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Welcome to HUTS latest Finding Space interview with Ninze Chen-Benchev. Ninze is the creative drive behind one of our favorite curated vintage furniture stores, Long Weekend, in Livingston Manor. Being a well traveled design fanatic created the perfect conditions for her to open her horizons to building a successful business in the Catskills. We were honored to sit down and talk about Ninze’s journey to Livingston Manor.
Long Weekend was one of the early shops to pop up on Main Street in Livingston Manor during this renaissance of the Catskills. What has it meant for you to see so many others following suit and breathing new life into these once sleepy towns?
“It is truly amazing. I’m really happy that there are so many new businesses popping up and breathing life back into these once empty buildings. It makes Livingston Manor a destination now and not just a pass-through town. It also, I think, inspires and shows a lot of people that it is possible to run a successful business in a rural community – it’s amazing to think somebody could walk into my shop and be like “I could do this too.” and actually do it! It’s rad to inspire action in someone else to pursue their passion.”
What drove you to leave behind what you knew in the city and transition to a completely different facet of design? Has interior design always been a passion of yours?
“It just felt right for a change of scenery. Energetically, there was something very inspiring and magical about a fresh start away from the city surrounded by woods and nature. It also made sense from a financial standpoint, in 2016 real estate up here was jaw droppingly affordable. There was just so much space, space to roam, space to breathe, space for my mind to expand.”
“It’s funny, my relationship with interior design has been on and off, as a young kid I loved flipping through my mum’s Architectural Digest and dreamt up interior scenarios for my “grown-up dream home”, then I briefly attended architecture school before deciding it wasn’t for me and did Graphic Design instead. I learned a lot about European designers when I was in Parsons Paris & NY, it was there I developed a love for all things Bauhaus. But in my early 20s, I could not care less about furniture (who needs to sit on a fancy couch when you’re partying all the time). Then I became obsessed again in my mid-20s when I was renovating my first apartment in Ridgewood, Queens. I definitely have always known feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of positioning objects in auspicious ways, was super important though.”
More specifically why is sourcing vintage, pre-owned, and antique furniture and home goods such an important aspect of interior design?
“Having a special piece of vintage and pre-loved furniture gives your space that depth of character that newer furniture simply doesn’t. It feels like a warm hug for your eyes. We spend so much time indoors now, I have noticed that people are investing in better things for their home. Good design creates an environment that makes you want to stay a while longer, and ultimately nurtures your mind and soul. They don’t call it home improvement for nothing, it improves a lot of aspects of your life as well. Perhaps it’s also that nostalgic feel from a simpler time when technology and mass production weren’t so prevalent, or just knowing that it’s built well and has lasted all these decades makes it a solid investment for your home.”
What was your first investment piece of (vintage) furniture? What advice do you have for people looking for affordable ways to incorporate unique vintage items in their homes?
“My first big investment piece was a pair of Hans Wegner W2 chairs for C.M Madsens Denmark. I got that from Other Times Vintage in Brooklyn.”
“My advice would be to visit your local thrift or vintage store, and hit up some estate sales for affordable ways to find vintage furniture. Definitely come visit me! I have some very reasonably priced stuff. :)”
What is your favorite part about the hunt for new (to you) pieces to display in the shop?
“My favorite part is knowing that I’m doing my part in contributing to a circular economy, giving the furniture a chance to be reused, repurposed, and recycled. It’s also knowing that it will find a place in someone’s home and bring them so much joy that is super rewarding!”
Lastly why has your move to the Catskills been so vital to your journey in opening your own business, and what are your favorite things about the community here?
“I don’t think I would have had the guts to do this if I stayed in the city! I was so fearful of taking big risks monetarily, whereas here in the Catskills the scary business stuff is much more manageable. Apart from the financial reasons, this move to the Catskills has just allowed me the space to take my creativity and ideas to the next level.”
“My favorite thing about this community is that we’re all super supportive and considerate of each other, there is a small little vintage collective building up here in Livingston Manor, with Maria from Life Repurposed, Charlotte from Taylor & Ace, and Dan who runs Manor Camp off of his porch. We all help each other out, support each other, and share resources and I think that is how people should treat people. It is gold.”
Here are some takeaways from our chat with Ninze:
You can do it too: Whatever your dream is or passion project, you really can do it! And there’s a community, at least in the Catskills, ready to welcome you.
Good design transcends time: No matter the age a well crafted and well designed piece of furniture is a sound investment over mass produced modern pieces. Like Ninze said, vintage furniture can add some much needed depth to your interiors and give you that warm and fuzzy feeling whenever you see it.
Find the deals: Vintage and antique furniture doesn’t have to mean a huge price tag, but you have to be willing to put in the work. Find local estate sales and thrift stores to find some great treasures for cheap!