On The East Coast

Kalen Kaminski, founder of dye studio Upstate, loves to experiment with colour. Her inspiration? The dynamic energy of NYC’s Chinatown and quiet beauty of the Berkshires, MA.

My creative processes differ greatly depending on the project which is refreshing because nothing ever feels stagnant. With set design, it’s very quick and immediate. I have to think on my toes and be ready to troubleshoot. Running Upstate is a very different approach because we don’t follow the fashion calendar or go to trade shows, so we can release new collections and products more spontaneously. Everything at Upstate moves at a slower pace so there is more time to feel inspired and develop our pieces. Overall, the workflow feels more holistic and sustainable.

My inspiration stems from my travels and meeting new people, seeing new spaces along the way. I am a big book and magazine collector. I love drawing inspiration from old books and magazines and interpreting that into new designs. I love the art of fabric dyeing the most.

For years, people have told me that I should be sending fabric to a dye house and it’s ridiculous for me and my team to do it all in house, but I find I can really ground down and escape when I have a dyeing task at hand. I am literally blown away by the glass-blowing process. It is such an incredible art form and I feel so grateful for our team who executes this. At first, it was weird for me to not be doing it myself like I have with everything else we make, but I find the process of designing glass very rewarding, then seeing how my glass-blower executes my vision. It’s a really fun collaborative process.

Seasonality and colour play a huge role for me. In Spring, I tend to be drawn to light pastels; Summer, vibrant bold colours or a light neutral. In Autumn, I feel myself moving into more earthy tones derived from nuts, barks and natural dyes in browns or tans. In fact, we are about to launch a small exclusive to our web shop of silk pillows hand dyed with cutch, a really beautiful wood found in the acacia tree. The colour is a very layered, rich earthy brown. A nice neutral to mix in for the season.

NYC will forever be my home. I’ve lived here for 17 years and don’t see myself moving anytime soon. I live in between Chinatown and the Berkshires, a sliver of countryside in western Massachusetts. I love the juxtaposition of each place; they could not be more different. We live right above the fish markets on East Broadway in Chinatown, NYC, and I love the grit, the smells and the energy of the block. It’s amazing how it’s still an unchanged pocket of the city with very few chains. There’s great food here, as well as incredible style showcased by the older Chinese women.

Two years ago, my partner and I purchased a small 200-year-old schoolhouse in the Berkshires, MA. It’s on two intersecting rivers with so much greenery. I love the silence, endless beauty and wildlife—every season brings a new surprise. I am full speed ahead when I’m in the city, so having this hideout has been a real gift.

I can accumulate a lot of things from photo shoots and have become good at giving these objects away: if they aren’t useful or inspiring they’re out. I also enjoy having friends’ art in my space [and] we like to host fun dinner parties and workshops here, which always bring in new and interesting people.

Contrary to popular belief, I’m more of a minimalist. I love pattern on pattern in fashion, but at home it’s more minimal, with pops of colour and pattern in textiles and glassware. Having less at home helps me feel clearer. I veer towards a modern and natural look, and love a mix of woods and travertines. I’ve been collecting ceramics from friends around the world and have a small glass and small spoon collection growing by the day! Most of my art is either from friends or things I’ve found at antique or flea markets. I love a classic piece like a knoll table or Wassily chair mixed with some tie-dyed velvet floor pillows. I think it’s important to bring in elements like plants and textiles to soften up a space, otherwise it can feel sterile.

What makes a perfect Autumn tablescape? Keep it seasonal. When we are in the country, I pride myself in my ‘roadside bouquets’ which are just a mix of whatever’s growing in the yard. In Summer, it’s all about wildflowers, fern leaves and grasses. For Autumn, I’m looking forward to bringing in the rusts and ochres of seasonal branches.

I’m never precious about my table settings and always mix and match my glassware, friends’ ceramics and vintage pieces. Lately, I’ve been loving ceramic plates from my friend Kim Ficaro’s line called Totem Home. My friend Lily Consuelo Saporta Tagiuri made me some incredible, organic-shaped plates that I’ll mix in too. Lots of candles are key, plus plenty of sparkling water and wine.

Being in nature is becoming more and more essential to keeping me sane. The beauty of NYC is that there are so many parks around the city to duck into and have a little grounding moment. I love morning walks and jogs along the East River or up in Tompkins Square Park. There’s a huge hawk I like to go visit there. She’s been there for years now and lives in this giant oak with a huge nest. Another of my favourite NYC green spots is Elizabeth Street Garden. It’s small but feels like a true escape from the city. I feel so lucky to live on a river with a swimming hole. In Summer, I love a quick plunge in the river to let the day wash over me. I’ve realised that I never, ever regret jumping into water and it always makes my day better.

There is nothing better than Autumn in New York City except maybe Autumn in the Berkshires, so I really have the best of both worlds. I feel like NYC wakes up and everyone is back from Summer travels. There are always fun art shows, concerts and dinner parties. In Summer, I feel like everyone is a ship passing in the night, but in the Fall everyone is there. With the season’s cooler weather, I can spend an entire day walking around the city which is one of my favourite things to do.

“There is nothing better than Autumn in NYC except maybe Autumn in the Berkshires.
I have the best of both worlds”

The leaves turning colour in the Berkshires is truly magical. I’d never seen anything like it before I moved to the East Coast. It’s fun to go on nature walks and bundle up, have a cosy fire. I usually read more and like to cook for friends.

Upstate will be having it’s first ever exhibition on NYC’s Lower East Side in November. We are making a unique collection of glassware, silk quilts and some one of a kind apparel pieces. Stay tuned!

Follow Kalen’s wild-inspired life and work @kalen_k_ or @upstate___

Photography: Kat Borchart, Yudi Ella Echevarria