Earlier this month, GreenSource’s “Solution of the Month” story about the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis feted the initiative by architect Stonehill & Taylor to source the $25 million renovation mostly within North America. Lest that coverage leads you to think that only design firms with staff, resources, or client imprimatur can accomplish an all-local undertaking, first meet Elizabeth Strianese.
Photo © Meredith Heuer
Strianese worked for New York interior designer Peter Maase, then managed large-scale retail design and installation jobs for Gap and J.Crew, before settling in Beacon, New York, a decade and a half ago. In 1999, four years before the opening of contemporary art mecca Dia:Beacon added luster to the post-industrial Hudson River town’s creative credentials, Strianese opened the vintage store Relic on its main street. While still based in Beacon and with her husband running the retail shop, she worked for interior design legend Juan Montoya between 2002 and 2007, when she launched her eponymous design firm.
Strianese’s most recent design credit as a solo practitioner is also her most recognized. She is responsible for the interiors of The Roundhouse at Beacon Falls, an adaptive-reuse hotel and restaurant run by local businessman Robert McAlpine. Rockwell Group conceived the repositioning of the 200-year-old mill facility, and Strianese is seeing it through to completion. The the 100-seat restaurant and 14 guestrooms perched over the rushing Fishkill Creek are now complete, and a second phase commenced earlier this year.
Strianese is filling the property with the work of fellow Beaconites: manufacturers and artisans she has met as a neighbor and proprietor. Woodworkers Jessica Wickham and Rexhill fabricated the restaurant tables and its lounge’s barstools, respectively, while Metconix fabricated steel panels on the bars and other decorative elements, and the company Niche Modern and individual glassblower Dan Spitzer produced an array of pendant lighting. “I don’t feel what came out of the project was any less beautiful, because we just tried to use local suppliers,” Strianese proclaims. “Instead, we got the cream of the crop.”
She could feel sure of this success, in part because The Roundhouse was immediately predated by a residential renovation in nearby Garrison, New York, for which the designer employed the services of these and other local suppliers. Strianese credits her client for getting the local ball rolling. “Inadvertently, I mentioned I had a person who did woodwork, another who blew glass, I knew a place to get parchment. It spiraled from there, because they were thrilled to use local people.”
As collectors of Russel Wright, whose estate Manitoga is located near their 2,200-square-foot house, the husband and wife were already inclined to support talent in the region. More immediate to the renovation at hand, that Wright collection also required abundant storage space for hundreds of dinnerware pieces and other pottery. Strianese explains that the residence is a 1970s-era kit house, imported from Italy, which represents a very early attempt at SIP construction—minus the thermal breaking. With Rexhill, she created an ostensibly freestanding walnut-and-concrete shelving unit that would not require penetrating the building envelope for reinforcement. From one town over, concrete fabricator Betonas made the unit’s shelves (as well as the living room hearth, master bathroom’s sink, and bathroom and basement tiles). The shelf’s overall proportions evoke the rhythm of exposed rafters overhead.
Wickham was assigned even more storage, making three closets, a multi-tier coat rack, and a live-edge console table. “This is why working with local artisans makes it a better process: I went into her shop every week to check on the progress of the cabinets; we talked about every single detail,” Strianese says. Describing the process of choosing the locally harvested walnut with Wickham, she continues, “It’s not like handing over a shop drawing. You look at how the grain of each piece of wood speaks to the other. The placing of the butterfly joints alone took half a day. And when we couldn’t find the right hardware, Jessica just hand-carved a 14-long indentation along the axis of the door.”
Much of this cabinetry is illuminated from within by 3000-Kelvin LEDs, to compensate for the original house’s minimal task lighting. It is finished in Pergamena goat parchment sandwiched between glass, for which Strianese, outfitted in a raincoat and boots, went through a similar process of hand selection.
“Sometimes I feel like the job captain for 13 other creative directors,” she jokes.
To be sure, Strianese was in good hands with her collaborators. Spitzer, for example, studied sun angles to ensure that the swirls in his luminaires would cast interesting shadows inside the largely skylit house during daytime. Over the course of the project, Strianese learned that Spitzer had been a vital member of Dale Chihuly’s technical team, and not merely the glassblowing neighbor she had known for years.
This and other small revelations led to a larger conclusion. “This could be my vocabulary,” Strianese says of her still formative business. “More important, although the Hudson Valley is a little bit blessed, there’s got to be enclaves like Beacon all over the country, so maybe that’s how other designers should be thinking, too. If professionals make a sincere effort to source locally all over America, regional vernaculars could return to interior design as a discipline.”