They’re not what you’d expect of an industrial-looking space above a garage-door business, but the bright and roomy Cornell Street Studios are just what Renee Darmstadt and her father, Kenny, always hoped them to be – better, even. In 2007, Kenny wanted to bring something new to the complex that he’d built in 1989 as a home for his business, Darmstadt Overhead Doors. He cleared out the second floor of the building, which was functioning as a warehouse, and invited artists to show their work in the new gallery space. A year later, Renee stepped in, helping to transform the expansive space into what it is today: a “one-stop shop” (as Renee puts it) for everything from food to fitness to boutique shopping – and, of course, art.
Renee, who attended college in New York City, says that she never thought that she’d be working with her dad. “I was working in the City and I kept coming home every weekend. A lot of things were changing in Kingston. It was becoming a pretty artsy town.” Renee saw a chance to put two of her college passions, arts administration and fitness (she ran track in school), to use in her hometown. So she moved back to Kingston and began collaborating with her father, as well as local artists and businesspeople.
What’s blossomed from their endeavor is a truly unique and wildly eclectic space. The studios include one designated fitness studio, a pop-up clothing boutique, a body-waxer, a gift shop, a main gallery, two hallway galleries, a “multispace” used for everything from yoga classes to bridal showers and plenty of room to spare. On weekdays, the Twisted Fork food truck can be found serving up breakfast and lunch in the parking lot. There’s a full schedule of fitness classes with everything from hula-hooping to kickboxing that Renee says are taught “by top-of-the-line instructors” in small groups of six to 15 students. The gift shop displays a variety of carefully curated antiques and locally made crafts, while the pop-up boutique Hepp Shop offers a colorful selection of summer clothes.
In the smaller hallway gallery is an estate collection of works by painter Estelle Tambak, a contemporary of Diego Rivera. While the pieces are for sale, it’s a more permanent collection than most in Cornell Street Studios. A rotating selection of Tambak’s work has been in the hallway for over a year, with the Darmstadts hoping to introduce visitors to her vibrant-yet-delicate paintings. In a radically different style is “Faces,” a series of bold paintings by local graphic designer/artist Carla Rozman. The show is currently occupying the main gallery through the end of June. “Every artist really changes the space,” says Renee, who tries to bring something totally different to the gallery with each new artist. Renee says that the studios have “evolved,” and she’s not the only one to use that word; it’s the same one that her father uses to describe the building’s structural aspects.
While Renee curates the experience, Kenny is always looking for ways to improve the complex’s efficiency and eco-friendliness, particularly when it comes to heating and cooling. The long copper sheets on the studio walls that at first glance appear to be nothing more than decorative elements are, in fact, radiators that Kenny fashioned from solar panels. With 90 more solar panels on the roof and a boiler powered by recycled (but chemically untreated) wood, Kenny is working toward his goal of creating a net-zero building, meaning that he intends for the building to generate as much energy as it uses. For the summer, he’s rolling out a giant sheet of reflective bubble wrap to reflect heat off the outside wall. “You could fry a steak off that thing,” he jokes about the wrap, which provides an alternative to cranking the air conditioning during sweaty summer days. Another alternative to cranking the AC: “We had a hot yoga class in there last year,” says Renee.
As innovative business-owners, Renee and Kenny also collaborate on one annual event that appeals to both of their demographics: Cornell Street Studios’ Retro Rally, a classic car show and theme party that takes place on Cornell Street. “It’s kind of a block party,” says Renee. “We give away prizes for Best Dressed and Best Cars.” This year’s tiki-themed shindig will differ from previous years in one notable way: It’s going to take place at night. The event will kick off at 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 18 (just in time for Fathers’ Day) and will feature food from the Twisted Fork truck, music provided by Stately DJ Wayne Manor and a live swing-dance performance by Tank Nestrolavitch.
In keeping with the “auto month” theme, Cornell Street Studios are also displaying Automotive Abstraction in their main hallway gallery through the end of July. It’s a small collection of colorful up-close photographs of vintage cars by Jessi Spada.
One of the best things to come out of this venture, says Renee, is the women’s network that the space has facilitated. “There’s a really good synergy with all of us,” she says, “a lot of cross-pollination.” Through meetings in events and fitness classes, the women make connections that are not just social, but also support their business and artistic pursuits.
Although Renee could never have predicted this career for herself, she describes it as “a dream. We love what we do, and I’m happy to see that a lot of people like it, too.” While they’re pleased with how successful the Studios have been so far, Renee and Kenny have no plans to slow down. They are currently working to transform one empty room into a second fitness studio and create a rentable first-floor space suitable for a café. “What’s the next step?” Renee often finds herself wondering. “What can I do to keep things exciting?” As their business continues to evolve with Kingston’s art community, the Darmstadts plan to continue doing what they’ve always done: delivering the unexpected.
Retro Rally, Saturday, June 18, 6-8 p.m., free, Cornell Street Studios, 168 Cornell Street, Kingston; (845) 594-4428, www.cornellstreetstudios.com.