven, casual collection of furniture and lighting she aptly describes as “organic modern.” A former editor at House & Garden, Crain and husband Shawn Miller launched the Room concept as a catalog in 1998. Two years later, they opened a showroom in Tribeca and in 2008, a second one in Westport. In 2012, she relocated the store to Putnam Ave. It’s a narrow space, but its high ceiling is filled with contemporary lighting from Lindsey Adelman, Bocci, CTO, and others, and its floor with sofas, chairs, tables, and case goods, most of them designed by Crain, and all of them fully customizable. “There’s nothing cookie cutter about it,” she says, a description that’s easily applied as well to the street of shops of which hers is now a part.
The Greenwich Design District
Carmiña Roth Interiors, 219 East Putnam Ave., (203) 987-5961, carminarothinteriors.com
Christopher Peacock, 2 Dearfield Dr., (203) 862-9333, peacockhome.com
Circa Lighting, 21 West Putnam Ave., (203) 622-1417, circalighting.com
Farrow & Ball, 32 East Putnam Ave., (203) 422-0990, farrow-ball.com
Hästens, 23 East Putnam Ave., (203) 629-8022, hastens.com
The Home Boutique of Greenwich, 14 Lewis St., (203) 869-2550
Intérieurs, 238 East Putnam Ave., (212) 343-0800, ext. 203
Isabella Garrucho Fine Art, 40 West Putnam Ave., (203) 622-0500, igifineart.com
Lillian August, 26 East Putnam Ave., (203) 489-3740, lillianaugust.com
Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, 45 East Putnam Ave., (203) 661-4480, mgbwhome.com
Nanz, 44 West Putnam Ave., (203) 987-4403, nanz.com
Oomph, 21 West Putnam Ave., (203) 518-8068, oomphhome.com
Putnam & Mason, 34 East Putnam Ave., (203) 900-1414, putnammason.com
Remains Lighting, 44 West Putnam Ave., (203) 629-1000, remains.com
Room, 36 East Putnam Ave., (203) 557-9066, roomonline.com
The Shade Store, 48 West Putnam Ave., (203) 987-3080, theshadestore.com
Togas, 51-53 East Putnam Ave., (203) 900-1555, togas.com/us
Waterworks, 23 West Putnam Ave., (203) 869-7766, waterworks.com