The Heart of a Restauranteur

A place for food, love and learning

By Sue Baldani

Jimmy Bellas grew up in the restaurant business. “My dad, James, literally came out of World War II and along with his dad and his brother opened a series of diners on Long Island. Later, he had a bustling place called Jimmy’s Backyard.”

As a kid, Jimmy was there washing dishes, cleaning silverware, and bussing tables. He later became a waiter and bartender. “I did it all, and I studied restaurant and hotel management in college, so when I graduated, I ran the restaurant with my dad.” It’s also where he met his wife, Karen Coccari.

Jimmy eventually opened his own Italian restaurant, but after getting married in 1998 and wanting to have a family, he realized he needed to make a change. “The restaurant business is wonderful, but the hours are difficult, especially if you’re serving dinner.”

After switching careers and working in sales for over 20 years, Jimmy found himself missing the restaurant business and would often sit around the family table regaling his wife and sons, Nico and LJ, with nostalgic stories. “I would say maybe someday we’ll open up a little place, and I’ll go back into the restaurant business with my own family this time. One day, Nico just looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t you stop talking about it and just do it?’”

And so, they did. They opened Sorriso Kitchen, a charming café in Chatham that serves breakfast, with choices such as omelets, home-made sausage and thick-cut bacon, and lunch, including an award-winning burger, which you can enjoy with a cold beer (it’s a BYOB.) The food is amazingly fresh and much of it, like their produce, honey, chicken, cheeses and syrups, comes from local farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  

Their son LJ, who has special needs, was also the inspiration for opening up the business. They wanted to give him a place to work after graduation.

On Mondays, when the café is closed, they hold classes for other special-needs children to learn restaurant skills. In order to expand this program and encourage other businesses to do it, he and Karen will be starting a foundation.  “We’re so excited!” he says. “We’ll be able to support this type of program or similar programs that exist or even seed and create new programs.

“We really feel like we’re doing what we are meant to be.” Jimmy’s advice to others who are thinking about taking the leap into a new career or going back to a former one:  “Follow your passion, but make sure that the leap you’re taking is one that’s going to continuously provide you with the love of what you’re doing.”

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

A Main Street Legend

Sports, art, music and more

By Sue Baldani

Legends Gallery at Frames on Main in Chatham has been offering sports memorabilia for over 20 years. There’s everything from framed classic sports photos and jerseys to signed baseballs, football helmets, and hockey pucks. It has also hosted autograph-signing events with professional athletes like Eli Manning, Carli Lloyd, and Keith Hernandez.

“It’s a quick thrill to get to meet, say, Mariano Rivera, get your item autographed and take a picture with him,” says owner Greg Daily. Guests buy tickets beforehand, then either bring in their own memorabilia or buy them at the gallery.

Greg is now expanding into the exciting world of music legends by offering professionally-framed photographs of iconic moments in music history signed by the extremely accomplished photographers who took them. “There’s Bob Gruen, who was John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s photographer. I also have Ron Pownall, who was a tour photographer for Aerosmith, and Frank White, who has been shooting concerts for years. There’s also John Comerford, a Chatham guy, who has shot multiple album covers for artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughn and Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell II.”

There’s another new and unique offering as well. “I had a client bring in what’s called sound waves prints to be framed, which are pretty cool,” he says. “One was a Natalie Merchant piece signed by the singer herself.” Sound waves, he explains, are what you would see on a digital screen in a music studio.

“What this particular artist has done is create relationships in the music industry, so now he’s got all these sound waves and paints colors onto them,” says Greg. “Each one is different and signed by the musician. He does limited-edition runs of prints taken from photographs of his paintings.”

In Legends Gallery right now, there are sound wave pieces from Jamie’s Got A Gun signed by Steven Tyler, and Another Brick in the Wall, signed by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. “I’ve also got one from a band called Evanescence, featuring their main song, Bring Me to Life, which is signed by Amy Lee. It’s actually my favorite piece and has this incredible purple color. I then have an old standby, Mama Said Knock You Out, by LL Cool J.” Each one of these pieces is beautifully framed.

Greg buys each of these prints directly from the artist, who then donates the proceeds to each individual musician’s charity. If you’re looking for a great gift for Father’s Day, or for a great gift for yourself, go to or, or even better, stop in and see them in person.

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

Come to the Lodge

By Sue Baldani

Forest Lodge’s lush 50-acre property in Warren has always been an amazing place to hold parties all year round, but now it’s better than ever. Owners Charles and Maria Alberto, along with their son, Charlie Alberto IV, ensure that every event receives personalized care and attention.

