Rooms with A View

Beauty and beneficence go hand in hand at Southport’s annual Rooms with a View.

Text by Debra Judge Silber

Designers know: done right, even a small space can deliver a big impact.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than at Rooms with a View, the annual design showcase at Southport Congregational Church. Now in its twenty-fourth year, the event, centered on a dozen six-by-eight-foot design vignettes, has raised $1.6 million toward the church’s goals of promoting education, assisting the underserved, and feeding the hungry.

If that isn’t impact enough, it has been credited with propelling more than a few designers into the spotlight. “One of the fun facts is that, of Architectural Digest’s annual 100 top designers, typically ten to twenty have done Rooms with a View,” says Christopher Philip, proprietor of Lattice House in Southport and the event’s marketing chairman.

The idea for the jewel-box showcase emerged in 1994, as church members grappled with replacing the antique show that had been the congregation’s primary fundraiser. One of those members was the renowned designer Albert Hadley, who championed the idea of a designer showcase consisting of small vignettes. “We weren’t exactly sure what that meant,” recalls the Rev. Laura Whitmore, the church’s associate minister. But the inaugural showcase drew several hundred visitors, making her a believer. “It was amazing, what they could do with three walls and a ceiling!” she says. “And Albert, being who he was, knew tons of people, so it wasn’t hard for him to get people to participate.”

It’s impossible to consider RWAV without recognizing Hadley, who guided the event until his death in 2012 and who is remembered as a beloved mentor of so many RWAV alumni. To continue his effort to inspire young talent, Hadley chose designer Thom Filicia, who had worked with him at Parish-Hadley, as honorary chairman. Though no longer in that role, Filicia continues to support Hadley’s legacy accomplishment.

“When someone like Albert, who’s so established, encourages you, well, that’s huge,” says Edie van Breems, co-owner with Rhonda Eleish of Westport’s Eleish van Breems and a three-time RWAV designer. In addition to Hadley’s encouragement, she says the small scale of the displays spurs the participation of emerging designers unable to afford the time or expense of a traditional -showhouse.

“Albert loved new talent,” says Parker Rogers, RWAV’s current design chairman, who launched his own career with a “gentleman’s study” he created for RWAV fifteen years ago. Together with design co-chair Laura Meyer, Rogers continues to follow Hadley’s original formula in selecting each year’s participants, balancing the number of men and women, new designers and established designers, designers from Connecticut and designers from New York. Invitations go out in the spring, but, Philip notes, “Parker gets calls all year long.”

As of September, designers’ big plans for the small spaces were still under wraps, but if tradition holds, they’re sure to involve plenty of outside-the-box thinking. Particularly memorable scenes have included a miniature chapel, a screened porch, and a famous botanist’s study; but every living room and library, dining area and dressing room on display is notable for its creativity and complexity.

Along with the designers, more than 100 church volunteers, craftspeople, and support staff will pitch in for the event, which in recent years has drawn 3,000 visitors over its three days.

The church, like Hadley, follows something of a formula in selecting organizations it aids. “Our Congregational roots have always supported education as a vital part of the human experience, as it’s what we strongly feel brings communities out of poverty,” Whitmore says. This commitment materializes in support for organizations dedicated to increasing the odds for inner-city children, such as the Adam J. Lewis Academy in Bridgeport and Horizons enrichment programs at Greens Farms Academy and Sacred Heart University; and at Mercy Learning Center, which provides literacy and life-skills training to low-income women. Funds also help care for the homeless through the Bridgeport Rescue Mission and Homes for the Brave, and to offer support to the formerly incarcerated, through Emerge Connecticut Inc. and Family ReEntry. Community-building is part of the formula, too, with aid to the Burroughs Community Center and Bridgeport Council of Churches. A complete list of beneficiaries can be found on the church’s website.

“It’s about working collaboratively for a mission greater than yourself,” says Whitmore, who marvels at the designers’ generosity and creativity. “It’s a wonderful thing to unite beauty and service and mission and love and kindness all in one big weekend.”

Rooms with a View runs Thursday, Nov. 1 through Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, at Southport Congregational Church. For information and tickets, visit southportucc.org.

 

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