With 23 Years of Amazing Wilton Memories, Designer Kathleen Cragan Closes Shop
Musicians express their emotions when they play a song. Writers can choose words to express their feelings. There’s one longtime Wilton interior designer whose own heartfelt connection to the community and love of her clients comes through in the colorful home decor she dreams up for them.
For 23 years, Kathy Cragan has worked out of her cozy nook of a shop on the lower level of the Barringer Building, next door to Scoops Ice Cream and across the parking lot from Village Market. She’s been working in Wilton even longer, starting in 1983, and later setting up shop in the Barringer Building in 1992. Now Cragan has announced she’s closing her shop, and plans to continue working out of her home. All this week she’s running a sale of the furnishings and home decor items she’s collected as she prepares to relocate.
The decision to move from a brick-and-mortar location in Wilton Center to a home office has given her the opportunity to reflect on how many people she has worked with and the connections she made over the years.
“When we took this space, it was a mess, we had to do a ton of work to it. But it was like having a neighborhood. The people at Scoops have always been wonderful, whoever owned it. Back then the two were clients, and I had known them for a long time. Being able to look up at the Village Market and being able to operate out of here was wonderful. I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Sitting at her desk, by a window that looks out toward Wilton Center, Craven gets choked up at the prospect of leaving, and the emotion almost catches her off guard. “I really am excited that I’m making a change, and I haven’t gotten emotional before. I’ve had a great run. I’ve really had great clients.”
A day after the interview, Cragan emails, putting into words what the time has meant, writing that, “The shop has been a home away from home, a place to have a tight neighborhood, a place for clients and friends to drop in. It has been a place where I could legitimately flirt with color, gorgeous fabrics (I was a textile major), exquisite furniture, lovely designs, details as many as I could fit in, budget dependent, like building 3-dimensional living spaces.”
One of the things she loved most was developing a loyal clientele, with many clients asking her to create spaces not just in their Wilton homes but in their vacation homes as well. “I’ve done projects in Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, Arizona and California. I love my clients and that’s what the business has been.” One client has even been so dedicated, she brought Cragan to Manilla in the Philippines to design a property there.
Part of Cragan’s esthetic is a love for color that isn’t dependent on the “trend of the moment,” and she often has to use the skills of a psychologist, asking the right questions to get a client to figure out what suits them personally rather than impose the same look on everybody.
“I haven’t found one client that operates the same way as another. I’ve always given people a lot of choices, and I’ve worked hard to get to know who they are so their homes will reflect them. I don’t like trends. I have to deal with them all the time, because so frequently people just don’t know who they are. Today, with the Internet, it is a huge force with Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware. I really like to see people develop who they are. I want them to think color-wise who are they, and what is going to last forever. How do you spend your money? What do you want to teach your children about spending money? How do you want to use your home? Don’t you want to use every room? How can we get you to use every single room?”
It also means that she doesn’t have a signature look to plug in for each client. “I have never branded myself. Sometimes I regret that because branding is a way to make a really good income, but I would rather suit the needs of each client than brand myself. I’ve always wanted to do something different for everybody and that has been very fun. But I love color and funkier things more than most people do.”
She has also made sure to be able to work with people on a range of projects, large and small. (See a range of her work and styles at the end of the article.)
“Not that many people really want their homes to look like Architectural Digest. I think a lot of people work on a budget, so it’s important to understand, do you want your house to look like it’s in House Beautiful or do you want it to work for your family.”
She’s been pleased to see that not only is she working with longtime clients who have downsized after the nest empties but she’s also found that children of past clients have become her clients as well as they set up their own homes. As a longtime Wilton resident, Cragan ‘gets’ what life in town is like, having been both a working mom and someone who has given countless volunteer hours to local organizations, including Wilton Children’s Theater as president for many years and Ridgefield Civic Ballet, with a daughter who danced for years.
“I did a lot when my kids were young. I think that is an important thing, and you lose something when you step back. But there’s only so much time, and as the kids left to go away to college, it was important to do the business and hunker down, and maybe let someone else take over,” she says.
As she looks forward to this next stage, Cragan is excited to make the transition. She’ll have many things available at the sale, including lighting, furniture, decor and accessories as well as design materials. “Some other designer just getting started can use the books I have,” she says, adding that prices will be “way, way down.”
Her plan is to be up and working out of her home by the week after Thanksgiving, so she expects the sale to finish quickly. Beyond then, people can still contact Cragan for interior design work through the same contact information: by email or by calling 203.762.5964.
But, of course, the move will be bittersweet. “I have loved all the people around me, and I’ve loved being in Wilton Center. From the Halloween walk to the Christmas Walks, to people stopping in to say hi. There have been so many strong memories. But it’s time,” she says.
Plus she’ll still continue work with clients, which Cragan says is the best part of the business. “My husband has said that my clients have become part of my family, as do the worker bees. Knowing and loving all the people I have serviced and making them happy has been the success I searched for. I am grateful for the path I have had…..mother, wife, interior designer, volunteer, lover of my life and friends, animal lover,” she says, adding, “The 35 years can tell many stories of beautiful homes and more importantly, of beautiful families. How lucky have I been! I have had a great run and I look forward to continuing to have fun creating homes ad infinitum.”