“We set it up from the initial meeting all the way to the final appointment and then, on the day of the event, we’re here,” says Charlie, who has been the general manager for the past two years. “I think it makes the clients feel comfortable to have us present.”

From small, casual birthday parties, picnics and corporate events to large, elegant weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs, Forest Lodge provides the perfect venue. Guests can choose one of its three modern outdoor pavilions, the sophisticated indoor Sherwood Chalet banquet hall, and/or various Groves with pools, sports courts and rides. Its new Maple Grove Pavilion was erected during COVID as a safe place to hold events.

“We set up a 40×60 paver area and invested in a beautiful, white sailcloth tent, and added firepits and gazebos” he says. “It has a unique and elegant outdoor look.

Since the tent was such a popular addition, they set up another one in their Apple Grove Pavilion as a temporary addition for proms and other large (400+) parties. “We always had schools reaching out to us for graduations and field days, but when our new director of catering, Anthony Panchery, contacted them about proms, it spiraled into something really beautiful for the kids,” says Charlie. They also installed touchless fixtures in restrooms and at work stations to keep guests and employees safe.

The changes they’ve made didn’t end there. They revamped their entire website and regularly post information and updates on social media. “It’s been great because that’s where we get in touch with a lot of our customers and where many of our inquiries now come from,” he says. “People can now look at our menus online, gain more information through our digital brochures, scan QR codes to join us and post on Instagram!”

They’ve also brought in some new and creative team members and vendors, and have added to their list of food truck offerings. “All of our catering is done in house, but people love that they can get fried Oreos or Cuban sandwiches from award-winning food trucks.”

Charlie feels his prior work in film production has given him the skills to handle the logistics of coordinating over 300 parties and events each year and ensuring that they all run smoothly. He grew up working at the Lodge as well, which gives him a great understanding of what its guests expect.  

He’s also excited about Forest Lodge being able to hold Oktoberfest once again this fall, where people can enjoy brats, spaetzle, music, and everything German. He also hopes to offer some additional public days as well featuring live bands and other enjoyable entertainment.

For more information, go to and/or check out its Facebook page.

Written for The Showcase Magazine in New Jersey.

The Art of Healing

Enabling veterans to turn trauma into hope

By Sue Baldani

On September 11, 2001, Richard Casper was a high school student, and the events of that day would change the course of his life forever. “It inspired me to go into the Marine Corps, so two weeks after graduation, I was on a bus going to boot camp,” he says.

While in the service, he spent time guarding then-President of the United States, George W. Bush. He also went to war. “I was in Fallujah, Iraq, for seven months,” says Richard. During that time, he was badly injured and his buddy, Luke Yepsen, made the ultimate sacrifice.

After leaving the Marines, it was hard for Richard to transition back into civilian life. “I couldn’t do a lot because my anxiety and depression were so bad.”

It was at this time, while living in Bloomington, Illinois, that he randomly found an art and music program at a community college. He says it’s what ultimately saved his life. “They started teaching me about art and how to use color to symbolize emotions. Being able to express myself without talking about what was wrong with me, and being able to evoke emotion from others who would then understand me, was powerful.”

After receiving his associate’s degree, Richard applied to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “Through these classes, my brain was remapping and restructuring all these negative situations into a positive because I was turning them into art pieces.”

He then expanded into songwriting. “I still had an issue talking about Luke, and I thought, ‘What if I could write a song so people would know his story?’”

Eventually, Richard hooked up with Mark Irwin, who has written songs for Billy Ray Cyrus, Alan Jackson, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, and Tim McGraw. “I traveled to Nashville and wrote a song with him within three hours,” he says. “I was blown away.”

He wanted to bring these healing tools to other veterans, and along with Linda Tarrson,founded CreatiVets in 2013. “It’s strictly for wounded veterans – someone who’s been to a combat zone and has mental, emotional, moral, or physical injuries from that experience,” says Richard.

Today, the nonprofit has helped veterans across 48 states in both its music and art programs. With its four-day music program, vets are paired with mentors and work with accomplished songwriters and music artists backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. Once finished, these songs are recorded at the Rukkus Room and OMNIsound Studios.

“Each veteran thinks they’re alone in their fight, but as they hear each other’s songs, they feel connected,” he says. “They get to heal together.” They also have their photographs taken by Jason Myers, a well-known photographer who donates his time.

