Meet Interior Designer Darren Henault, Founder of Tent
"I want people to come on a journey with me," says Henault of the unique home store he has created in the Hudson Valley.
Home is more than a place to contain things; it is a collection of experiences. Perhaps no one believes that more than interior designer Darren Henault. The fruit of this credo is clear in the exceptional new home store he recently founded: Tent. Henault longed to share with the outside world what made being at home special to him. Tent was born from months of hunkering down in quarantine at his house in the Hudson Valley, channeling his talent for sourcing items from around the world for clients and himself.
After 30 years of working as an interior designer and now a newly minted retailer, Henault has a unique perspective in the industry. Get to know the witty designer as he shares everything from his must-haves for entertaining to the trends he’d like to see go to his sources of inspiration.
Let’s start from the beginning. Tell us a bit about how you became interested in interior design and how you got your start.
I was an advertising exec in New York City when I took a History of Furniture class at F.I.T. Within three weeks of taking that class, I quit my job and had business cards made that said I was an ‘interior designer.’ Initially, people asked me to make slipcovers for them. I didn’t know how to do that, but I bought a sewing machine and taught myself. Slowly, more and more people saw my work and liked what I was doing. I was on a magic carpet ride and didn’t have time to finish my degree. I chose doing the work I love over being in a classroom. My big break came when I walked into a great furniture shop in SoHo and hit it off with the owner. She called me the next day and offered me a job with a client of hers named Meatloaf. Her brother-in-law was his money manager.
Also, when I was just starting out, I did some contract work for Jamie Drake. Jamie said to me, ‘If you ever need help and resources, call me. I have been doing for this for 20 years.’ It was the kindest, most generous thing anyone has ever said to me. And I’ve tried to share the same spirit.
What is your design philosophy and how was it formed?
I grew up in the textile industry because my dad owned mills. I was always fascinated by the hand of things and the texture, color, and depth. Watching those looms, I realized that every thread is manipulated for a specific reason. Nothing is accidental. A lot of thought when into those individual strands. I think people experience those choices whether they know it or not. I think people are taking things in with more intimacy than they realize. What I try to convey is less intellectual and more emotional.
My obsession with the hand-made is part of my need for the human. I love objects with texture and craft that reveal their humanity. A house has life—I’m not about creating perfection but rooms you can live in.
After 30 years of working as an interior designer, what made you want to start Tent?
My house in Millbrook is my muse for Tent. This is where I feel most safe, especially these days. It’s not grand, but over the last 10 years, I’ve filled every room with color, pattern, texture and beautiful objects. The rooms reflect me, and I have a deep personal connection with everything I’ve bought and collected. I see my children in all those things, and I’m proud of finding them—they are the result of and inspire wonder and curiosity. That’s Tent.
How would you categorize the style of Tent and what was the inspiration? Does it reflect your personal style?
I’ve been looking at beautiful stuff for 35 years and I knew I could find enough unique things to fill a store. I want people to come on a journey with me. A tent has been a home for centuries all over the world—a teepee, a yurt. It’s a shelter that allows you to create a home any place and anywhere you want. It’s an interesting contrast of permanence and impermanence.
Home is not a specific place. You may lose a house, but you don’t lose home—that you carry with you wherever you go. It’s more than just a house as a sanctuary but a home as a reflection of your soul or a confirmation of who you are. It’s not about everything being in its rightful place or a perfectly chopped cushion but the humanity of everyday life—the indentation on the couch after my girls have spent a day reading by the fire or the lipstick on the rim of a glass at the end of the dinner party. With every object there is a person who designed it, made it, and is now enjoying it. I want to see evidence of that humanity.
There are so many home stores for shoppers to consider, what makes Tent stand out from the crowd?
I don’t want you to experience with just your head. I want you to experience things in your gut—to be emotional and organic—and not driven by trends. All the items I chose for the store have a soul—a humanity. There’s a thread that runs through all the products. Everything has aspects that make them beautiful and inspiring to me. My world is not made up of the mundane—ordinary and quotidian but never mundane.
What are the top three items you think every home should have for entertaining?
I have four:
1. A host with a sense of humor. After I’ve made the phone calls to invite everybody. I’m not stressed at all. No one wants to see a tense host.
2. A lot of liquor—who cares about the food!
3. Beautiful barware.
4. And very good-looking waiters serving those cocktails.
How do you find and select the products that Tent carries?
I’m the resource guy who gets turned on by and geeks out about how things are made and who made them. I’m not shopping in stores—I’m shopping in foundries and working directly with craftspeople and artisans. And if I can’t find exactly what I’m looking for, I’ll have it made. I love making things custom—you have a whole experience of working with someone who is an expert in their craft. That’s what the custom furniture experience at Tent is like. And for inspiration, the tableaus I’ve put together in the store are layered and have life. Modern objects are made using Old-World techniques. Raw is mixed with refined. It’s all about the mix and the visceral reaction you have to it all.
What place in the world inspires you most? It seems the beautiful items at Tent are made all over the globe.
India and Paris are different sides of the same coin. Every single thing about India is an aggressive assault on your five senses, and amidst the cacophony and madness, artisans create exquisite jewelry, furniture, lighting, and textiles. Paris is a more subtle sensory experience but no less mind-blowing or inspiring.
As an interior designer, do you usually work with clients down to the last details? Such as, home accessories, dinnerware, table linens, etc? What is your advice for choosing homeware and accessories?
If they let me, yes, that’s the goal. For people I click with and who let me do my job, it’s incredibly enjoyable. I don’t mind clients coming to me with an abundance of clips. My job is to give you better options than what you imagined. My finely-tuned eye and intuition is based on 25 years of being in the market and knowing what’s out there. The majority of the items at Tent cannot be found at another retailer. And they definitely have not seen them presented in the way we show them in the store. Mix square plates with circular plates. Layer patterns and textures.
Whatever you choose for your home, you must love it first. Everyone is so obsessed with ease that they forgot beauty—living, touching, texture, and enjoyment. It’s all about creating a home and sharing your life with guests. Take the opportunity to make every moment and meal an event. That’s not about forcing formality but creating a sense of occasion.
What interior design trends do you predict for the future and what design trends are going out?
I see brown furniture—in particular antique furniture —coming back. With the pandemic, people are craving warm (and warmth). Also, with families spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week together in their homes, folks are looking for quality and willing to pay up for extra comfort and craftmanship.
What I’d like to see go away is impractical ‘art’ furniture and have furniture that rises to the level of art be celebrated. And can we please put an end to houses that look like hotels? Where are the layers, details and depth?!
Finally, design magazines should shift back to being about education and discovery—show how things are made, explain the details, share the resources—and less about selling a lifestyle.
You’ve created one-of-a-kind Tent with artisanal delights for the home, next do you have your eye on another dream endeavor?
I would love to partner with a school in order to provide guidance and a platform for their most talented young designers to make a living selling their products.
Lastly, what is your life motto and is there a motto for Tent?
I’ve been saying this for decades: ‘Drive fast, take risks and run with scissors!’ Just make that leap of faith.
In a world driven by convenience and speed, stores like Tent preserve the quality, character, and stories of objects. Home decor as it should be. At Tent, everything has been thoughtfully chosen by Henault. Whether it’s handmade or machine-made, each piece has humanity—a connection to someone who crafted it or dreamed it up.
This is just the beginning for Tent, born in a difficult time in the world to bring beauty to people’s lives. Much like its origin story, Tent’s products embrace imperfections as evidence of a life well-lived. To learn more, visit tentnewyork.com.