We met Anthony Dargenzio at one of our first Thursdays Roundtable events, where he told us about his business risk that took him from NYC to the re-surging town of Hudson, New York, as the new owner of an historic house that now serves as the physical manifestation of an otherwise digital creative brand. This Old Hudson is a multi-use space that is part photography/film location, part AirBnB fueled hospitality concept and part influencer marketing studio. One house, split into two livable and shootable units, it is by no means a huge project, but as a concept it blends good old fashioned real estate with creative direction, set design, photography, digital branding and social media to create a new paradigm.
Brick & Wonder (B&W): Can you describe Zio & Sons since it’s not quite a traditional design studio?
Anthony Dargenzio (AD): In a nutshell we offer creative services in a few different ways, and every client relationship is a little different. Zio & Sons started with visual installations and prop styling, but it has morphed over the years. When I first started the company I was actually restoring furniture and recreating furniture… it was a lot of work and not much reward. I’d spend 40 hours on one chair but realized no-one’s going to spend $1,000 on this piece!
People liked what I was creating and the photos that I was posting, telling me: “We love your look”. I thought, how do I create that same kind of idea into a different type of service? That led to prop styling and window installations, then creative direction and then brand consulting. The vibe has always been the same… vintage inspired but done in more contemporary way.
We’re creating a multidisciplinary, design-savvy space, in a location that seems relevant and true to my brand.
B&W: How did the idea for This Old Hudson come about? Was it a natural extension of what you were doing with Zio & Sons?
AD: I wanted to take the work to the next level. Travel has always been a huge thing for me - I love travel, I love design, and it just felt like creating an environment that my clients could rent, and my fans and audience could experience or stay in. We’re creating multidisciplinary, design focused space, in a location that seems relevant and true to my brand, and near New York City.
B&W: Speaking of your audience, how do they play into your business?
AD: Our audience is a design savvy group between the ages of 25-55. @ZioandSons has 105K+ followers and @ThisOldHudson has 30.4K+. They are looking for design ideas, travel recommendations, great content, unique spaces, our point of view. I don’t like to follow trends to please the masses, but I like to engage with my audience for advice and feedback.
B&W: What are the financial underpinnings of This Old Hudson?
AD: A couple years ago AirBnB wasn’t the giant it is now, but it’s becoming more common for people to buying houses and rent them out through the platform. We reserve the weekends for AirBnB since Hudson is a tourist destination, and then during the week we save it for location and creative projects. I wouldn’t try and open up a giant photo studio and expect to be booked every day, but we get two to three shoots a month, which is decent for an upstate property, and then every weekend we’re booked. We had 30 out of 31 days booked this month. July was our record!
B&W: Who is using the space for shoots?
AD: Ralph Lauren home, Vogue, Le Creuset, Marc Fisher shoes. A lot of small lifestyle brands like candle companies. We hosted an Indy film earlier this month. And bloggers like Athena Calderone from Eye Swoon, which is great for content and exposure.
Lately, we’re starting to get a lot more influencer types. I don’t know how they are discovering us, but people are hitting us up all the time to shoot campaigns here which is cool. And yeah they’re paying!
Basically this is a nice clean backdrop that still has texture, charm and character, but it can easily fade back and the focus can be on the product or story they’re trying to tell in the space.
B&W: What about Hudson made this work better than another town? Is it more laissez faire?
AD: For an upstate town, Hudson is pretty progressive. They’re open to change (depending on the type!). From a zoning perspective we’re in an area that’s fine. I think Hudson has got a lot going for it, amazing antiques stores and it’s very design focused. So from a brand relationship standpoint it has made a lot of sense… There are tons of new things opening all the time, new hotels, and restaurants. A lot of money is coming in and there are lots of amazing people up here.
B&W: So living there full time has worked out?
AD: The winters are not the best, but other than that you’d be surprised: there’s so much to do. There are a lot of opportunities waiting to be discovered. I’ve just felt a little uninspired by New York City lately, and from a real estate standpoint Upstate has all these all these cool hidden gems and redevelopments and antiques. All these things I’m interested in, although maybe it’s just a phase of my life.
B&W: Would you do another one of these homes?
AD: We’re in the process of renovating the property next door that we purchased last Fall. It’s quite an undertaking. It's double the size, with four units, and it’s going to be a multi-use property as well, but a little different concept than our first one. It’s going to be This Old Hudson Residences for three of the units and then another creative/studio space.
I’ve always been interested in real estate, in redevelopment and mixed use properties. From a branding point of view, it’s great because I can involve clients, bring in products and have a location where I can showcase these things. For instance, we recently partnered with Farrow & Ball paints for our interiors and exteriors.
For this project, my cousin saw what we were doing with our first property and wanted to get involved. He’s partnering with me on this phase 2 and he comes from a commercial real estate background. He brings a lot of expertise understanding margins and return on investment. I want to be focused on the creative side, so it's great to have someone to rely on that’s running the numbers.
B&W: Where else do do you want to go with evolution of the concept?
AD: As my brand is evolving, I think that real estate is the next big thing, financially at least. I’m really interested in the multi-functional spaces -- why does one space have to be just one thing? I think it’s a mindset change in habit happening with millennials and people my age. You can work remotely, you can change a space half way through the day. For example, it could be a workspace and then a bar after. How people are using spaces is changing. I am interested in telling the story of use through design.
B&W: Sounds like you might end up being a real estate developer at some point.
AD: Maybe - that wouldn’t be a bad thing!