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Memorial Sloan-Kettering Thrift Shop Gets Makeover from Famed Designer

By Amy Zimmer | September 21, 2012 9:24am

MANHATTAN — Interior designer Jonathan Rosen is famous for his “one day makeovers” — but he had his work cut out for him when he was invited to overhaul Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s thrift shop for its upcoming fall furnishings event.

Long considered the “Bergdorf's of thrift stores,” the Society of MSKCC’ shop at 1440 Third Ave., between East 81st and East 82nd streets, is known for the long lines of chic shoppers it attracts to for its designers duds from the closets of Upper East Side doyennes at its annual “fall opening” sale.

The hordes come for deeply discounted prices — Carolina Herrera dresses and gowns, tagged at $495 to $3,900, were sold last year for $250 to $1,800, for instance — not the ambience.

Still, the Society's members took note of Rosen's striking installation for Housing Works' much-heralded Design on a Dime benefit, which brings together top designers to make showrooms and sell gorgeous pieces for half-off.

Rosen, an Upper East Sider, agreed to donate his time and much sought-after eye for the MSKCC event to be held from Sept. 21–23, but only if the space could get a makeover.

“It was badly in need of an update,” he said. “I wasn’t even trying to bring it into the 21st century. I was shooting for the late quarter of the 20th century.”

The white painted walls looked dirty to him. The lighting was unflattering, especially the exposed long fluorescent lights.

“The lighting was harsh and wasn’t particularly energy efficient,” he said.

“They didn’t have a budget,” Rosen added, and though he was able to get paint, curtain fabric labor and some other details donated, he was adamant about needing new lighting.

Finally, the society sprung for the $3,500 for 30 new high hats and 28 new track lights.

His team came in at 6 p.m. on Wednesday and wrapped up by midnight, he said.

For the most part, Rosen incorporated the treasures that were already hidden in the shop — like a gilded mirror with “nice foliage,” fine china and a Wassily chair he set up in a 1970s-style room with a round sectional.

“The concept is taking things you already have and recognizing you have a goldmine in your own backyard,” he said.

Other showhouses/decorators/designers also contributed pieces to the Fall Furnishings Event, including Greg McKenzie Designs, Amanda Nisbet Design, Inc., Stewart Manger, Timothy Brown. Todd Alexander Romano donated a silver gilt and antiqued mercury glass topped low table, which will be priced at $1,000. Design Within Reach also made a large donation to the thrift store, organizers said.

Rosen also created an area in the center of the shop, which can be closed off from the racks of vintage Valentino and Pucci for special events at the shop.

The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering, the volunteer organization that runs the thrift store, raises millions for the hospital's research, patient care and education programs. It’s been running the shop for 55 years, turning it into a vital fundraising arm of the organization.

Rosen was game to do it because “it is such a great cause” — and he added, with a laugh, “I also happen to live three blocks away, so it’s the perfect radius.”

He believes the changes from the minimal investment will make shopping at the thrift store a more pleasant experience.

“Simple things like paint and lighting subliminally make a big impact,” he said. “The place now feels more elegant and streamlined. I think it will be a different experience.”