On the floor toward the front of Ram Design Home at 181 North Ferry Road on Shelter Island rest a pair of handwoven pink and green Kauani lanterns. “I mean, why aren’t more people talking about these?” says owner Cristina Peffer, picking one up and practically gushing with excitement at their accordion-like texture and oblong shapes. “I for one am completely obsessed.” They’re soft but durable. Pretty but practical. They’re absolutely darling and quite possibly exactly what you need.
Immediately upon meeting Peffer, it’s obvious she loves what she does. With palpable enthusiasm and warm energy, she’s sweetly at the ready whenever you pick up one of the carefully chosen, utterly unique items in her store, wide-eyed and grinning and excited to tell you its story. Her consideration and expertise on what truly makes a house a home pale in comparison only to the comfort and warmth she delivers when you’re in her presence. She’s an arms-wide-open sort of woman and her newly relaunched interior design store radiates that vibe.
The delight is in the details
For Huntington-born, East End-bred Peffer, it’s all in the details. Peffer’s helmed her company, Ram Design, for nearly four years, specializing in custom-built furniture as well as residential interiors and construction. Nestled in on Bridge Street among a tiny strip of shops rimming Dering Harbor on Shelter Island, is her latest extension of that brainchild and her first solo act, Ram Design Home, open since May 2023.
“For me, it’s a natural extension of myself,” Peffer says of her specially stocked store that includes everything from local pottery, glassware and serving dishes to stationery, furniture and artwork. “I was really able to listen to my clients’ needs over the past four years and now this is where I really want to be.”
A designer’s destiny
The exuberant mom of four has been in the Hamptons design world for about three decades, beginning her career in the art business, working for renowned art dealer Peter Marcelle in Southampton Village.
“I was tasked with hanging a show,” she says of her first gig at Marcelle’s Main Street gallery. “That feeling of curating a space — I felt like he really saw me and my abilities and I knew right then that this was for me.”
Peffer’s dive into the design world resulted in owning and operating businesses across the East End, beginning in 2001 with Hatchlings, a European clothing boutique for children that served locals and visitors alike for a decade. Next, she was the manager, buyer and lead designer for Homenature, a Southampton-based design destination where her unequivocally discerning eye brought both vintage and modern pieces to the Hamptons that would make even the haughtiest homeowner swoon. Largely due to Peffer’s talents and efforts, Homenature expanded exponentially, ultimately opening a location in New York City. Her impressive resumé goes on to include a happy partnership at Babcock/Peffer Design in Sag Harbor, but it’s the town of Shelter Island that truly captured her heart, recalling the first time she visited “The Rock” as a teenager with her late father, a die-hard, lifelong sailor.
“My dad woke me up at 4 a.m. a few months after I received my driver’s license because he had to be in Block Island for a sailing race,” she says, “and since we were driving from Huntington, he wanted to ferry from Greenport to Sag Harbor through Shelter Island. Not that I paid any attention to those details when he woke me up to give him a ride — you didn’t say no to my father, nor did you ask questions!” she laughs. “He told me I could sleep the whole way and then just drive back when we got to Montauk.”
Her father woke her upon arriving on the ferry line in Greenport. “[We] were pulling onto the ferry. I was groggy and looking around at a world I had never seen before in awe,” she remembers of that first trip to the island. “When we crossed over and drove [onto] Shelter Island I turned to my father and said, ‘I’m going to live here one day.’ It was love at first sight.”
Peffer has lived on Shelter Island for seven years now, originally signing the lease to her storefront in December 2019, in what hindsight has revealed to be an unprecedented and extremely fragile time. “I didn’t want to take such a financial risk,” she says of starting out on her own brand-new interior design business just before the COVID-19 pandemic. “For so long I was dealing with über high-end design, available to the masses via furniture show rooms only. It’s great for the interior design business, but it’s not nearly as accessible as I wanted to be.”
What comes naturally
Peffer’s approach to design is totally unique and deeply personal. Dealing almost exclusively with one-of-a-kind, handmade, fair-trade items, she brings a warm, whimsical and timeless vibe paramount to assisting her myriad clients in designing and decorating a house. Calling upon the natural beauty of the East End, especially that of her beloved Shelter Island and her emotional connections with it, it’s utilizing these elements that makes Peffer’s expertise, inspiration and nearly infallible intuition truly shine.
Upon entering her white-walled, bright and airy store, there’s a visceral, exciting yet calm energy that washes over you. The phrase “kid in a candy store” comes to mind. You immediately want to touch, pick up, and take home everything. And you can.
“I love color and I love light,” Peffer says with a smile. “And I want you to feel encouraged to pick things up and really look at them. It’s a celebration of the amazing people [who] make them.”
Immediately across from the space where the front door opens into the small yet amply stocked store hang Pappelina rugs, Marea Fresca blankets and Terry Turkish towels. A long, handcrafted picnic table set with benches on each side runs down the center of the room. Placed upon it are overflowing displays of simply wonderful gift ideas and household items, like intricately painted stationery, compostable Swedish dish cloths and neon AVF cocktail trays.
On half the wall across the store are shelves, nearly reaching to the ceiling and chockablock with goods. One is replete with handmade pillar candles, incense, diffusers and fragrant tinctures. The next shelf over contains biodegradable bamboo cotton buds, reusable makeup remover pads and charcoal soaps. A small, hand-carved sitting giraffe is cheekily perched on a shelf’s edge, while another holds handwoven pillows. On the back wall is a five-foot-high display containing dozens of matching sets of both colored and clear Moroccan Cone glassware and Enamelware espresso mugs. Scattered around the store are tiny trinkets, like Wudimal animal figurines and zodiac-themed cake toppers.
“Some of the items give you that perfect little pop for inside your house,” Peffer says. “I just love whimsy.”
Although luxurious to the touch and the eye, not everything in Peffer’s store costs a small fortune. “The average price for most of the household items, I think, is around $35,” she says. “There’s stuff in here that’s as low as $5. I wanted mostly everything to be easily accessible, affordable, and to show my great love for Shelter Island.”
Immediately speaking to that last point is Peffer’s efforts to display local artists’ works along with her impressive roster of world-renowned designers. She’s carefully curated an experience of paintings, drawings, pottery, photography, textiles and sculpture from a plethora of artists. Among them are Lora Lomuscio, Alex Bilu, Logan Rubin, Natan Moss and Luciana Calvacanti.
Already, Peffer says they’ve outgrown the small office behind the store on Bridge Street, noting they just signed a lease for the space across from the school that was formerly inhabited by another esteemed designer on the island, Fred Bernstein. “We will be full design/build studio, which means we will be doing interior design, home construction and landscape design, all under our umbrella,” she says. Excited to be growing, Peffer adds that she’s thrilled her new company home is in the town’s center, at the core of the community.
“This is really about developing those human connections,” she says of her home design store. “And for me, I really love creating that little moment you wouldn’t normally expect.”