Gretchen Farrell Interiors opens in Croton Falls
The southern end of Front Street in Croton Falls is a quiet, unassuming block. A low-slung commercial building houses the headquarters of Heritage Fuel and the Croton Falls post office. A few steps away is a brick-fronted apartment building and a Victorian-style townhome. Tucked neatly between the homes and the businesses is a small, recently restored building that now houses Gretchen Farrell Interiors, a design firm devoted to helping homeowners craft timeless, tailored and comfortable living spaces.
It is perhaps a sign of the times that a former taxi stand across from the commuter train station was converted to office space for an interior design firm. As commuting dried up during the pandemic and office workers adapted to working from home, they had more time to look around their living spaces and find them lacking. While the U.S. economy shrank by 3.5 percent in 2020, spending on home improvements and repairs grew more than 3 percent, to nearly $420 billion, according to a report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.
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“Working with a designer is not an inexpensive pursuit,” Farrell acknowledged. “But I think in the end the idea is to give people a space that works for them and that is timeless so they don’t have to buy things again in three years.”
The type and scope of project that Farrell takes on can vary widely–everything from updating one room in a home to a whole house redesign, including selecting table linens and bed sheets, even stocking a client’s fridge. Regardless of the project, Farrell’s design principles of comfort, quality and fantasy serve as her North Star. “I like to envision a client as their best self in their space. Maybe that means a client in her best dress with her favorite cocktail. Maybe it’s a client in their garden hat with their favorite Japanese pruning scissors. I kind of continue the space from there.”
Farrell’s approach is deeply influenced by her work with interior design guru Thomas Jayne, who she began studying under while pursuing her interior design degree at Parsons School of Design in New York City. Jayne is known for a style rooted in classicism and for designing rooms that reflect a strong connection to history and place. “He taught me everything I know,” Farrell said.
Currently Farrell is managing projects that include a historic home in North Salem, a mid-century colonial, and a Georgian style home in Georgia. “I can get into the groove with the Georgian project and when those creative juices start to diminish, I can move on to the farmhouse,” she said. “It's a really wonderful mix to work in different architecture, different preferences and different phases of life that clients are in. That’s what keeps the work most interesting.”
Jaime and Michael Roche are the owners of the historic North Salem home, which was one of North Salem’s original schoolhouses built in the early 1800’s. The Roches recently gut renovated the older portion of the home. “When we saw the space, we were really kind of overwhelmed,” Jaime Roche said. “We were starting from scratch with a completely unfinished space. We needed someone to organize us and give us guidance.”
For Roche, it was only natural to work with Farrell. “Her style was what we felt was right for the house, and for our area,” Roche explained. “It was important to us to keep the historic character, but we also needed it to meet our needs as a family.”
Farrell prides herself on an empathy-led approach that prioritizes listening closely to her clients to understand their needs and wants and asking the right questions. “A successful project is always one where the client has input, passion and an idea of a feeling that they want that they don’t necessarily know how to get to,” Farrell said.
In helping homeowners achieve their goals, Farrell said she draws project inspiration from their lives, lifestyles, travels and needs. “I see my role as advisor and curator of a client’s existing passions and preferences. Collections are often a big source of inspiration–whether it’s pottery, fine art, sculpture, textiles or dishes. Those personal things are really great jumping off points.”
At the Roche’s, the paint colors, cabinet colors and fabric samples are all picked out, just a handful of the seemingly innumerable decisions that need to be made in order to finalize their new living space. “The great part about working with a designer is that you really get to think things through,” Jaime said. “Gretchen gives us options she’s thinking of and asks, ‘what do you guys like? What would work best for you?’ It has streamlined things a lot for us, working with her.”
Farrell noted that working with an interior designer “can get very personal.” Homeowners are letting a designer into their most intimate spaces and opening up about how they live. “Empathy can go a long way in any service-oriented business. Without empathy, you can’t select things for somebody,” Farrell said. “I’m a mother and running a family myself. Being respectful of time and what people have going on in their lives comes naturally to me.”
4 interior design tips from Gretchen Farrell
- Invest in custom upholstery - Farrell encourages homeowners to buy the best upholstery they can afford. “There’s a misconception that custom upholstery is too expensive, takes too long and is too much of a headache. But I have found that custom projects have been delivered sooner than catalog purchases and the quality is far better. And choosing classic forms will also extend the lifetime, rather than trends that are often sold off the rack.
- Hire an art advisor - “Nothing pulls a room together like a good art piece,” Farrell says, noting that working with an art advisor allows you to benefit from the advisor’s knowledge and market expertise. “The client is charged for what they would normally pay if they went to the gallery directly, but you’ve been advised by somebody with knowledge.”
- Simplify the kitchen - Farrell says kitchens often get a disproportionate share of design time and budget, leaving other well-used parts of the house unaddressed. “The Shakers did kitchens wonderfully; I draw on them a lot for simple kitchen designs. Simplifying is a wonderful approach. It’s very pleasing and functional to use, and can leave you a little left over to invest in other rooms, too.”
- Invest in the bedroom - “It’s an area we put off a lot because you don’t have company in there. Yet the serenity and rest you can create in a bedroom can really be habit-forming and life-changing,” Farrell says.