A New Duo in a Historic Setting


From left to right: Roger Reid and Ron Symansky. /David Meister

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Not many people can say they live in a house built by their great grandfather. Here in the Pine Hills Neighborhood, Ron Symansky moved back into his family home with his partner Roger Reid. Symansky’s family has a long history in the Capital Region, in fact that same great grandfather, Jacob, a Polish immigrant, built numerous houses in Albany, with many of them in the Pine Hills neighborhood, according to Reid. Family lore according to Symansky says that he built about 150 houses, but he has only found around two dozen of them. The final one just happens to be the one that both he and Reid live in on South Allen Street.

Reid and Symansky relocated to Albany in 2016 and are settling in nicely. Symansky is a native of the Capital Region and grew up in Loudonville, but for Reid, who is from San Francisco, the area is completely new but one he is beginning to embrace. “The sense of community here is amazing,” said Reid. “The Pine Hills is a fabulous place to live.”

Reid owns and operates his own interior design business – Roger K. Reid Interior Design, and is assisted in his work by his husband, Ron, who is an artist whose business name is Prince Herman. Ron’s love for art began very young and encompasses many different mediums such as stained glass, paintings, and various works that use copper. “It’s been a compulsion since I was a baby,” he said. The common thread between the two is that Reid’s design work is complemented by Symansky’s artwork. They call it a “symbiotic relationship” in their respective disciplines. “One doesn’t choose to become an artist, art chooses you,” said Reid.

Symansky graduated from Alfred University with a Bachelor of the Arts in Fine Arts. The two have different interests, but their work goes hand in hand as evidenced by recent work the duo has done with both the Albany Damien Center on Madison Avenue and the Executive House Apartments on South Swan Street. “I’ve been lucky coming into town and getting these large commercial projects,” said Reid.

The living room in their home with Reid’s design and featuring some of Symansky’s artwork. /David Meister

Both men are driven by their own respective philosophies. For Reid, it is something he sticks by and something that Symansky learned on the first night the two met. One anecdote that Symansky shared was that if Reid had to design a cardboard box for a homeless man, he’d make it the best he could ever make. “To improve the quality of people’s lives through good interior design,” said Symansky. The Damien Center project is just one example of Reid living out his mantra. One of Reid’s guiding principles when it comes to his work is that “good design usually follows the architecture,” he said. He noticed in all of his projects that his design choices are usually in tune with where he is and the layout of a building.

On the other side of this, Symansky’s art ideology is something that he traces back to his junior year in college. He was part of a drawing group and he had a central question he tried to answer. “What is the medium and what is the nature of that medium and how do I use that medium to convey an idea?” said Symansky. He looked at the canvas that they used and soon realized that it’s not about the canvas, but the pigment used. “The pigment floats independently of the canvas.” “The artwork around the house are different ways of exploring that idea.”

The home that the two share has a wide-ranging color pallet of green, yellow, and pink. The house is full of Symansky’s artwork and includes a wide variety of paintings, stained glass, and also unique designs and lighting fixtures using copper. Their house is a showcase of their combined talents as it not only displays Symansky’s art, but the design and layout of the house was Reid’s.

Reid’s interior design business encompasses both residential and commercial projects and he describes the nature of his work as “luxury custom retail.” He also said that despite the expensive nature of some of the projects they undertake, that “we accept commissions of any size,” said Reid. For one of his latest projects at the Albany Damien Center, Reid donated his retainer fee and his hours to complete the project.

Before he died, local designer Richard Seiden recommended Reid and Symansky to Perry Junjulas, the executive director of the Damien Center, and the three of them have developed a great relationship throughout the project.

“They are two of the most caring and compassionate persons I know.” said Junjulas. “Their character is one of love for people.”

The Center serves people with AIDS and has 20 apartments at their new site on Madison Avenue which opened in December 2017. The finished building was the culmination of three years of planning and 14 months of construction. “He (Reid) listened to what we were saying and the concept we wanted.” said Junjulas. “I’d highly recommend them for any project,” said Junjulas.

Reid has been in the interior design business for decades. “I had a 30-year career in interior design in San Francisco,” said Reid. He and Symansky met at a private party in the 1980’s and have stuck together in their endeavors from that night onward. “We met and we haven’t parted since,” said Symansky. Reid’s business in San Francisco began in 1985 as the “The Great Room,” that he had owned and that Symansky managed. After the departure of his previous manager was when Symansky started his tenue in that position. This was shortly after both he and Symansky met and Reid said it “made sense” to have Ron as his manager. The store was an idea of Reid’s for many years. “It was something all designers want,” said Reid. From 1990 to the present, his business has been known as Roger K. Reid Interior Design.

