Panning for Gold at the New York Designer Fabric Outlet
Shopping for home furnishings fabrics is no picnic for non-professional decorators. Visualizing which fabric will look and perform best in a given situation is difficult and confusing work. Which is why, most days at the New York Designer Fabric Outlet in Valatie (Columbia County), New York, the place is as quiet as a library. Annette McConnell mans the outlet by herself, patiently serving shoppers seeking deep discounts on the kind of fabrics that sell to decorators and interior designers at the to-the-trade-only showrooms in the likes of the D & D Building in New York. Annette patiently snips swatches, steering customers through the thousands of choices toward what she and they think/hope they (might) want. Then she helps each customer figure out how many yards the project will require. It all takes great concentration, hence the almost studious atmosphere.
Until John Knott (above left) shows up. Owner of both the outlet and, more important from his perspective, Quadrille, the New York showroom whose cast-offs fill the outlet’s shelves, Knott knows each of these fabrics as if it were an old friend whose life story he cannot wait to share. Holding up a yard or so of lampas-weave green silk, Knott says, “It sold for $240 a yard wholesale ten years ago. We sell it here for $50. This is all that’s left. We shipped most of it to Melville Doty. Remember him? He was Billy Baldwin’s assistant way back when. He’s about 90 now. Three or four years ago, he was doing the Government House in Nassau—you know, that’s the one that had been done up in the 40s for the Dutchess of Windsor. They were on a tight budget, so Annette sent him samples, and he ordered all of the fabrics from here.”
Knott holds another fabric, a yellow cotton damask, aloft, and says, “This was custom-made for Laura Bush’s private sitting room off the master bedroom in the White House.” In Knott’s chatter, D.C.‘s best addresses come up a lot. “Isn’t this the one they used in Sasha’s bedroom?,” he asks his friend John Fondas, holding up a peppy orange-and-white chevron print by Alan Campbell. “What about this?,” a regular customer asks of a cream-ground chintz with a print of brown stars that she’d bought 20 yards of @$10 per on an earlier visit. “Mark Hampton used it at Blair House,” says Knott. Adds Fondas, “It also covers every inch of Lily Safra’s New York dressing room.”
Even for those who don’t give a fig about their provenance, the fabrics from the New York Designer Fabric Outlet are fun—who doesn’t love owning things of the first quality that have been picked up for a song? This is why antiques dealers throughout the region buy bits and pieces here to upholster chair seats and the like. It is also why a lot of interior designers from New York City, such as Fondas (he and Annette rummaging at left), who routinely buy from Quadrille and similar showrooms for their clients, make the pilgrimage to Valatie to shop for themselves and their friends. Knott bought Quadrille thirty years ago and has been growing it ever since. He has an uncanny knack for buying declasse fabric companies that he anticipates will have a fashion comeback. As its name suggests, China Seas specializes in batiks and clean bright cottons wovens that were all the rage several decades back. Now, as Knott had predicted, they are chic once again. Another brand, Alan Campbell, whose former hay day had been the 1960s and 70s, is, according to Knott, prominently featured in this months’s House Beautiful.
China Seas plaid at the outlet (left) and in Hudson at Arenskjold Antiques on modern chairs.
Annette is entirely without guile or pretense; she treats every customer as if he or she were Billie Baldwin incarnate. Knott, on the other hand, likes to think that his fabrics are being used well by people who understand what an amazing bargain they are. One such knowledgeable customer once pointed to a pale gold spolanato weave that usually sells wholesale for $350 a yard and exclaimed, “We just saw that in the Palais Royale in Paris! What’s it doing in Valatia?!” Answer: Waiting for the right customer, perhaps a modernist with the vision to recognize a smashing throw-pillow fabric, to snap it up for $35 a yard.
New York Designer Fabric Outlet
3143 Route 9 (north of the Hannaford traffic circle)
Daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; closed Tuesdays