Stamford’s Waterside Design District
August 8, 2017
For busy designers, the emerging Waterside Design District brings New York showrooms closer to home.
Text by Debra Judge Silber Photography by Laura Moss
True, the “Waterside” in its name does set an expectation that Stamford’s newest design destination involves boardwalks and beach grass in addition to samples and swatches. While that’s not the case—the area south of I-95 along the mouth of Rippowam River remains unavoidably industrial—there’s no shortage of lovely things to look at. They’re just found inside the showrooms.
As of this summer, the stretch of Fairfield Avenue between Selleck and Congress streets was home to eight showrooms, with at least one, and possibly two, notable new tenants expected to move in by fall. For designers and their clients who live or work in Connecticut or Westchester County, New York, the area is rapidly becoming the number-one excuse to avoid a time-consuming schlepp to Manhattan. “They can be in and out in twenty minutes,” says Jennifer Flynn, who oversees the open, light-filled sample room at Stark/Scalamandré.
Though Fordham Marble was the first on the scene, in the 1980s, it’s only been in the last few years that the area achieved critical design mass. “We knew the area was becoming a destination for designers,” says landlord Jeff Goldblum, who then redoubled his efforts to attract more businesses that cater to the trade. His own business, SWC Office Furniture, is unique in its focus on commercial spaces; the remainder of the street’s occupants cater specifically to residential designers. Most of the showrooms here are strictly to-the-trade. While a few welcome the occasional retail shopper, even they reserve their best prices and special services for professional designers. So if you’re not one and you plan to shop in the district, it pays to bring a pro along.
Two years ago, the Fairfield Avenue showrooms officially organized as the Stamford Waterside Design District to help lure clients south of I-95. It appears to have worked: the SWDD will hold its third Market Day on October 26, and its second Holiday Stroll this December. “What’s amazing is how much we’ve grown already, and how national brands want to be here,” says Alexis Varbero, owner of Schwartz Design Showroom and a tireless district booster.
It’s certainly a change from ten years ago, when rug maker J.D. Staron opened the street’s first textile showroom. Featuring the designs of Polish weaver Jakub Staron, the showroom’s thousands of patterns merge classic European and Eastern motifs with innovative weaves for a vast, customizable selection of area rugs and broadlooms. Working strictly with the trade, the shop caters to designers whose clients “don’t want what everyone else has,” says partner Rick Zolt.
Located on the second floor of the building housing Staron, the U.S. headquarters for Dedar serves both as a showroom and operations hub for the Milan-based luxury fabric source. Despite its low profile, the office has a following among dozens of Connecticut designers who enjoy an espresso while they gather their memo samples. The family-run business, which merged with Hermès in 2011, is decidedly high end, with bestsellers that run more than $100 a yard.
One door down, Schwartz Design Showroom showcases transitional and classic furniture pieces, bold lighting, and accessories with the contemporary flair favored by owner Varbero. SDS opened in the district only two years ago, but the showroom’s roots run deep—back to 1945, when Varbero’s grandfather launched the family’s furniture business in New Jersey. (Varbero, who took over the business three years ago, still shuttles back and forth.) Pieces from California designers Shine by S.H.O., Seventh & 7th, and Dan Parish cozy up to standbys from Century, Baker, and McGuire. This spring, Varbero introduced Eric Kuster, the showroom’s first European line. “I want our clients to always be seeing something new,” she says.
One door down, it’s upstairs again to Kravet, where the fabric focus includes the multitude of designer names offered through the store’s namesake brand as well as Lee Jofa and Brunschwig and Fils. With some 36,000 samples, the small showroom is “pretty packed,” admits manager James Botelho. Upholstered headboards and seating samples represent Kravet’s custom furniture options, accessorized by pieces from Curated Kravet, the brand’s edited collection showcasing global design trends. Select carpet, wallcovering, and trimmings round out the showroom’s offerings. Despite the limited space, “We pretty much have something for everyone,” Botelho says.
In the snug basement of AWK Design Antiques, Alison Widmann Kinney broadens both the timeline and appeal of midcentury with an eclectic collection that dates from 1950s to the 1980s. Purchased through estate sales (“This is one of the best buying areas in the country,” Kinney says), the collection includes the designs of Karl Springer, Tommi Parzinger, Paul Evans, and George Nelson in addition to Isamu Noguchi and Harry Bertoia. These well-known names share space with unnamed but no less iconic forms from twentieth-century manufacturers: a pair of space-age bentwood shelves from the 1960s, a brass and glass cocktail cart, a Chinese-red Regency table with elephant heads for legs. “I buy what I like; it’s a labor of love,” says Kinney, whose affection for organic forms is evinced by the unexpected appearance of a tortoise shell or tusk among the polished metal, glass, and plastic. Retail shoppers are welcome, but the best prices go to designers.
You’ll need a designer to gain admittance to the voluminous collection of fabrics and wallcoverings across the street at Stark/Scalamandré, but anyone can shop for rugs in the adjacent showroom. Now open on Saturdays, it offers knee-high stacks of carpets to flip through along with a back room containing more than 500 broadloom remnants. Semi-annual sales, the next coming in October, offer savings of 25 percent or more. Separated from the rugs by a glass partition, the spacious, well-lighted fabric showroom offers an oasis of calm. Here you’ll find samples of wallcovering, trimmings, and fabrics from Duralee, Stark (including Old World Weavers, Missoni Home, and Lelièvre and, as of this year, the luxury brand Scalamandré).
Just a few hundred feet down Fairfield Avenue, Fordham Marble’s stacked stone slabs blend in with the neighborhood’s industrial streetscape. But inside the showroom, a labyrinth of spaces target designers’ needs with endless possibilities for walls, floors, patios, and pool decks. There are ceramic, porcelain, and cement tile in sizes from large format to penny round; there are river stones, glass mosaics, quartz, quartzite, and synthetic surfaces. Founded in 1905 by the grandfather of owner Mario Sardo, the company maintains its fabrication facility in the Bronx but moved its showroom here in 1988 to better serve growing numbers of architects and designers working throughout the tri-state area and southern New England. Little did they know they were laying the foundation for a dedication to design on the gritty city street.
Stamford Waterside Design District
AWK Design Antiques
360 Fairfield Ave. #4, (203) 984-4222, awkdesignantiques.com
330 Fairfield Ave., (203) 914-1727, dedar.com
421 Fairfield Ave., (203) 348-5088, fordhammarble.com
330 Fairfield Ave. #1, (203) 351-1130, jdstaron.com
360 Fairfield Ave., 2nd floor, (203) 504-2640, kravet.com
Schwartz Design Showroom
330 Fairfield Ave., (203) 817-0433, schwartzdesignshowroom.com
375 Fairfield Ave., (203) 899-1771, starkcarpet.com
SWC Office Furniture
375 Fairfield Avenue, (203) 967-8367, swcoffice.com