Most of the houses Symansky’s great grandfather built were “all pretty much the same.” The house on South Allen has been in Symansky’s family for decades. Currently, Reid and Symansky live upstairs in the two-story flat while Symansky’s mother lives downstairs.

The home has always been in the family. From the outside, the family home looks like the 1933 house that it is, but the inside reveals a different story with modern day conveniences such as automated lights and thermostat. It’s “a high-tech thing fitting into an antique envelope,” said Symansky. The home is a prime example of what a homeowner can do with smart technology. He went on to say that “Our house is the epitome of what can be done with the aging housing stock of Albany,” said Symansky.

The ornate lighting fixture in their home. /David Meister

One of the more unique features is a lighting feature in the bathroom that looks like it is original to the house, but looking at it closely, it uses a hyper efficient bulb with an ornate design around it but with a Bluetooth speaker right in the middle.

Both he and Reid have a lot of experience with older homes. Reid mentioned that he was the president of the Victorian Alliance in San Francisco which deals with the upkeep and restoration of historic buildings in the city. “I’ve been in a lot of preservation oriented bits,” said Reid.

They are now applying that expertise into one of their current ongoing projects – the Vanguard House. This will be Reid and Symansky’s first show house in Albany and is an annual event which is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Albany Symphony Orchestra. The project features a different selected house for the fundraiser each year and every designer gets a room to design themselves. This year’s edition is in Guilderland and the room that the couple is charged with working on is the “Eleanor Roosevelt Suite” which according to both of them, was where Roosevelt stayed in Albany when she was First Lady of the United States. The 2002 edition of the Vanguard House is notable as it was actually Symansky’s great grandfather’s mansion in Albany.

They went on to further describe the area by the work people do. “Almost everybody volunteers in some capacity,” said Reid. Both he and Symansky volunteer for the Pine Hills Improvement Group, the Steamer 10 Theater and the Historic Albany Foundation.

When the two relocated to Albany in 2016, they received support from many people in the neighborhood. Three of those people were Seiden, Virginia Hammer, president of the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association, and Aimee Allaud, a longtime friend with Symansky’s mother, Dianne Symansky, for nearly 40 years.

One of Symansky’s art pieces in their home. The two copper pieces were designed by him and have small lights in them. /David Meister

For Reid, being new to the area meant building a new network of vendors and local representatives to help with his projects. Seiden helped Reid establish connections and create that framework of contacts which Reid said is invaluable to his work in addition to getting the Damien Center job. “Everybody was helping as my mother was dealing with illness,” said Symansky.

Hammer recognized the duo’s talents and wanted to help them when they moved into the region. “It isn’t often that an artist and a well-regarded interior designer move into a house in our neighborhood so we were thrilled to welcome them,” said Hammer. She also helped get them immersed in the region by trying to get their names out there. “My husband and I invited Roger and Ron to a house party for Mayor Sheehan,” said Hammer. “We invited lots of neighbors as well as people we met over the years. At that party, Roger and Ron were introduced to a group of people who they connected with.”

One responsibility that both Reid and Symansky have volunteered to work on in recent years is the signage for the Upper Madison Street Fair. Hammer said that they wanted to make improvements and upgrades to the signs because of how big the event has gotten in the past few years and that they are looking to create a new look.

Allaud, who met Ron’s mother, Dianne Symansky through the Albany County League of Women Voters, have been close friends for years. Symansky has a wealth of knowledge about the region and both her and Allaud have attended many non-league events together until 2015 when Symansky became ill. Allaud described Reid and Ron Symansky as “very hospitable” and acknowledged that both want to “be a part of the community.” She had introduced them to Hammer as well as longtime Pine Hills resident Marilyn Douglas. “They believe in the Pine Hills community,” said Allaud.

Her alongside Hammer and Seiden helped get Reid and Symansky in the area and known.

With the support of many people, both Reid and Symansky’s work in the neighborhood and in the greater Capital Region is starting to take hold and they credit the help they have been given throughout the years and use their talents to improve the lives of others. “Once they met people, it took off,” said Allaud. “They’re very compassionate people.”




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