Over 20 Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) designers across the country came together at the Cornell Inn in Lenox, Massachusetts, to take part in the interior transformation of the historic bed and breakfast as part of The Kaleidoscope Project.
The renovation of guest rooms, suites, the lobby area, small dining room, and bar were centered around the themes of rest, reflection, and rejuvenation. However, what truly makes this project special is that each space had its own unique flair as inspired by the designers’ passions and cultural heritages.
Plus, educational partnerships under the project allowed for scholarships and internships to be provided to young professionals in the BIPOC community with an interest in the arts and design. With that, not only did the designers breathe new life into the Cornell Inn but they also offered valuable mentorship and experience to future members of their industry.
New Jersey Designers’ Participation
Included in the mix of designers involved in The Kaleidoscope Project were five of New Jersey’s designer talents.
David Santiago, one of the New Jersey designers who participated in The Kaleidoscope Project, decided to design the bar of the inn, The Acento Bar, with inspiration from his Latin descent and experience as a professional opera singer.
“It was the first time where I got to play and have a great time as a designer utilizing my passion and my industry and fusing them together for this project,” Santiago said.
He said The Acento Bar was brought to life with its infusion of color and energy reminiscent of Spanish/Latin heritage. The artwork featuring opera singer Maria Callas and a mural of Mimi from Puccini’s La Boheme by artist Ricardo Monge play a key role by integrating graphic design, mixed media, and opera into the space.
Additionally, the lighting has elements of the Lobmeyr chandeliers at the Met. The red silk vinyl and gold grasscloth wallcoverings are actually from The House of Scalamandre, the same company that provided the Metropolitan Opera’s fabric for their stage drapery.
All of these components, along with the accompanying cabinet, bar tops, and stools, make up the perfect ensemble for this charming bar in the Berkshires.
Just like Santiago, each designer was able to bring their backgrounds and artistic tastes to their parts of the overall design.
Virginia Toledo, another New Jersey designer involved with the project, was able to introduce Latina flavor into the design of the dining room. She said she used warm colors, specifically red, to represent her culture while also incorporating a sense of warmth for the heart of the bed and breakfast.
“I really wanted to embody the spirit of sharing, whatever that may be,” Toledo said. “It could be sharing a meal. It could be sharing a conversation. It could just be sharing a quiet space with someone.”
She named the space the Comparte Dining Room from the Spanish word for sharing, which she then used to help guide the functionality and creativity of her design.
Her creativity stretched further as she added white and blue accents with her use of red. This palette gave an Americana touch that also paid homage to The Kaleidoscope Project bringing people with diverse backgrounds together to share this experience under the American banner.
Johanna Howard was able to make her space soothing and refreshing with the use of a cooler palette drawn from the greenery around the Cornell Inn. She said her design is heavily influenced by her growing up in Sweden, with a mix of her Swedish and African American backgrounds coming into play.
“I just made it nice and clean, and that’s another thing that I attribute to my Scandanavian aesthetic,” she said. “We like our lighter color palette … We use a very nice blue. The whole palette definitely has a Scandanavian touch to it.”
She also said she was happy to be able to repaint some of the furniture pieces the inn had before The Kaleidoscope Project renovation to tie the old in with the new.
“I wanted to have a little bit of a connection to the history and the past of the hotel that’s been around for over 200 years,” Howard said. “All the trims in the room were a nice, soft white, and we use the same color on some of the pieces that we’ve repainted.”
Marilyn Lavergne, principal designer of Marilyn Lavergne Interiors in Montclair, New Jersey, said, “As people of color, we tend to take a lot of opportunity with color, and I think that shows and reflects.”
She participated in The Kaleidoscope Project as a partner of the Austin Gray Design Group, which is a collective of female, African American designers. They renovated one of the largest rooms in the main house of the inn, the Cicely Tyson Suite.
