When Virginia Toledo was approached about participating in The Kaleidoscope Project, a designer show house dedicated to highlighting the diverse talent in the creative design industry, she immediately knew that she wanted to participate. “A longtime industry colleague, Amy Lynn Schwartzbard, in tandem with Patti Carpenter, another industry member, came up with the idea after wanting to make a difference following the Black Lives Matter movement and understanding that there has been a huge disparity in how BIPOC designers are represented in the interior design community,” she explains of how the initiative came about. “Amy reached out to me to gauge my interest, and I replied with a resounding ‘YES!’”
Toledo, along with 22 other BIPOC designers, transformed the historic Cornell Inn in Lenox, Massachusetts, into a beautiful, welcoming, and inclusive must-visit destination—and a showcase of the creativity and talent found in the BIPOC design community. For the Bergen County-based designer, the experience was profound. “I get to stand along with my fellow BIPOC community and show the country what we have been doing and can do, and that we deserve a seat at the table too,” she says. “Out of all of the show houses I have done in my 15-year career, this one has been the one where I surely have made friendships that will last a lifetime.” The show house opened on May 16, and received praise from House Beautiful, Elle Décor, and Architectural Digest, among other outlets. After the closing on June 6, the property resumed its role as a bed and breakfast and is currently taking reservations.
Comprised of three structures, the Cornell Inn dates back to the 1800s and caters to Berkshires-bound creatives seeking quiet and inspiration, families hitting the slopes, and couples looking for some rest and relaxation. It has a rustic aesthetic, with some of the original flooring and beams remaining throughout. As part of The Kaleidoscope Project, the designers transformed 18 guest rooms, as well as the lobby, bar, and dining room. Toledo designed the latter, a medium-size space with moderately high ceilings overlooking an outdoor patio and koi pond.
Inspired by the notion that guests might forge friendships due to their close quarters, Toledo created a warm space that would encourage guests to gather and linger. She named the room Comparte, which means “to share” in Spanish, and installed a communal table where guests could dine together and share experiences.
The idea of sharing came into play in the design in a second, decidedly modern sense. “Another goal for me was to create a space that was highly Instagrammable,” she says. “That might sound shallow, but I actually think it’s important for businesses today to have a sound Instagram presence.” To that end, she created a focal wall around the fireplace that could be captured time and time again and become recognizable as the Cornell Inn. As guests post photos of themselves or their meals in the setting on social media, Toledo envisions, their followers will be inspired to follow the Cornell Inn, and hopefully book a stay.
The Schumacher Elizia Ikat wallpaper that Toledo selected set the stage for the space. “I knew I wanted to incorporate red into the room for its intensity and warmth that I felt was appropriate for a dining room where we would love to make a statement for the inn, but also would make its guests feel enveloped,” she says. The red, white, and blue palette spoke to the inn’s New England location, while the pattern felt globally inspired, making it the perfect choice in both style and spirit. “The merge of this color palette and pattern was so in tune with the mission for the Kaleidoscope showhouse—representing the diversity that makes up America—different backgrounds that make up the fabric of America.”
One of the biggest design challenges Toledo faced was a divider that separated the main room from the solarium space. The designers were limited in what they could dismantle or move, so the divider, which had a plexiglass header, had to stay. To solve for this, she turned the solarium into a communal dining space and framed it with beautiful floor-to-ceiling fabrics and a large fabric valance that concealed the header. Next, she designed a furniture plan that included a grouping of round tables in the middle for large parties, banquette “nooks” in the back for smaller groups, and centered a rectangular custom Dunes and Duchess table in the solarium. The drapery, which began as a fix, ended up being one of Toledo’s favorite features.
The upbeat, patterned-filled dining room is reflective of the cheerful designs that tend to define Toledo’s design studio, and serves as a nice contrast to the adjacent receiving area, which is a welcoming place of calm. “My ‘neighbor,’ Everick Brown, designed a beautiful zen space that is what I would describe as a palette cleanser, and allowed its neighboring spaces to be as loud or as quiet as they wanted,” she explains.
Over time, Toledo anticipates the room she designed evolving to accommodate different types of gatherings and celebrations. “I can see the furniture being rearranged from time to time, as the inn has already been booked for a wedding since the word got out about the Kaleidoscope Project!” she says, adding, “I can see the innkeepers changing out the china and dinnerware for the seasons, and the floral arrangements, which were a big part of my story as well, lending different moods to the space.”