The 'Upstate' founder and set designer's light-filled properties epitomise downtown cool.
Designer Kalen Kaminski’s Warehouse-Style Studio and Apartment Are a New York City Dream
The 'Upstate' founder and set designer's light-filled properties epitomise downtown cool.
Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we celebrate innovators, artisans, and crafters of all types by taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we tour designer and founder of textile and glassware brand Upstate, Kalen Kaminski's airy rental apartment and studio in New York City's Chinatown.
New York City has long been a haven for professional and aspiring artists alike. Millions have been drawn to this bustling metropolis which is a centre for the creative industries. It's a dream for many and a reality for few, and one such creative whose career has blossomed in the concrete jungle is Upstate founder Kalen Kaminski.
Kalen moved to new york at age 21 and began networking with those that worked in creative fields. "I met a prop stylist whom I started assisting for a few years before going off on my own," she shares with Bed Threads Journal. At the same time she was working a styling job she kickstarted her brand Upstate as a passion project. Fast forward to today and Upstate has blossomed into a fully-fledged creative studio whereby Kalen produces clothing, textiles, and glassware.
Both a meditation on and celebration of colour, Kalen's abstract creations draw from the palettes, landscapes, and visual cultures encountered while travelling. Each one-of-a-kind piece boasts unique fluid patterns that arise from the beautiful irregularity of hand dyeing and glass blowing. A range of Kalen's dreamy Upstate glassware products are available on Bed Threads to elevate your home and dining experience.
On top of running her business, Kalen works as a freelance set designer and prop stylist creating everything from ad campaigns and catalogues to editorials, and cookbooks.
New York City is notorious for its cramped apartments with little to no natural light. The drawcard of the rental apartment that Kalen lives in tells another story. The East Broadway home boasts high ceilings and expansive windows which flood the space with light. "The windows are the centre stage of the apartment so we’ve placed both the bed and sofa in positions to look out and not block it."
The warehouse-style home and her studio which is two blocks away epitomise downtown cool having been minimally decorated with an eclectic range of furniture and décor. "Because I work with so much colour it’s nice to come back to a minimal home." Both her home and studio have been enlivened with indoor plants from cacti to fiddle-leaf figs. Industrial-leaning elements like exposed brick walls add a distinct personality.
We took a tour of Kalen's rental apartment and studio and spoke to her about her creative process, how she keeps her ideas and concepts fresh, and how she's styled her abode.
Hi Kalen! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?
Hi! I make hand-dyed textiles and apparel and design glassware for my brand called Upstate. I am also a freelance set designer and prop stylist and work on everything from ad campaigns, catalogues, editorials and cookbooks.
How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?
I'm someone who always has a few balls in the air and many moving parts but when I can have the afternoon in my studio I feel very grounded and everything feels like it’s coming together. As far as set design goes I love the beginning stages of sourcing and pulling items for a client to choose from. Shopping and rifling through prop houses and antique stores has always been relaxing and joyful for me.
Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?
I always knew I wanted to “work with my hands” but that’s SO general and could mean one million things. When I moved to NY at the age of 21 I nannied to make money and met as many people as I could working in creative professions. I met a prop stylist whom I started assisting for a few years before going off on my own. I learned how to source and curate worlds but also learned the importance of the minute… like buying the correct colour of envelope or a white extension cord instead of a bright orange one… This small attention to detail is what elevates everything. To be honest, I didn’t even know that prop styling for photoshoots was a real job. I always thought the photographer somehow did everything. I was very drawn to this.
I also started Upstate simultaneously but it was a low-key passion project. I would make tapestries for friends' shops. In 2015 I became very focused and built my practice around making small batch one-of-a-kind pieces. In 2019 I brought in the glassware component and that’s been a really fun addition to the brand. Upstate loves colour and will always explore colour through handmade design.
Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?
I love books. I am a big collector of old art and interior books. I usually always start my design process by looking through books. Sometimes a gallery or museum show can be really inspiring or even seeing someone on the street. I don’t have one way to start and inspiration can come to me at the weirdest times i.e in the middle of the night. I try to keep a notebook of notes on all these thoughts.
What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to further your career?
Staying authentic to myself and listening to my gut. I started doing transcendental meditation in 2018 and I find when I can start my day and if possible fit a mid-afternoon meditation in then I'm much more in tune with myself. When I listen to myself about what I really want to do it shows through in my work and draws people in.
What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your career?
Moving into my own studio space has been huge. It was a big move for me but very worth it. I love entertaining and hosting so it's been fun having the space not only has my studio but also to host friends for dinner and dye workshops.
I usually always start my design process by looking through books.
What’s one piece of equipment you use for work that you can’t do without?
My washing machine! I call her my business partner :)
Given that you’ve done so many shoots, how do you keep your ideas and concepts fresh?
I try to not hold on to many props so I can’t reuse them. I think that can make things stale. I also never reuse an image for a mood board so I always have a different jumping-off point.
Now, the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?
I’ve lived in my home since 2018.
How did you initially know this was the space for you?
My boyfriend has had the spot for 17 years. It’s a great sunny and airy space which is hard to find in NYC.
Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?
It’s hard renovating when you rent however we did some “subtractions” which I think is a smart move in NYC if your landlord won’t change anything. We removed the kitchen cabinet doors above the sink in the kitchen so it felt more open. We also took off all of the doors and the vents above the doors. Doors can take up so much space and if you never use them who needs them?
What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?
The windows are the centre stage of the apartment so we’ve placed both the bed and sofa in positions to look out and not block it. Because I work with so much colour it’s nice to come back to a minimal home. I also don’t have tons of my work at home (except for pillows, glassware, and maybe a light). I like the neutrality with hits of colour in the throw pillows and glassware.
What are your favourite pieces in the home?
I love our custom bed frame that a friend built, also the Upstate globe light and the plants!
Do you have any special décor pieces you’re looking to add?
Which is your favourite room in the house?
The living room. I love waking up early and watching the sunlight creep in through the blinds
What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?
I think it starts with subtracting the items that don’t work and starting with something simple if you don’t have a huge budget and maybe saving up for a fun chair to start with. I think a bedroom should stay minimal and your bed should become your sanctuary so make it fun. Having a plant corner to wake up and look at is a nice way to start the day.
Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?
Yes! I'm working on a really fun capsule collection for this Italian brand called TL180. I'm dyeing their dresses and sweaters with natural dyes and making each one one of a kind. This is my favourite way to produce. Im using natural dyes such as madder root, indigo, tree barks, cochineal (a bug!), marigold flowers, and safflower petals.