They took inspiration from African American culture and integrated British-colonial style furnishings – as would be seen in Jamaica – to embrace Caribbean designers in their team as well. A deep, rich, teal-blue brings full saturation of color into the suite, and the addition of handmade, ceramic lily pads on the sloped walls of the room delivers a beautiful, three-dimensional vignette that aligns with the design group’s heritage.
“We just decided to exhibit the full force of our confidence as designers and do things and pursue a direction that perhaps we can’t always do when we’re working with clients who are spending a lot of money and don’t have that kind of confidence to use bold colors on a wall or clad a whole wall in a wallpaper that’s as bold and striking as the one we sought to use,” Lavergne said. “I think that we were successful at showing showhouse visitors, the innkeeper, and people who visit the inn a different way of looking at a bedroom.”
Lavergne and the Austin Gray Design Group also put extra emphasis on details that would ensure their suite was fitting for guests staying at the inn during any time of year. As the designers experienced the changing of seasons throughout the project from December through May, the color and furniture chosen for their space were picked strategically to resonate with both warmer and colder months, she said.
Gail Davis took on another one of the guest rooms at the inn.
“Whenever I do showhouses, I always try to get the smallest space because everyone’s trying to get the biggest,” she said. “I want to show that you can have the most impact with something small because you have to be creative about it.”
This is the exact approach Davis took with her guest room that could serve as a retreat or hub for any guests, whether they are looking to decompress or entertain. She also said she worked to find a balance between masculine and feminine design preferences together in the room, such as using dark color tones while making the silhouette of the headboard on the bed a more feminine shape. The result was a peaceful and cozy space.
“It was also something beautiful about a showhouse with designers of color because we are not normally included,” Davis said. “This was a bed and breakfast that had three properties, two of which we were able to do over from soup to nuts, so it was just something amazing.”
“It was something beautiful to step away from the house, to turn around and look back, to see all these designers as designers of color that love what we do. We got to design without worrying about our color,” she said.
New Jersey Sponsorship
Some New Jersey-based companies generously donated and sponsored components of the inn’s design, such as Arena Stone, First Class Granite, Designer’s Resource Corp., JNS Audio Video LLC, and ZAGARA Home.
Both Arena Stone and First Class Granite were eager to get involved in The Kaleidoscope Project by fabricating and donating the countertop used in Santiago’s Accento Bar design.
Similarly, ZAGARA Home fabricated the vanity in the powder room, was the fragrance sponsor in the bar, and provided tiles for bathrooms. ZAGARA Home also owns Ideal Tile located in Oakhurst, New Jersey.
JNS Audio Video LLC contributed to a few of the New Jersey designers with Bang & Olufsen speakers in Santiago’s bar, Toledo’s dining room, and Davis’ guest room – as well as Lutron lighting to the bar and dining room – all of which are controlled via Elan control systems.
Even the exclusive mattress partner for the project, Saatva, provided handcrafted, award-winning mattresses that were made-to-order in their factory operated by Bedding Industries of America in North Brunswick Township, New Jersey. Saatva also provided mattress foundations and pairs of pillows for each of their donated beds as well as steel frames for select beds in the reimagined bed and breakfast.
So, within this project are a lot of New Jersey voices from designers and businesses who get to be part of The Kaleidoscope Project’s mission to make change for the better in the design industry.
There are other projects and initiatives currently in the works for The Kaleidoscope Project, and it has already been confirmed that some of the designers who worked on the Cornell Inn will be representing the project at design week in Dallas, Texas, this September.
Already, a few of the interns who had the pleasure to work alongside some of these BIPOC designers as part of the project were employed by their mentoring designers, opening the door for the next generation of designers to join the industry. There are also plans being made to gather additional scholarship funds for this next generation through ticket sales at future project-related events.
In the end, the result of this project was much more than just a showhouse and a new look for the Cornell Inn. This redesign is only the start of what will be an ongoing movement in the creative design community, one that is capable of bigger and greater things together rather than apart.
Members of the nationwide community will continue to unite, and The Kaleidoscope Project will grow and live on to empower the members of its community and those around it as they lend their creative talents to other design projects one destination at a time.
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