Many of the houses along Southport's shoreline have rooms that provide stunning views of the water, sailboats gracefully passing by, and seabirds gliding on the breeze.
Sandy, the massive storm that last week caused havoc on the Connecticut coastline, particularly in Fairfield and its Southport neighborhood, dramatically changed those perspectives -- at least, for the time being. But a long-standing event at the Southport Congregational Church that took place as scheduled last weekend buoyed the minds and hearts of storm-dazed residents.
Organizers of the 18th annual "Rooms with a View" interior design showcase said they debated whether to go ahead with the event, featuring extravagant and unique home decor, while so many people only several blocks away were still coping with damaged homes, many without power, in the storm's aftermath.
In the end, said the Rev. Laura Whitmore, the church's associate minister, they decided to go forward. "It was less about hosting a party and a beautiful show than it was about being able to continue our ministry. This money is vital to our church's budget for our ministry, which supports Bridgeport and Fairfield charities," said Whitmore, one of numerous members of the church congregation who had to bail water from the church's Youth Room and Carousel Thrift Shop to prepare for the event.
"The shop was flooded and much of the merchandise was compromised," she said.
Some of the "merchandise" that was meant to be included in the 12 Rooms with a View vignettes created by professional interior designers did not make it to the church for the event because of interruptions in shipping caused by the hurricane. Others were stuck in New York buildings that could not be accessed because of storm damage.
They said many stepped forward to help make the event possible, including the staff of Paci restaurant, who cooked the fare for the gala on grills and propane ovens under a tent in the church parking lot because power had not yet been restored.
Whitmore said one family, whose house was badly damaged by the storm, diverted their attention from their problems to make sure that event volunteers were well fed last Tuesday as they cleaned up the church. "Here appears this beautiful dinner for all the volunteers," she said of the family's donation.
"It's been a little counter-intuitive for us to be designing at a time when so many people have suffered so many losses, but it's also a little refreshing to take a break from the aftermath of the storm," said Allison Caccoma, owner of Caccoma Interiors in New York City, which was also hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Caccoma included in her vignette a little red chair that had belonged to Albert Hadley, the long-time honorary chairman of Rooms with a View, known as the dean of American design. Hadley, a member of the Southport Congregational Church, died last March.
"I tried to get a lot of my vignette done last Saturday before the storm, and they had generators during the week so we could work on the spaces," said Kelley Schutte of Westport, owner of Kelley Schutte Design. Schutte incorporated into her autumnal dining room design space a handcrafted sunburst mirror that was a tribute to Hadley.
One display, by JP Franzen Architects, featured a Summer Porch Vintage 1959 with Kelly green metal chairs, a guitar, 8 mm camera and a bowl with three live goldfish.
"We're following trends -- fluorescents and bright colors, particularly lime green, chartreuse and aubergine, are in, and bold black-and-white geometrics," said Rebecca Tier Soskin, owner of Rebecca Soskin Interior Design. Soskin collaborated on her vignette with a childhood friend from Darien, decorative artist Topher Carnes, owner of Finishing Impressions in Bridgeport, who said he had the honor to work with Hadley.
One woman said she felt some of the vignettes did not live up to those of past years. "I see compromises," she said. But designers said they not only struggled to get some pieces to the show, they were also working within a theme that encouraged thrift.
The 18th annual Rooms with a View theme was "Design on a Shoestring." But Mary Ann and Charles Winter of Manhattan were impressed with the event. They drove up from New York on Saturday to attend Rooms with a View for the first time. Charles Winter said he enjoyed seeing "the great creativity of people." Mary Ann Winter appreciated the ability to speak directly with the designers. Both appreciated the nod to Hadley, who designed their New York apartment in 1998.
"We always had a fondness for the man," Charles Winter said.
While some designers included Hadley influences in their vignettes, Christian Arkay-Leliever, a member of the congregation and a designer and creative consultant, transformed the chapel into a Hadley tribute titled AbidebyDesign that featured paper dolls decorated by New York and Connecticut students and children from the church, using as a model a Hadley sketch.
The attendance and fund-raising was "as good as a non-storm year," making the event very successful, Whitmore said.