Design Mixing it up
Kim Caravella says she has a “fire in the belly.”
“I’m passionate. I want to know everything, do everything,” she declares. “I want my interior designs to be the best that I can make them.”
We’re in her office nook at the back of her recently opened boutique, Habitat Greenwich, in Cos Cob. She slides her swivel chair back and forth, forwards and backwards as she talks excitedly about her relentless pursuit for perfection. Her hands wave in the air like the wings of a sparrow fluttering at a bird feeder. She wants pieces that are beautiful, functional and so different that everyone would want them in their own home. Caravella goes far beyond choosing between Decorator’s White and Dove White for the walls in your kitchen.
Take the “Gabrielle” chair in one of the shop’s windows. When she couldn’t find a “hostess” chair she liked, she designed her own. The chair has delicately splayed back legs on a subtle gray base, blue-on-white fabric from a textile artisan in Brooklyn, and utilitarian upholsterer’s tacks in lieu of gimp. She fussed over that chair “down to an eighth of an inch,” like a bride checking her appearance before walking down the aisle. You will need more than a few minutes to appreciate the chair and its unusual companions: a papier mâché table, washed blue pottery, luxurious throws, a massive pendant lamp of cloth and bamboo, and a pouf fabricated from jute.
A similar dichotomy plays out is a second window display where Tibetan leather market bags strike strong masculine notes against the femininity of a Bird of Paradise plant fabricated completely out of cloth. Caravelle’s aesthetic is also evident in the powder room, which she loves to show off to visitors. A double soapstone sink that speaks of a country home comes to life beneath a posh pendant light made from open-weave black wicker that casts spider-web designs on ceiling and walls.
Working from the ground up is Caravella’s style. She studied and worked with masters in the field. She did curtains and drapes for Window Treatments in Darien, and build/design with Brooks & Orrick and Mitchell Studio in Greenwich, scouring every detail of a project from sketch to inception. Today, she brings all that she learned on the job, and all that she dreams of into her showroom, to big and small projects for her clients.
Start with the layout of the floor in her office which she shares with her partner, Nicole Gannon. The end-cut oak tiles are so out-of-the-box beautiful that the design invariably draws exclamations from shoppers of “I want that.” In fact, those three words seem to be the mantra of this boutique.
There’s lots of aged pieces cavorting with the contemporary here: an old three-legged table from Wales, its top sporting a crater in its center probably caused by candles that burned the night away; a white lamp whose base looks like an exaggerated artichoke; a pair of decorative antlers serving no other purpose perhaps other than to jazz up sedentary bookshelves; a long open-front console to show off artwork on top while diverting the eye away the radiator it hovers over; a small bureau in purple for an updated whimsical look; and lots of gray, black-and-white pillows with occasional splashes of blue or green. There are hostess gifts galore, from books, scented soaps and candles to jewelry, framed art work and vases.
“Each item at its essence speaks to my taste, spirit and vision to impart warmth and beauty through design into the lives of others,” says this petite dynamo. She wants her shop to be a fun experience, with music playing and the space scented with subtle fragrance.
“I don’t like to do things that’s not to perfection,” she states emphatically and then she tells the story of how when she was 5 years old, she was determined to learn to ride a bike. So she climbed up on the seat and pedaled away. No going down like a pin in a bowling alley. Determination and persistence is the story line of her career. It is a trajectory that took her to that window design shop when she was just 19 where she learned about jabots and swags, how deep a hem of a curtain should be, when to use cloth-covered chain at the bottom of sheers. She was still in design school, loading on another job as a waitress. In five short years, she had saved enough money to buy a house in New Canaan. That’s drive.
Habitat Greenwich sits snugly in a bank of retail shops sandwiched between the firehouse and Cos Cob School. Within that strip is her husband Randy’s Wines and Spirits. Just a few steps further and you’re into high-end fish, meat and cheese shops, as well as gelato and juice stations. And other interior designers who she views as colleagues.
“It’s like a mini Brooklyn,” exclaims a happy Kim Caravella. And then she turns serious.
“I believe in timeless design,” says Caravella. “I love really clean lines mixed with organic natural textured shapes, a mix of old world and new world. I love mixing vintage pieces and natural textures with modern pieces and elements. They all come alive and dance splendidly with one another.”
Habitat is at 234 E. Putnam Ave. in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich.
Rosemarie T. Anner is a frequent contributor to Sunday Arts & Style.