Home & Garden: Designer Showhouse, on a Budget

Sandra McConnell and Sharon Zambrelli
Sandra McConnell and Sharon Zambrelli paused in front of the new Animal Rescue Fund Thrift Store addition this month with some items going into the store’s designer showhouse opening event. Durell Godfrey

    Returning to the beautifully remodeled and expanded base of operations for the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons thrift shop in Sagaponack should be exciting enough, but ARF and the organizers of the store’s grand opening event have something even more elaborate planned.
    On the evening of May 28, the thrift store will open as a designer show house with rooms and vignettes put together by Geoffrey Bradfield, Thomas Britt, Alex Papachristidis, Marshall Watson, Mark Fichandler, Peter Hallock, Thomas Samet, Priscilla Ulmann, Sandra McConnell, and Sharon Zambrelli. The added twist is that the rooms will all be designed with objects donated to the thrift shop or from the designers’ own collections. The usual finds and treasures will be enhanced with the entire contents of an Amagansett estate, and all of these items will be available for purchase to benefit ARF.
    Ms. McConnell, who is on the board of directors of the rescue organization, is also the chairwoman of the event. She said last week that as busy as ARF’s temporary quarters were in the old Plitt Ford dealership showroom, she was  happy to return to the old location in its new form. A new building behind the former main showroom and attached to the old space is “very compatible with the old space, but much larger. It’s barnlike, loftlike.”
    During its stint as a show house, “The big space will be cordoned off with fabric curtains, something neutral, to create the rooms or spaces for vignettes.”
    Mr. Bradfield, Mr. Watson, and Mr. Papachristidis will share the new space. Ms. McConnell, Ms. Zambrelli, Mr. Fichandler, and Ms. Ulmann will be in the old space. Mr. Hallock and Mr. Samet will take over the barn and design it as a pool house.
    “We’re using everything we have, all thrift store items. . . . It’s not designers just moving in their living room,” she said. Any objects brought in by the designers have been contributed for sale to benefit ARF. At the same time, any purchases made will not be removed until after the show house closes on May 30. After that, the store will return to its usual layout.
    Ms. McConnell has been an interior designer for many years, launching her business in 1973, the same year that she participated in the inaugural Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club Decorator Show House in New York. Two of the designers who participated in that event, Ms. Ulmann and Mr. Samet, have joined her for ARF this year. Having always had friends in the field, she said it took her no more than an afternoon to get this group of designers to commit to the project.
    The designer’s pick of object was first come first served and worked out very collegially, she said. “I think most of them picked their items very easily. They all have their own look.” Still there were some objects with people’s names on them “where you might kick yourself for not getting there earlier.” Even the assignment of spaces worked very well. “It went seamlessly, we were so lucky to be working with friends. It was a lovely experience.”
    Some of the really standout objects like a Dutch-style still-life painting of shells with a goldfish bowl will be included in a silent auction along with more traditional gift certificates and other donated goods and services. Ms. Zambrelli, who is sharing the space and design duties with Ms. McConnell, will also manage the silent auction.
    But for Ms. McConnell, who also volunteers in the store, it is the weekly and even daily arrival of new items that she finds thrilling. “Every week I come away with something for myself,” she said. Since she already has a fully decorated house in Southampton, her solution is to donate an object from her house for everything new she brings in. “I could really do a whole house for myself with what comes in.” Still, she said every donation is welcome and ARF is always searching for new merchandise.
    The things that catch her eye these days are items for the table such as glassware, plates, and tableware, but she has bought sofas, chairs, and even rugs previously. There are items for every taste and those that are not can always be reupholstered. She said she was at her upholsterer’s shop in New York City recently and recognized a sofa that was in his workspace. “I asked him ‘Where did you get that sofa?’ and he said it was ‘from some thrift shop in the Hamptons. It’s going into a show house.’ It turns out that Marshall Watson uses the same upholsterer.”
    Some of the smaller decorative items include a dog bed fit for a King Charles spaniel, an elaborate bird cage, and mirrors. The store also receives many items for the garden such as pool furniture, statuary, columns, and fancy urns and planters. While this event will be unique, Ms. McConnell recommends coming back to the store as often as possible to find the real treasures. “You have to keep going even if you go once and don’t find anything. New things come in on a daily basis, and there is amazingly quick turn­over.”
    This is not the first time the group has organized such an event. It held a similar opening in the space when it first took over the site in 2008 as a trial run. Now, this weekend-long season kickoff will become an annual event, Ms. McConnell said.
    She already has some designers lined up for next year.    
    “I think this is the start of something big, something really exciting.”
     Eventually, she believes it will be the main source of revenue for running the shelter with help continuing to come from the shelter’s annual summer parties, dog walking events. and other donations. “We’re aiming for a couple hundred thousand more” on top of those events, she said. “I do think it’s possible. We are continuing to get people to give great stuff and people come all the time to shop as part of their weekly schedule, or they’re dealers from the city who come out just for the thrift shops.”
    Tickets for the show house are available through Gloria Callender at Gloria@arfhamptons.org and cost $150 for the party from 6 to 8 p.m. and $250 for the preview hour from 5 to 6 p.m.
    On May 29 and 30, people can visit the show house for $10.