Seven celebrated BIPOC interior designers to showcase their skills through market-rate apartments in the 1906 Pittsfield Firehouse through The Kaleidoscope Project

by decwells
Seven celebrated BIPOC interior designers to showcase their skills through market-rate apartments in the 1906 Pittsfield Firehouse through The Kaleidoscope Project

Pittsfield — Tanya Lewis arrived at the crumbling firehouse of 1906 Tyler Street with deep, pertinent experience under her proverbial belt: she spent three decades working in under-resourced communities on issues of diversity and youth development. In addition, she is an interior designer. “If there was ever a project that got me to use both sides of my brain and all my experiences, it would be here,” she said, with a palpable passion for the mission of The Kaleidoscope Project—an enterprise which aims to showcase the diverse talent. within the design industry, amplifying BIPOC voices, and revealing the true colors present in our community through the creation of inclusive spaces that reflect a broad design story—one that Lewis and Denise Gordon, co-founders of Brooklyn’s Austin Gray Design Group, has enabled them to bring their multi-faceted passions and talents into a single space.

Denise Gordon, Tanya Lewis and Marilyn Lavergne, The Austin Gray Design Group. Photo courtesy of Paul Siebold Public Relations.

“This [project] is like bringing both of my worlds together in the coolest ways,” says Lewis, who holds a BS in Interior Design and Facilities Planning and Management from Cornell University and a Master of Public Policy in Race, Poverty and Class from NYU’s Wagner -school has. .

With the help of art curator/kitchen designer Marilyn Lavergne, Lewis and Gordon were commissioned to design one of four fully renovated apartments at the newly restored (and effectively repurposed) Pittsfield Firehouse, which upon completion will not only be market rate. rent, but will also create a unique show home paradigm.

“I’ve always wanted to do a project that allowed me to give back, so to have this opportunity—one so thoughtfully sponsored—[allowed us to create] something that anyone who might not be able to see [type of living space] as a possibility to be able to walk in here and know that it’s a possibility,” Gordon said of a project that was not only fulfilling but also gave her a sense of purpose, underscoring exactly why Amy Lynn Schwartzbard founded The Kaleidoscope Project.

“I’ve always loved the Berkshires,” Schwartzbard told The Edge, a place she first encountered as a child when her parents bought a home here; a dozen years ago she decided to make Lenox her primary residence. “This is my happy place,” she says, explaining why she chose to invest locally—both in her community (the interior design industry) and the community in general where she lives. “We’re married to the two,” says Schwartzbard, emphasizing that this year’s showhouse builds on the success of last year’s Cornell Inn restoration, when the design industry and sponsors rallied around 23 BIPOC designers who created 21 spaces at the Lenox- repurposed property—both of which share a common thread: giving back.

The nonprofit has launched internship programs and educational initiatives to create opportunities for those in the BIPOC community interested in careers in a creative field — including a group of high school students from the Alfred E. Smith School in the Bronx, who are a road is provided. forward via a summer graphic design program in collaboration with IKP.

“Having this building now affordable… with [market rate] housing, is really important and part of our mission,” she said, as well as promoting social equality and supporting local merchants – evidenced by a flurry of activity on site late Friday afternoon.

An accent wall in the living room of Rasheeda Gray’s showcase apartment at the 1906 Pittsfield Firehouse on Tyler Street that has been converted into four market-rate rentals. Photo by Hannah Van Sickle.

Upstairs, it was all hands on deck where Rasheeda Gray, of Gray Space Interiors, oversaw the finishing touches on the two-bedroom apartment of her design. Pops of color, starting with a firehouse red range and great wallpaper, contributed to a bright, airy—if not blushing—space for an unknown client, which is largely unheard of in the design industry. I asked Gray about the benefits, both as a professional and a person, of leaving Philadelphia to take on a project of this type.

“We don’t get the chance to do two-toned green hallways for our clients on a daily basis—they just wouldn’t be that brave,” Gray said, pointing to the marketing boost that showcase homes provide her on a professional level. As a person, the second career designer (who spent 15 years in marketing for insurance companies) once thought that was as close as she would get to being creative.

“Who knows what would have happened if I had had early exposure to the arts?” Gray asked rhetorically. As such, she sees the mission of ICP firsthand as “really touching students in a way that can be beneficial in the long term,” referring to the scholarships currently provided to students as a way to provide early exposure to the arts to offer.

In the second upstairs apartment, Virginia Toledo leaned heavily into the residual energy of the former firehouse. “There’s this kind of yin and yang, a push and pull, [between] calmness and this energy that I felt that spoke to me,” said the founder of Toledo Geller Interiors in New Jersey, who in her design strove to combine moments of intensity with moments of calm. Her color scheme, largely inspired by the original exposed brick, resulted in what she calls “an amalgam of color [from] blush, sand and coral to deeper maroon and burgundy.” Toledo also played with the idea of ​​smoke as an inspiring element, which can be both light and wavy, dark and thick. “Every designer hates long hallways,” she said, so she took advantage of ceiling-to-floor panels from the curtain supplier to create an ombre effect that transports one from the primary living area to private spaces with pink ( a warm undertone of the brick) to create tension.

Everick and Lisa Walker Brown, Everick Brown Design. Photo courtesy of Paul Siebold Public Relations.

The last of the seven celebrated BIPOC designers materialized in the form of husband and wife team Lisa and Everick Brown of Everick Brown Interior Design. The NYC-based couple took this opportunity to depart from their timeless designs (a home they did two decades ago was recently featured in House Beautiful) and incorporate playful features into the first-floor living space .

“The influence initially started with the cabinet choices,” says Lisa, pointing to dramatic cobalt blue cabinets; the same sprawling hall Toledo struggled with upstairs became a chalkboard-painted wall spanning the living and dining spaces. An extra high chair, giant gold-gilt mirror and swing (bolted to the building’s legs) round out fun touches in the living room. (The beaded bedroom door had yet to arrive!)

For a couple keen to elevate their client’s vision, this project was an excellent opportunity to step away and play. “It’s going to be beautiful!” Lisa exclaimed amid the flurry of last-minute touches in the open living room where an indoor-outdoor theme will feature a large, fabulous canopy daybed. Although it is unlikely that any of the designers will meet the future inhabitants of their artfully designed spaces, thinking about these individuals—and their futures—brought inspiration to the process.

“I’ve always known that when you cater to people who don’t have as much – especially in under-resourced communities where the belief is that [living spaces] can’t be pretty—they act differently,” Lewis said. “When there is a sense of pride in where people live, it makes a difference in households as well as communities.”

PLEASE NOTE: Sponsors for this year’s Show House include The Shade Store, our Diamond Sponsor, Benjamin Moore, Fisher and Paykel, Cosentino, Kravet, Sunpan, Circa, Emtek, Anne Selke, and many more, whose products will be used exclusively throughout the Show House. Aspire magazine is the exclusive media partner for the Firehouse Showhouse. Donations to The Kaleidoscope Project can be made by visiting, or by mail to The Kaleidoscope Project, PO Box 174, West Stockbridge, MA 01266.

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