Photography: J C Martin
above: Display of hardware
I just love the Levitt Pavilion,” says Shelly Kahan. “It’s a great place.” As the owner of Interstate + Lakeland, which recently opened a new center/showroom in Westport, he speaks like a proud local, complete with a genuine smile crossing his face.
Clearly, he’s recalling good times listening to live music along the Saugatuck. He also lived the good life in town for many years, and the emotional attachment remains. He also poured that heart into this new center, which reflects the town’s taste for the slightly edgy/urban and a contemporary feel, which is expressed in abundant natural light, bright white walls, a minimalism for displays, and high ceilings with dark steel beams. It’s chic with a loft feel.
The story of his business is told in his book, Custom-Made Customer Driven. His grandfather, Leon, started it in 1922 in Greenwich. Leon brought in his sons Jack and Herb in 1945. Jack’s son, Sheldon (a.k.a. Shelly) started in 1978. The family business was deeply rooted by that third generation. Under Shelly, Interstate + Lakeland Lumber has grown, infused with a sense of place and purpose and values that have passed through the generations. The family enterprise is now on its fourth generation, having long bested the arguable belief that family businesses do not endure beyond the founders. This one has not only survived, but also thrived, evidenced in the new footprint in Westport.
We asked Shelly a few questions in between meeting local builders, architects, suppliers and design professionals.
You have a design center in Greenwich. What made you decide to come to Westport?
You know, Westport is a very special town to me. I lived in Westport for close to thirty years, raised my family here. So I know from experience what an amazing place this is. It’s a community that demands the best, and that’s exactly what we’re going to provide. I was out with one of our salesmen, and he suggested we find a little space to establish a presence in town, show off our millwork capabilities. I drove around looking for that little space but didn’t find anything that felt right. What I did find, though, was a big space. The wonderful owners of Torno Hardware were looking to start their next chapter away from the business, and I knew the future of Interstate was here. Bringing my family business to the town I raised my family in? It was a no-brainer.
How is the Westport center unique?
There’s never been a design center like the one we’ve built in Westport, I guarantee it. When it comes to the variety and caliber of products we have on display, the Interstate Design Center is second to none. For this new Design Center, we wanted it to communicate the clean, smooth aesthetics of modern architecture. This stands in contrast to our Greenwich space, which has more of a traditional focus with its wooden floors and ceiling. Our Design Centers are spaces where people can come in and truly envision what their home could be like.
Who was the architect?
The architects were Jim Margeotes, Cormac Byrne and Kristin Rinaldi at Jones Byrne Margeotes Partners Architecture. And the construction was done by the fantastic builders at A.V. Tuchy. Interstate wouldn’t be where we are today without the great builders and architects who we were incredibly fortunate to get to work with.
You have a degree from Carnegie Mellon in architecture. So, you must have been involved in the design of the Westport center?
That’s right, my first love was architecture. When I left Carnegie Mellon, I had a job all lined up at an architecture firm. But my father and uncle who were running Interstate at the time gave me a better offer to come to Interstate and see how I liked it. The rest, as they say, is history. But I never lost that love of architecture. Whether it was our Greenwich Design Center, the homes I’ve lived in, the Westport Design Center, I always like to get involved with the design process. But we worked with some truly incredible architects at JBMP, and you always have to let the experts work their magic.
Highlights of the design center?
There are so many amazing things about this Design Center, it’s taking me a minute just to narrow it down. On the lower level, we have window displays from some of the finest window manufacturers in the country. The Marvin Skycove display, a new glass structure that projects into the open air, is especially worth seeking out. And upstairs we have our architectural hardware displays. We’re proud to have put together the largest selection of luxury handles, knobs, and locks in the region. And you can also get a taste of Interstate’s custom moulding with our moulding profile wall, which showcases the most popular moulding profiles from our classic architecture and modern design lines.
Is it open to just designers, builders, etc., or also the general public?
The Interstate Design Center welcomes everyone looking to enhance their home. We want to be a resource for all the homeowners of Westport and the surrounding area to come in and get expert guidance and building product knowledge. We’re so excited about the space and the team we’ve put together in Westport, and we hope it can be a real destination for builders, designers, architects and homeowners in Fairfield County.
Tell me about your beautiful conference table!
This conference table is really something else. It’s made from the wood of a copper beech tree that was planted by Teddy Roosevelt at the end of the nineteenth century. The tree had to be cut down, and the Roosevelt Foundation commissioned us to create a series of tables and desks out of the wood. They were gracious enough to let us keep enough of the wood to create the amazing conference table that graces the Interstate Design Center. The amazing craftsmen at our Custom Mill Shop got to work and created the one-of-a-kind table you see today.
Favorite thing about Westport?
Without a doubt, my favorite thing in Westport are the concerts at the Levitt Pavilion. The free concerts during the summer especially. It’s such a fantastic space, and they do such a great job bringing the community together to enjoy so many great acts. Even before we opened our Westport location, we’ve been a longtime sponsor of the Levitt Pavilion. There’s no better way to spend a Saturday evening in summer than a trip to the Pavilion to hear some great music.
Anything else to add?
We’d like everyone to know how thrilled we are to be in Westport. It’s a great town, and we want to be a business that lives up to the quality that Westport deserves. Interstate has supplied building materials for builders in Connecticut and New York for one hundred years, and we can’t wait to share that century of knowledge and expertise with Westport’s builders, architects, designers and homeowners.