Designing a personal and professional success story

In October of 2012, the Westchester County Business Journal, a sister publication to WAG, featured a story about designer Brenda Kelly Kramer, now Brenda Kelly Cohn. 

The self-taught Cohn is a designer who has been much in the news in recent years. Her business took off formally in 2007 when House Beautiful magazine featured the newly designed and decorated kitchen of her Chappaqua home as “The Kitchen of the Month” in its March issue.

The kitchen capitalized on what she calls “my knack for finding the old and mixing it with the new — a bit of Calacatta marble from the University of California, Berkeley here, an island top from Australia there. (Her English sunroom and master suite and sitting room would be showcased in the July 2008 Better Homes & Gardens and the February 2009 Better Homes & Gardens, respectively.)

The design world took note again in 2008 as Brenda moved an approximately 1,200-square-foot cottage that had once been part of banker-merchant Moses Taylor’s Annandale Farms estate in Mount Kisco, piece by piece, to become an addition to her 1931 Dutch Colonial home in Chappaqua. (The cottage had been a sentimental touchstone on childhood trips from Irvington, where she grew up, the daughter of graphics designer Ken Kelly, on her way to visit her grandfather, manager of the Mount Kisco Country Club.) 

Cohn furnished the house with all things Bermuda — “We love Bermuda. It’s a big family destination,” she says — right down to Bermuda limestone and sand.

Now Brenda, a warm redhead who honed her eye and business acumen at the former B. Altman & Co. and Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, is making another big splash with a venture in which professional success dovetails with personal happiness. Three years ago, she married Jeff Cohn, president of Decorative Crafts Inc. in the Byram section of Greenwich. Founded in 1928 by Jeff’s grandfather, the company was a longtime fixture in Mount Vernon before moving in the 1980s to the more than 60,000-square-foot facility that had once belonged to Peter Brant, chairman and CEO of White Birch Paper (and better known in these pages as the founder of Greenwich Polo Club).

Jeff says he didn’t merely gain a wife. He’s gained a designer, one whose creativity not only balances his flair for numbers and organization but who has also reimagined Decorative Crafts’ showroom.

“It had beautiful things, but it needed some life,” Brenda says of the rather antiseptic former showroom. Now it teems with color, texture, pattern — life — in a series of environments that mixes classic and modern, old and new, high-brow and affordable. There are powder blue chaise longues and black wood, gilded chairs with green cushions and painted backs that would have been at home in one of Jane Austen’s novels; knobby glass bowls that Brenda designed; prancing horse sculptures; leafy crystal chandeliers; comfy, oversize sofas; inlaid wood or glass end tables; a secretary that’s a fine example of Chinoiserie; and another that Brenda has cleverly turned into a bar. 

Many of the more than 750 pieces on display come from the couple’s buying trips in Italy. They contribute to “the warm feeling people have when they come in.” So do the complimentary glass of Prosecco and the monthly wine events in which a bowl is raffled off.

But perhaps best of all for the public is the yearly entrée to the facility’s warehouse, which contains a photo studio for DC’s catalog items, a repair shop and new inventory as well as leftovers and other sale items the public can scoop up. WAG was delighted to get a sneak peak at the cavernous space, in which some of the couple’s eight boys — yes, eight boys, ranging in age from 8-year-old identical twins to 26 — ride their skateboards.

With enough family for a baseball team and a designated hitter (if you throw in the parents), Brenda recently thought of tossing out her couch for something more affordable — and durable. Instead, recognizing its quality, she had it reupholstered.

“I only buy really good furniture,” she says.

Something Decorative Crafts patrons can say as well.

Decorative Crafts Inc. is at 50 Chestnut St. in Greenwich. For more, call 203-531-1500 or 800-431-4455 or visit decorativecrafts.com.

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