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Albert’s abide

One designer expands the vision of Rooms with a View with Hadley in mind.

Christian’s 2012 idea board

In 2012, Rooms with a View lost its MVP: designer Albert Hadley, who had served as Honorary Chairman of the event for the last 17 years. Now, designer Christian P. Arkay-Leliever, who has participated in RWAV in the past, is paying tribute to Albert with another kind of vignette. Arkay-Leliever shares with athome how he brought his design to life.

AH: Where did this year’s theme come from?
C.A.L: Designing on a Shoestring was Albert’s last wish for the event. He had brought it up to the committee as an idea for the future, and this was the obvious time to do it.

What is your background?
After getting my Masters in Industrial Design at Pratt in New York, I worked my way to the Design Director position at Exposures Catalog. Years later, I turned my focus to interior architecture, and worked at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill before moving on to the position of Product Development Director for design at the Rockwell Group in New York, which was more about developing experiences. For me it was about craft, relationships with people and the experiences—haptic connections with materials, technology and built environments.

Tell us about your past involvement with RWAV.
I have created two vignettes. I met Albert while working on the first one, when Nestor Santa-Cruz and I did an urban office solution. The entire ceiling was made of translucent stretch fabric and florescent lighting. Albert was very complimentary on the attention to detail. A few years later, I created the first circular room ever done at RWAV. I collaborated with Bill Manderville of Tallman Builders in Fairfield to create a room with a drop ceiling with illuminated soffit, wood floors and bedazzled wall tiles by Maya Romanoff. The trades and craftsmen truly make it happen for me—their attention to detail and the product quality is crucial to the design.

When did the idea for this tribute to Albert start to take shape?
I had been having precursor conversations with co-chair Tiffany Garrity, a friend of mine. She suggested I bring it up at the next chair meeting, and the committee loved it. Although it’s been a three-month endeavor of sharing with colleagues, craftsmen, chefs and others, the whole process took about eight months to come to fruition.

What is the purpose and vision for this room?
I really wanted to do something to pay tribute to Albert’s direction and sense of design. His childhood in Tennessee was very much about admiring nature, living spaces and the details within. When Reverend Paul Whitmore gave a sermon about places of solace and respite, and the term “abide” came up, the gears began turning. This design experience has four abides, fabricated with eight-to-ten foot tall curly Willow stems harvested this month in California. We were lucky enough to have found a few things that are connected to Albert for the abides—one has an old cashbox that belonged to his father—similar to how the designers will be finding pieces for their vignettes. DWR will be providing all of the furniture, Edelman Leather will be donating throw pillows and City Bench is crafting a fourteen-foot-long wooden table for us. The mobile over the table will be made from over 1,000 copies of one of the paper dolls that Albert sketched. Saturday evening the space will be transformed for the Dining Experience, which I have worked on with local chef Frederic Kieffer of Artisan restaurant to develop, with the design as the inspiration.

What makes RWAV such a special event?  
The people. Everyone donates their time, energy and passion for design and for their community. The event allows us to work as a team and share our talents with the community at large, and most importantly, we raise funds to help those less fortunate in our own community and hopefully give them a better chance to share their own talents. When you have the entire church, friends, neighbors and local businesses being proud to participate, it truly makes the event the most special of its kind.

Where do you see RWAV going in the future?
I would like to see it transform so more people and community talents can participate, including culinary experts and designers in other fields. Maybe that in itself will become a separate event. RWAV has a great reputation, but we have to take the next step.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is also the first year without Albert Hadley as honorary chair. Before his death, he told the Reverend Laura Whitmore that Thom Filicia was to be his successor—but didn’t tell Thom. “Of all the people that Albert thought could carry on the spirit and the joy and the family and the fun, his choice was Thom,” says Reverend Laura Whitmore.

How will RWAV carry on Albert’s legacy?
This year, each of the abides in my design really gives people a moment to contemplate Albert’s gifts and even what they too have to offer or what design offers them. It’s just an opportunity to reflect on the impact of his visions and realizations: For example, Rooms with a View, in its 18 years, where it began and how it will evolve. I think a lot more people will focus on enjoying and immersing themselves in this year’s event than ever before.

What are some of your favorite memories of RWAV over the years?
My favorite memory was during my second RWAV vignette build out. I’m in jeans and a t-shirt, up to my ears with paint and glue, and Albert pulled me aside with a most gentle touch, hand on my arm, looked at my space and complimented me on how elegant the space was and said how my attention to detail should be admired, I should be very proud. He turned to his space and turned a throw pillow by 90 degrees and asked his assistant to lower the pendant by a few inches. “Perfect,” he said, and it was.

Why is it important to keep this tradition alive?
Simply because it offers our community a venue to share our talents, inspire others and build an even stronger community by helping those who may not have the ability to help themselves. It’s an experience that people always remember. Albert’s designs set the path for so many over many decades and inspired a plethora of protégés. I would like to know that a venue exists where people can touch, feel and connect with interior design. Rooms With a View will evolve, but it will always offer a portal to ideas, passions and talents that will inspire us, our children and many others, while giving in ways we cannot begin to understand.