2014 Community Leaders of the Year: Designer show house organizers

It was, perhaps, an unconventional idea: recruit interior designers to transform the rooms of an 1835 Cutchogue farmhouse and then donate proceeds from tours of the home to local charities.

But parting with convention has paid off — literally. 

When all was said and done, organizers said, the 2014 North Fork Designer Show House attracted close to 1,500 visitors and raised more than $40,000 for nonprofits Community Action Southold Town, Maureen’s Haven, Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch and Katinka House. A follow-up version of the event, Christmas at the Show House and Best of North Fork Emporium, raised an additional $30,000 and benefited the Wounded Warrior Project, local families in need and Mondays at Racine, an Islip-based charity that provides spa services for female cancer patients. Local vendors also sold goods at the second show house.

“You can help a good cause and enjoy yourself at the same time,” interior designer Conni Cross said in November. “It’s like a grown-up version of playing house.”

Designer Bob Tapp of Greenport and real estate agent Kate DiGregorio in the front hallway of the 1835 farmhouse. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)
Designer Bob Tapp of Greenport and real estate agent Kate DiGregorio in the front hallway of the 1835 farmhouse. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

For their demonstrated commitment to local charities in Southold and Riverhead towns, the organizers of the North Fork Designer Show House — Bob Tapp, Kate DiGregorio, Melissa Buckley, Nick Ellis, Christina Kosmynka and Barbara McAdam— are The Suffolk Times’ 2014 Community Leaders of the Year.

“It was thrilling to see the enthusiasm and continued support of a beautiful event all in the name of charity,” Mr. Tapp said. “Both events made people happy.”

Sponsored by The Corcoran Group, the idea for the original show house took shape in February, when organizers were brainstorming ways to assist local charities.

“We’ve done charity events in the past, and I had a done a 5K for CAST, so we were just trying to come up with a new idea,” Ms. DiGregorio explained last year. “So Bob said, ‘What about a designer show house?’ ”

Luckily, the ideal property was available: an airy 12-room house next to the Village Green in Cutchogue, owned by Cutchogue Presbyterian Church. It had become vacant in December 2013 when the church’s former minister moved out, Mr. Tapp said. Church officials offered the use of the property and local designers were quickly recruited to revamp a room of their choice, with some decorators working in pairs or small groups.

In addition to Mr. Tapp and Mr. Ellis, those who signed on to reinvent the historic house were Yvette Arce, Conni Cross, Caitlin Flynn, Debra Gildersleeve, Morgan Gildersleeve, Melissa Grinere, Lori Guyer, Amy Hill, Christine McCabe, Yvonne McNab, Marcia Miller, Hadley Wiggins-Marin, Elyse Parkhurst, Elizabeth Schlafer, Kristen Schultz and Ruth Shank.

In addition, Mr. Tapp said, “Corporate sponsors [came] out of the woodwork, along with local businesses, by providing services, products and money for ad space.”

Those contributors included Amy Hill Designs, Beds & Borders, Clarke’s Garden, Fortunoff’s, High Style Interiors, Jeff Cate Photography, Marcia Fox-Martin Interiors, North Fork Design Co., 1670 Furniture House, Roots Etc. Inc., Tile by Design and White Flower Farmhouse. A small consortium of landscapers also donated services to beautify the property’s lawn, Mr. Tapp said.

Former CAST executive director Sarah Benjamin, who now coordinates the organization’s North Fork Parent-Child Home Program, called the show house “a generous outpouring of local support.”

“It was very timely because so many people came and seemed quite interested,” Ms. Benjamin said. “Also, we were very, very grateful to be one of the beneficiaries. I really hope to see it again. I think it’s a great idea for the North Fork.”

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Previous Winners (Civic People of the Year)

2013 — Ron and Doris McGreevy

2012 — Group for the East End

2011 — American Legion Post restoration volunteers

2010 — Peggy Murphy

2009 — North Fork Community Theater

2008 — Lori Luscher

2007 — Committee for Phil McKnight

2006 — Relay for Life organizers

2005 — Merle Levine

2004 — Christine Roache

2003 — Barbara Taylor

2002 — Kim Tetrault

2001 — Elinor May

2000 — Mark Miller

1999 — George Hubbard Sr.

1998 —Ed Siegmann

1997 — Freddie Wachsberger

1996 — Shelley Scoggin

1995 — Craig Richter

1994 — Stewardship Task Force

1993 — Walt Krupski

1992 — The Eklunds

1991 — Bill Grigonis

1990 — Merlon Wiggin

1989 — Jeanne Marriner

1988 — Ray Nine

1987 — Bessie Swann