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Melissa Cohen Interior and Exterior Designer

We Are Upstate NY With Architectural Designer Melissa Cohen

By inside + out | July 12, 2023

Upstate NY architectural designer Melissa Cohen launched her interior design firm, CONTEXT, in 1999.  Since then, her Rhinebeck-based company has built a well-deserved reputation as a high-end boutique design resource that provides what she calls “top-to-bottom” services. Melissa’s wide range of services includes conceptual schematic design, remodeling and complete renovations; she also sources the materials, furniture and fixtures to support her designs.  Her portfolio includes project work for commercial, residential and healthcare clients.

“CONTEXT was founded on the idea that the interrelationships between a project’s goals and constraints, an inspired design process and the fostering of a strong client/designer relationship lead to a successful project.”

Let’s get to know Melissa Cohen…

Interior Designer Melissa Cohen, founder of CONTEXT

INSIDE+OUT: Where are you originally from and how did you wind up in the Hudson Valley?

Melissa Cohen: I was raised in Hartford, CT, and have spent at least half of my life in New York City and the rest “Upstate.” I say that because nobody used to use that term! After 9/11 my family stayed in the city, pretty close to Ground Zero. It was a point of pride to have withstood the smoke, ash and other inconveniences. But two years later there was a large blackout throughout the city and I kind of freaked out. So we decided to make a go of it in our weekend home full time. It was a bit too “Little House on the Prairie” for my taste, so we moved to Rhinebeck.

What inspired your interest in interiors and what was your journey to get here?

I love this question! I was making site-specific installations in New York City which usually incorporated “made or found” pieces that I manipulated to reimagine their inherent context. In order to express the concept, I found myself in need of drafting and graphic skills, so I took drafting at Parsons in the City.  My professor, Leonard Braunschweiger, introduced me to the world of interiors, which appealed to the craft and precision aspects of my artwork. Putting stuff together in a space was something I was quite comfortable with. Later, I took some architecture courses which helped inform the construction/building aspects of my work.

“The art of interiors is not often discussed, it is mostly represented as an example of a particular style that has already been distilled into a marketing trend.”

Context Interior Designer Melissa Cohen in Red Hook NY Melissa Cohen Interior and Exterior Designer
How does aesthetics influence you professionally and personally?

I like this exploration of that word by James Shelley: (a) the concept of the aesthetic is inherently problematic and it is only recently that we have managed to see that it is, or (b) the concept is fine and it is only recently that we have become muddled enough to imagine otherwise, “The Concept of the Aesthetic”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2022 Edition). I stand by that as there is rarely a delineation between maker and consumer anymore.

Tell us more about your services and your different project types.

I offer full-service whole-house design as well as corporate and healthcare interior design.

Would you say you have a particular style?

No. I try to avoid pigeonholing myself as my sensibility is ever-evolving and developing and changing with the times. If someone wants me to design in a specific style, I would say they are not an ideal client.

Interior Design by Melissa Cohen Founder of CONTEXT
Who is your ideal client?

Currently, I mostly work with high-end residential clients that are currently, part-time or formerly urban-based, but I plan to expand my reach as I am also certified as an aging-in-place consultant and designer. My school training is in corporate and healthcare design and I would like to devote more time to those kinds of projects. Builders, Developers and Contractors would most likely be my ideal point of contact.

What has been your favorite project to date?

When my children were small we purchased an old farmhouse in the hamlet of Rhinecliff. It was a 100-year-old house with questionable additions from the ’50s and ’80s. I spent ten years renovating the interior and exterior of the home including the landscaping around the pool. It was an act of love for both the house and my family.

What is one question you’re constantly asked or what’s the biggest misconception about your business or what you do?

I am so glad you asked! Very often I am called in after or as a disaster is ensuing. With access to TV home improvement shows, as well as Google and Pinterest searches, there is a misconception that anyone can do what I do. Most people are pretty good at some aspects of decorating their homes. But I am not a decorator. I have years of training in design and color, kitchen and bath standards, building and fire codes, senior living, space analysis and planning as well as a plethora of relationships with tradespeople, furniture and lighting vendors and other tricks of the trade. Clients, excited about their renovation projects will present me with items they purchased, either right when or right after they hired me–which can be pretty disruptive to the design process.

Catskill Ski House Remodel by Melissa Cohen of CONTEXT
How do you grow your business and how do your clients find you? Do you leverage social media to get work and how is that working for you?

I am working with a marketing company currently, as I would like to expand further into corporate, commercial and healthcare interiors as well as maintain my high-end residential clients. I use the usual suspects when it comes to social media marketing, I advertise regularly on Houzz, and I always appreciate direct referrals!

What is the most rewarding and challenging part of your job?

Handing the client their specification book and doing the walkthrough at the end of their project.

Are there any new developments or upcoming projects you’d like to share?

During Covid I designed my late husband’s company’s headquarters in Buffalo, NY. Due to his illness, I wasn’t able to travel and finish the project. They recently dedicated their conference room to him and asked me to complete the project.

What is it about the Hudson Valley that makes it unique to live + work here?

When I first moved here in 2004, I couldn’t figure out where anyone got anything they needed and wanted. I quickly adjusted my expectations and turned to the incredible access I had to fresh and local food and the sharing of our homes and meals with friends. I recently became a mushroom forager because of my daily walks in the woods to the same place and watching the seasonal changes. Such connectedness has informed my work.

What impact does your business strive to have on your community?

I try to connect to other designers, vendors and related businesses in our area and try to do no harm. I try to be respectful of the neighborhoods, the vernacular structures, and the local feel of a given area so as to fend off the “Hamptonization” of the Hudson Valley.

What local businesses do you rely on to be successful?

I rely on my tradespeople. I couldn’t do what I do without the close relationship I have with my cabinet and furniture makers, contractors, masons, landscapers, as well as antique and vintage furniture dealers. I want to also call out to the local artistic talent and local galleries currently residing and working in the area.Context Interior Designer Melissa Cohen in Red Hook NYMelissa Cohen Interior Design for Mid Century Country House

What is missing in the area  that you wish we had?

No place to just buy underwear and socks and a white button-down shirt when the kid forgets to tell you they are in a musical performance the following day.

What would be your dream Staycation?

Spending a whole month in the beach house I recently purchased with my late husband on the coast of Rhode Island.

What is your current state of mind?

I am grieving the recent loss of my husband. I am hesitant to call myself a widow as I feel, as I grieve, that I am in a between-state where if I pay close attention I have access to a deep level of creativity and productivity.

Context Interior Designer Melissa Cohen in Red Hook NY

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Connect with Melissa Cohen and CONTEXT via her Website | Facebook | Instagram | Inside+Out Premium Page



  • Angela Speziale

    Melissa is a marvel. She is exquisitely creative but respects your budget and goals in a meaningful way. It was
    wonderful to work with her and I highly recommend Melissa and Context ID!

    July 12, 2023

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