The Hartford Courant:
They Set Their Designs on Parkville

By Pat Seremet

Tout Hartford was there.

And they were tooting Hartford’s horn.

Nancy Zwiener and Richard Ott opened a business called DesignSourceCT in a refurbished factory in the Parkvillesection of Hartford, and threw a party Thursday night to show off its showroom. And as a good neighborly gesture, it was also a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford.

Couches, couches everywhere but not a place to sit.

Lamps, lamps everywhere, how pretty when they’re lit.

Fabrics, tables, armoires, I think I’ll have a fit.

Scooping a scallop perched on a porcelain spoon, chased by a mini glass of gazpacho, Java commented to no one in particular on how stunningly beautiful the spread was.

“And also how beautiful are the people,” whispered a fellow grazer, enjoying crab meat nestled in a miniature cucumber wrap, and reaching for a California roll.

This is a building which, if you ask five people, you’ll get five different answers. It once manufactured all kinds of things, ball bearings to bikinis, but for three years had been vacant. Carlos Mouta, who always has his clever commercial feelers out in Hartford, bought the building with the plan for this area to become a design corridor.

Ott is an interior designer, and Zwiener, married to David Zwiener, president and chief operating officer at the Hartford Financial Services Group, has redecorated a number of homes in their many professional moves. She also has an M.B.A., so together, the two believed they could combine art and business in this bold new venture.

There were more than 400 people who came to the party who, if enthusiasm is an indicator, are ecstatic that this kind of showroom is here. There will be a couple of other businesses open to the public, but the main showroom is for a client doing business with an architect or professional designer.

“People are blown away,” said Nancy Zwiener. “They can’t believe they’re in Hartford.”

“Look at the columns,” said Michele Parrotta of Hartford. “They’re to die for. It’s kind of like urban chic. This is stepping out, and it’s going to put Parkville on the map.”

The space is truly dazzling — grand high ceilings still bearing the signs of a factory. Some concrete remains, but much of it is gone and in its place, huge windows. It had been the place where at varying times, tires, ball bearings, cast iron boilers and ovens were made, and at one time it was home to Capitol Swimwear, one of the largest swimsuit manufacturers in the country.

“This is like they have in the D & D building in New York,” said Hartford photographer Ellen Carey. “I’ve always loved the old industrial buildings — I have a studio at Underwood Typewriter — I love the light, the space. Hartford is really happening.”

“I opened my own business in April,” said David Frappier of David Williams Design, Hartford. “I already do business here. ”

“I love the whole scene,” he said about the party. “It’s nice to see the energy. It used to be everyone did their own thing, and there never was an occasion where everyone got together. Nancy and Richard are pioneers.”

“Hartford, Hartford, Hartford!” said David Lentini, president and CEO of Connecticut Bank & Trust, said. “This is just another piece of Hartford coming together.”

His bank, headquartered downtown, is pushing $100 million assets and just that day opened a new branch in Vernon with another opening soon in Windsor.

“Can you believe this is Hartford?” asked Ann Howard, whose business catered the event. “Jofa, Scalamandre, Old World Weavers — these are fabric designers who would have been impossible to get in Hartford.”

(Truth be told, she lost me at Jofa. I thought she said sofa.)

She and her son, Kip Howard, will be running Ann Howard Wedding Works, concentrating on mother of the bride, mother of the bridegroom and mother of the bar and bas mitzvah young person, as well as bride — and will be manufacturing clothes there. She also has plans for a small restaurant in the building for breakfast and lunch.

“This is a renaissance,” she said. “Every soul I know is here tonight. Everybody’s been talking about it.”

Ray Christensen, owner of Metzger’s in West Hartford Center, which is getting ready to close, is going to bring his lamp business to the basement of DesignSourceCT, but will service trade and selected clients only.

“Everyone’s psyched,” he said. “There’s been a lot of buzz.”

Gabriela Galarza-Bloch is an artist and Parkville‘s business coordinator who created several 13-by-5-feet boldly colored oil paintings on canvas that are on the walls of the foyer as you enter the building.

One painting is what her husband, Ed Bloch, describes as “a psychological floor plan” of their home in Manchester. Another is of her parents’ home in Santa Lucia, Argentina. And one is of Parkville, as she would like to see it be for children, greener space with more playground area.

A very neat side benefit to this business is that Zwiener and Ott donate their discontinued fabrics to a nonprofit, intergenerational organization in Hartford called Opus Inc. There, under the leadership of artist Ed Johnetta Miller, young people and senior citizens take the fabrics and create what are called “Boheme Bags.”

They’re one-of-a-kind pocketbooks that are a striking patchwork of colors and patterns.

Thursday night was the first venture for selling them, and Miller said she had not expected the kind of reception they got, and she’s thinking of bringing the bags to gift shows in New York and San Francisco.

She also was stunned by the showroom.

“I went to a design center in New York City and I was blown away,” Miller said. “This is 10 times better. I feel I’m in midtown Manhattan. To come to Park Street and turn it around. … honey, I love it!”