ESSEX — 8 Main Street has stood empty for nearly two years.
“I get a lot of questions about when we’re going to open. All is unknown, as we don’t have a clue when Biden is opening the doors again for travelers from out of Europe,” said Ingrid Bergman, a Dutch-born interior designer, who said she has planned since 2019 to open Eric Kuster Metropolitan Luxury by Ingrid Bergman Interiors at the Main Street location.
Bergman, who is a resident of the U.S., holds a five-year E2 visa, known as an investor visa, that is set to expire in November 2022. She said she’s lost a year and a half since COVID restrictions put in place on March 2020 restricted travel from the Netherlands.
“People ask when are you coming back and I say, I don’t know, it’s a big question mark,” she said. “I don’t understand because I have been vaccinated twice.”
Since 2020, the U.S. government has not lifted restrictions on the entry of travelers from the Schengen Area of Europe, or the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, China, India, or Iran.
Bergman said she is determined to return and complete the design and show house that she started in 2019.
“These are business-to-business showrooms so designers can buy his collection,” she said. “In 2019 I said it would be best if we have our own design house so our business partners and clients can come to see what Eric Kuster is all about. We will open this building with every room fully furnished. People can get inspiration. It will be an ‘experience house.’”
Kuster owns a show house in the Netherlands where he shows the full range of furniture, textiles, lighting, art and accessories. The house concept helps designers visualize how their clients’ interiors will look, Bergman said.
“The brand itself is not just furniture, it’s the whole atmosphere of the brand, which we can set up when we can create this house,” she said. “It’s soft music, candles, smell, atmosphere, that is something our [showroom] partners cannot create. Hopefully, this will bring something new.”
Bergman said Kuster started 25 years ago in a town similar to Essex in the Netherlands.
“People were not used to modern. It was so different that people started talking about it and buzz spread around quickly. In Essex, this will create a little more buzz and show people how a modern look can look in an old house.”
In 2016, Bergman set up a business network of showrooms for Kuster in the U.S. In 2017, she moved to the U.S., became a resident, and purchased a house in Norwich.
Bergman said she and Kuster chose Essex after touring Newport and other areas in the Northeast.
“I told Eric, ‘I love Essex,’ and it has Old Saybrook, Old Lyme and Lyme — a pocket of money of people who can afford it. It’s very quaint, very typical America.”
Geoff Paul, who owns the 1840 building, said that the business will be complementary to the mix of retail in Essex and a draw to clients nationwide.
“They have a very contemporary aesthetic, which is different, it’s a little more progressive for us. it’s going to be a very different, kind of wonderful addition to the town. It just gives another choice to people who are looking for home decor,” he said.
“Their vision is to appeal to a much broader geography,” he added. “This is really meant to be a show house for them, for people who come from California or wherever, which is why they like the house — it adds character, it’s not just a showroom in a mall.”
Bergman said the expected growth for the company after five years was to have five to seven employees on the payroll.
“We are still very positive. Probably we’ll put up Christmas trees and celebrate New Year’s in Essex, but there is still no news on opening the borders,” Bergman said.
After all the waiting, she said Kuster recently asked if she still wanted to return to the U.S.
“I said, ‘I do want to go.’ I have unfinished business and that keeps me going, I’m very determined to finish this.”