A decade after graduating in Interior Design as a Presidential Scholar, Yudi Kaufman (BFA ’13, MS ‘15) runs his own business, YKD Associates, servicing both interior designers and creatives. In just a few years, he rose from intern to vice president at a boutique interior design firm in Manhattan.
Now one of his most ambitious projects is his own home, an unusual Japanese-modern, open-plan, mid-century house on eight acres of hillside property. Kaufman and his husband bought the property in Carmel in Putnam County, NY, early in 2022.
The way he designed the interior spaces for such an ambitious home has a lot to do with his architectural insights and training in both design and sustainable environments.
Incessantly curious about design from a young age, Kaufman’s career path was unusual. Because he was unable to study art or design growing up, applying to FIT required a work-around.
“I was raised in New York City outer boroughs. As soon as I was allowed to take public transportation, I was on the city buses, trains and ferries into Manhattan for no other reason than to look at architecture. I was always looking up at the designs and the styles and heights,” said Kaufman.
To create a portfolio, an application requirement for FIT’s Interior Design program, Kaufman took a slew of design classes offered through the college’s Center for Continuing and Professional Studies:
“I took as many design courses as I could that didn’t have admission requirements,” says Kaufman. “I tried to align them with what could be applied to my degree in the future.”
As an intern at Robin Baron Design he employed a focused strategy: “I helped with everything I possibly could beyond design-related items. At a small firm you have the ability to get involved with marketing and growing the business into new arenas such as product design, licensing, and e-commerce,” says Kaufman.
It’s proof once again that design skills taught at FIT can be applicable in so many ways:
“The designer I worked for, Robin Baron, was always looking for ways to grow her business. When she needed help with creating an ad, for instance, I helped her design it using basic graphic design skills I learned at FIT. She loved it!
“I said yes to whatever was needed.” Kaufman has a background in business management and accounting. “I also brought that to the table,” he says.
His firm, YKD Associates, is primarily a business development consulting firm, where he assists interior designers in growing their businesses — everything from marketing, to sustainability. Kaufman also occasionally takes on small design projects to feed “my creative soul,” he says.
“Designers hire me to refresh their brand and come up with a new brand concept because they’re not getting the right type of clients because of how they are presenting themselves.”
Kaufman has helped clients completely reshape their look: “I work with them on their websites, their logo, their brand marketing and messaging. I also help designers with licensing, acting as their licensing agent to help secure collaboration.
Kaufman is also writing a monthly column on business development for Design News Now.
He was recently added as a sustainability expert to the Saatva advisory panel. The company is redefining luxury mattresses, he says, and making them at price points that are accessible to more consumers. “They make every mattress to order, and use sustainable materials whenever possible. When they deliver their product and pick up the old mattress, they dissect its parts for what they can reuse.
Kaufman and his husband’s home was affordable, in part because of the unusual style and because of the hillside site, where the front door is on the second floor with kitchen and common rooms and the bedrooms are below. Commuter rail from nearby Brewster to Grand Central Station takes about an hour.
While the home was designed and built to express the architect’s vision, creating a complimentary interior was Kaufman’s domain.
“There’s a whole interior design part about how I got to decorate it!” says Kaufman.
“Especially with your first home, you sink your entire life savings into the down payment, so there’s little left for decorating. I had amassed a collection of furniture and art from past clients that are high-end and barely touched.”
Kaufman had also been to countless auctions and design events where vendors donate or sell products inexpensively. “I bought beautiful furnishings [over time], which I added to my collection. I designed with what I had. It looks like it was intentionally designed that way.”
Kaufman and his husband, a hair stylist (“He makes people beautiful; I make spaces beautiful” says Kaufman), are now improving the house’s sustainability. “I just finished upgrading my heating system, changing over from oil heating to clean energy heat pump.”
There are features that architecturally are innately sustainable:
“The home has soaring windows floor to ceiling, but the wide eaves of the roof overhang everything. So while the windows bring in a lot of natural light, it is not direct light. That’s something that attracted me to the home: It’s innately protecting itself.”
“I was raised orthodox Jewish so the schools I went to were yeshivas. Any extra-curricular activities was Judaic. At FIT I loved being in classrooms with people from all over the world, and from all different backgrounds. It helped my approach to design and to life,” he said.
To learn more about the BFA Interior Design program, go to Interior Design at FIT
All photos used with permission.