Father’s Day Study by Eric Cohler, Holiday House NYC 2008. ROY WRIGHT
"Holiday House: Ten Years of Decorating for a Cure."
Iris Dankner RICHARD LEWIN
Study by J. Cohler Mason Design. MARCO RICCA Jennifer Cohler Mason
Rook by Matthew Patrick Smyth, Holiday House NYC 2014. JOHN GRUEN
Bedroom by Charlotte Moss, Holiday House NYC 2012. ERIC STRIFFLER
Wolf Kahn sketching at the old barn.
All it took was a moment, and four clear-cut words, for Iris Dankner’s life to completely change.
“You have breast cancer.”
The interior designer was 40 years old—the mother of two little girls.
Two decades later, she is a survivor.
“I was actually diagnosed [during] my first routine mammogram, and it was early detection that saved my life,” Ms. Dankner recalled during a telephone interview last week. “I say the doctors put me back together physically, but emotionally, my healing had to do with paying it forward, and giving back, and helping other women.”
When she got off the phone, the part-time East Ender would be on her way to the airport with a round-trip ticket to London—home to her first international Holiday House, marking the breast cancer fundraiser’s10th anniversary.
“You know what? It’s amazing. This whole event started as an idea, a little dream, and it’s grown into something so big,” said Ms. Dankner, whose book “Holiday House: Ten Years of Decorating for a Cure,” hit shelves this month. “I blinked and I can’t believe it.”
The 252-page tome features 12 New York and East End showhouses from the minds of 75 top interior designers, each assigned a room to transform into their own vision while keeping the holiday season in mind.
“I just felt that after surviving cancer, every day is a holiday, and that’s how it started,” Ms. Dankner said. “The timing is around the holiday season, and then I started doing it in the Hamptons, and it still became about celebrating life.”
Each showhouse is full of just that—the ups, the downs, the stress, the pranks, the chaos and the hilarity—and going through a decade’s worth of photos brought back all those memories, she said.
“It’s almost like going back into your journal and seeing what you’ve done,” she said. “Each year, there’s a different story, there’s a different challenge, and there are different laughs that we’ve had. No showhouse comes without all three.”
One year, a designer’s kitchen wound up stuck in customs, forcing her to pull together an entire room with furniture out of her own apartment. In 2013, the first year on the East End, the crew realized they didn’t have an event permit the day of the opening, and were almost shut down before they even began.
“In these moments, it seems like, ‘Oh God,’” Ms. Dankner laughed. “The year Hurricane Sandy was going to hit, I had a tent up with a $250,000 Baccarat chandelier. It would cost me $500 to take it down and $500 to put it back up. And, of course, I had to do that because I wouldn’t have been able to sleep knowing that chandelier was in there. After Hurricane Sandy—we know how it devastated New York City—there was not one leak in the tent.”
As she’d walk through each showhouse, Ms. Danker would mingle with the designers—who started as competitors but left as family—and the contractors. Without fail, they each had a story about how breast cancer had touched them directly, or someone they knew, and that resonated with the founder.
“The good news is, I’ve created something that’s growing, but truthfully, the bad news is that so many people want to be involved because everybody knows somebody who’s been affected by breast cancer,” she said. “I’m not going to stop working until we have a cure. And I hope my grandchildren don’t even know what I did. I hope we live in a world without breast cancer very soon.”
She sighed. “I tell my girls to dream,” she said. “Dream big, and you can make it happen.”
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One fine body…