Lighting the Way – Hudson Valley Designer Stephanie Reppas
Interview by Maxwell Alexander
Max: Congratulations on the amazing cover shot, Stephanie! We are proud to have you lead the Winter Edition and shine the light on your beautiful work. When and how did Hudson Valley become your home, and how did you realize your lighting design talent?
Stephanie: I moved to the Hudson Valley in 2008. Before that, I lived in NYC, which was amazing, but after a few years I really missed having space and quiet. I’d read an article in The Times about the village of Sleepy Hollow. I was thrilled to learn that it was a real place (not just Washington Irving fiction) and it was located just 30 minutes north of Manhattan. I hopped a train up for a visit and was pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous ride along the Hudson River that passed through all of these wonderful little towns. Soon I found myself making frequent trips upstate to explore the different villages until finally, I realized I needed to move here and start a new chapter in my life. Hudson Valley just felt like home.
It’s been the perfect environment for both my life and my business. I work primarily with reclaimed materials found around Upstate New York. I’ve always been attracted to the abandoned and obscure – finding value and beauty in things that others tend to overlook – and there’s an abundance of both here. My first design was a Lotus pendant that I plasma-cut from a sheet of scrap metal. I originally intended for it to be a hanging sculpture, but once it was suspended in air, it seemed obvious that it should be outfitted with a light of some sort. Just like that, I was a lighting designer. A few classes in wiring and a degree in industrial design soon followed. I started pairing other objects I’d found with light, which added a whole new dimension and function to each design. Over the years, I’ve experimented with it more in an effort to create an intriguing play of shapes and shadows.
Max: I can relate to that! What are you working on at the moment and how does winter season in the Hudson Valley affect your creative workflow?
Stephanie: I tend to hibernate in the winter. Show season is over and things are quiet following the holidays, so I usually take January and February to regroup both personally and professionally. I tally everything I’ve accomplished in the past year and then plan the next twelve months. I’ll research ideas, work out marketing and production schedules, develop new product lines, play with different design techniques and materials, maybe take a trip or two.
This winter, though, I have been fairly busy with a few custom and commercial installations: a polo club in California, an ice wine festival in Niagara, a spa in Woodstock, NY and the new Market & Cafe Co-op opening soon in Philmont, NY.
Max: What is the most favorite part of your design & creative process?
Stephanie: It’s difficult to pick just one favorite. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to combine several of my passions into my work and my life:
I love traveling, exploring and the search for unusual industrial and rustic objects. They’re always interesting, but they’ve typically been overlooked and under-loved. I think this kind of craftsmanship, which sometimes has lasted a century or more, deserves to be seen and reused, not just tossed and forgotten.
I love learning the stories behind the items I unearth: leather equestrian tack from a 200-year-old Amish settlement. Antique hand-carved sewing bobbins from an abandoned textile mill. Or 19th century glass photo negatives featuring a much-loved (and much-photographed) baby named Evelyn. The objects I salvage have weight, history and character.
I love the challenge of constantly working with different materials. My goal is to transform each object, while also working in a bit of whimsy with function.
And I love seeing people react to my designs, watching them light up and smile when they realize what a particular lamp or piece of furniture is made of. That’s how I know I’ve done my job.
Max: What is your inspiration?
Stephanie: I like to stay open and experience as much as I can, but fundamentally I’m still attracted to just a few basics for inspiration:
Structured, industrial lines balanced by rustic, organic textures like distressed leather, exposed hardware, raw wood, chunky concrete and fibrous paper.
A neutral color palette: black, white, mocha, espresso, mushroom, stone, ash, silver.
Clean, minimalist design skewed by roughened, grungy edges.
Blurred, impressionist imagery.
And I have an exceptional community of friends: Artists, writers, photographers, comics, scientists, musicians, pilots, math whizzes, roller derby kings and queens. They’re a smart, interesting and unconventional group of weirdos who bring creativity and weirdness out of me. They’re the best inspiration!
Max: Is there an object in your own house that encapsulates Hudson Valley Style? If so, tell us the story behind it.
Stephanie: I have a beautiful vintage orchard ladder I found in Milbrook, NY a few years ago. It’s weathered gray aspen wood and nicely ravaged by time and exposure to the outdoor elements. It’s functional – I sometimes use it to hang my designs on while I work on them, but it’s also a lovely décor piece and a design touchstone for me. I imagine it in its previous life sitting among apple trees, pumpkins, haystacks and fallen leaves in mid-October. It doesn’t get much more “New York” than that!
Max: Tell us more about how your Art became a successful business and where is it going next?
Stephanie: When I moved to the Hudson Valley, I knew there was a fantastic community of talented artisans here, and I wanted very much to be a part of it. It’s great to see the same faces at shows and to be able to talk shop with others who are living the life and experiencing similar challenges. But I’ve also become a part of the even larger community of local business owners who are very gracious and invested in this area as well. They’ve made an effort to be here and are eager to bolster a sense of community by collaborating with other local businesses and regional artists. For example, the owner of GloSpa (Woodstock, NY) reached out to me this past winter. Her spa was in the middle of a remodel, and she felt strongly about featuring a local designer in her new salon space. She also appreciated that I use Hudson Valley-sourced materials in my designs. I created barber light fixtures and leather-framed mirrors to complement the beautiful new décor. It was great working with her, and I’m looking forward to popping by for a massage and facial this spring!
When I met the owner of Nine Pin Ciderworks (who is a Chatham resident), she had a very definite idea for a lighting installation for her new tasting room in Albany. She had some old cider barrels and IBC totes, and asked me to convert them into several quirky, oversized chandeliers. It was a very challenging project, and a collaborative one as well. I worked closely with a good friend, Michael Trezza, who helped me with cutting the barrels lengthwise, reinforcing the inner structure and securing the shape of the wood to incorporate industrial hanging hardware. No easy task, but the final fixtures look wonderful in the new space.
The villages here have a welcoming, close-knit community spirit to them, which I think makes it more attractive for others to visit Hudson Valley and want to be a part of it, too. And becoming a bigger part of this community is important for me as well. I’ve been surprised by my journey and how far I’ve come in just a few short years. My goal is to keep working, enjoy what I’m doing and hope it continues to amaze me!
Max: Thank you for shining the light, Stephanie! Literally 🙂 We are looking forward to seeing more amazing Hudson Valley Style work from you and will be happy to have you back anytime!