The hamlet of High Falls is the type of sleepy, small (population 600) place you expect to find in the Hudson Valley.
While the eponymous waterfalls on Rondout Creek draw the curious, tourists are surprised by the sophisticated gift shops in town. Spruce is an oasis of Mid-Century Modern design. Co-owners John Krenek and Jamie Niblock share a keen eye for style and design.
"Spruce Design + Decor represents an unexpected blend of 20th-century American and European furnishings, art, lighting, and decorative objects," says the Texas-born Krenek, who graduated from showing pigs at county fairs to a career in fashion and home decor. "The shop essentially is the result of our passion for collecting and seeking out the rare and unique."
Before Spruce, Krenek was the International Creative Visual Director for Salvatore Ferragamo, the Italian fashion house based in Florence, Italy. His duties included designing the stores with architects and creating window displays worldwide and merchandising standards. It was a logical progression from previous work for Gucci, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Niblock's career route was more circuitous; he had worked at Gucci as a management trainee. For several years thereafter, he did real estate sales and marketing until becoming retail manager for eyewear designer Robert Marc's second store. Niblock went deep into the enterprise, becoming a licensed optician while opening seven new stores. He would eventually ascend to director of retail operations.
At the start of the new millennium, both Krenek and Niblock, now life partners, began to consider their own retail establishment, inspired by the unique stores visited in their world travel.
"When we started Spruce, it was from both our inherent needs to create it," Niblock said. "We kind of didn't have a choice. We were driven."
The pair settled in High Falls, which had attracted them for its combination of Colonial-era quaintness and cosmopolitan character. In 2003, they established their new business in a barn behind the celebrated Depuy Canal House restaurant.
"We loved the idea of filling this old historic barn with Mid-Century Modern furnishings," said Krenek. "It was an unexpected combination that really worked well and the response was positive."
At a time when '50s furniture was just gaining favor, Spruce offered a contrast to farmhouse antiques. Word spread quickly among locals and discerning weekenders.
"I never thought Spruce would not be a success," Niblock said. "My perspective is that, provided you have talent, acumen, and you are not afraid to work hard, you will do well."
Two years later, Krenek and Niblock added interior decorating services in response to customer requests. When a Spruce interior design project was featured in Elle Décor magazine, the business leapt forward decisively.
"This was huge," said Krenek of the ten-page spread in the December 2007 issue. Overnight, Spruce Design + Decor went from being a small business in the Hudson Valley to handling projects for high-profile clients on both coasts. The duo became known for their upbeat professionalism and creativity.
"I generally tell every potential client that the project is going to be fun," Krenek said, "otherwise, we are not meant to work together."
Over the years, Mid-Century Modern has become a trending aspect of home design. Accordingly, Spruce flourished, especially because it offered vintage items, not reproductions. But Niblock was still working in the city, leaving Krenek to run the booming business solo. Two years ago, Niblock left his city job to share Spruce operations.
"Now, we have the luxury of being able to team-run the business," said Niblock. "We're both fully involved in the running and decision making, which is fantastic."
"The business is now a true partnership," Krenek said.
Growth continues. Spruce relocated down the street to a larger storefront, divided up into three separate rooms with vignette settings. Spruce has expanded its offerings; on a given day, a shopper may find a Chesterfield sofa, Tudor chairs, African art, or industrial furniture.
"We honestly live and breathe the Spruce Design + Decor aesthetic," Krenek said. "We always ask ourselves, 'Would we put that in our own home?'"
"We are tough critics," Niblock said. "The only way inventory works is if we are pleased with our choices."
Some may question the wisdom of working with a romantic partner. Not Jamie Niblock.
"Getting to work with John everyday—how could that not be enjoyable? He is the best, not only as a person, but also, his professionalism is unparalleled. We share the same aesthetic and goals."
Spruce opened a pop-up store in Uptown Kingston last summer to test the waters. The response was strong and the couple is considering a permanent second location.
"Our philosophy," Niblock said, "is that there are no bounds as to what the future holds for us."
Spruce Design and Decor
104 Main Street, High Falls, NY