A majority of veterans with serious mental-health issues become isolated and never seek help. “In order to reach them in their homes, we’ve partnered with Big Machine Records to release our veterans’ songs.” These songs are sung by renowned artists like Vince Gill and Justin Moore.

Its three-week art programs are held at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Belmont University, University of Chicago, University of Southern California, and Virginia Commonwealth University. Tuition, food and housing is completely covered and like regular students, the vets have access to wood working, ceramics and other classes. With the help of the teachers, who are esteemed artists, they create art pieces that reflects something they’ve been through.

Greg Pihs, a Marine from Chapel Hill who served alongside Richard and Luke at one point, knows how valuable these programs are to veterans. He wrote a song with CreatiVets about a situation he could never verbalize, and it helped him to finally process his pain. “For the first time in my life, I had a voice, and that was life-changing for me,” he says. “It greatly helped me over the last three years.” Today, Greg is a mentor in the program as well as a successful businessman.

CreatiVets is always in need of volunteers, especially in Nashville, where they have a new facility to hold classes. “We need people who are willing to volunteer and share their artistic skills, whether it be painting, drawing, jewelry making or something else.”

Like any nonprofit, it also needs funding. “We have more veterans on our waiting list than we have money coming in,” says Richard. “In order to support them, we need to grow.”

To learn more and help support CreatiVets, go to

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

The Epitome of Luxury

A home that feels like a private resort

By Sue Baldani

Short Hills is known for its beautiful homes and lovely surroundings. While some homes may be on the more “modest” side, most are spectacular. One of these is currently for sale, and whoever buys it may never want to leave.

Located in the Fairfield section of the upscale town, the modern and sophisticated home is handsomely attired with hand-cut stone with mahogany windows and trim and a slate roof.  Sitting on a magnificent and lush 1+ acres, it’s an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. However, downtown Millburn with its lovely shops, Broadway-worthy theater, and fabulous restaurants is minutes away, as is the train station that can whisk you right into New York City.

But again, with this residence, staying in is also a fine idea. As soon as you enter, the high ceilings and grand staircase set the tone for luxury. With a home gym featuring top-of-the-line exercise equipment, and a private pool area with luxurious pavers surrounded by mature trees and other landscaping for the ultimate in privacy, you, your family and guests can enjoy the serenity of nature while relaxing in or out of the saltwater pool. There is also a hot tub and a pool house with a bar and full bath. On the lower level of the house, you’ll find a wine cellar and tasting room. It’s truly your own personal resort!

Every inch of the 12,000-square-foot home is exquisite and no detail has been overlooked. With six bedrooms and seven full and three half baths, there’s plenty of room for family and guests to spread out. Each bedroom has its own balcony and overlooks the picturesque property.

While walk-in closets in most homes are a nice convenience, the closet off the primary bedroom is more like your own personal boutique. With storage galore and glass-fronted cabinetry, you’ll almost feel like you’re shopping in your own home. And the best thing is, everything you see is yours to wear and enjoy whenever you like.

To see this magnificent home and have a chance to own this extraordinary piece of real estate, go to or You can even choose to purchase some or most of the high-end furnishings that were specifically chosen by a professional designer to fit the house to perfection. This is what living in luxury is all about!

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

Attention Jeep Owners!

Swap out your top with no stress or headaches

By Sue Baldani

In nice weather, what’s more fun than driving around with the top down and feeling the sun on your face and the wind in your hair? This is why many people love Jeep Wranglers. Owners can put down the soft top and enjoy the great outdoors, but when it gets cold, they also have a hard top that will keep them warm and dry.

But, swapping the tops and figuring out where to store the one that’s not in use is not fun at all. Friends and partners Lenny Blue, Scott Piper, and Michael Schwartz developed a solution to these problems and opened Swap Your Top in Livingston, which just celebrated its one year anniversary.

“I actually own a Jeep Wrangler and Lenny and Scott would help me change out the top,” says Michael. “It’s a hassle. It requires a helper and you have to be somewhat mechanically inclined. You also need a place to store it. Even if you have a garage, it takes up a lot of space and can get damaged.”

When Jeep owners make an appointment with Swap Your Top, they get their tops changed in a timely manner, and also know that the top they’re leaving behind will be placed on custom made racks in a climate controlled facility. “You leave with no headaches and no stress,” he says.

If someone is in need of a soft top, it’s also an authorized distributor for BESTOP, which Michael says is the number one aftermarket manufacturer of soft tops for Jeep Wranglers.

110 Dorsa Avenue

Livingston, NJ 07939


Written for Suburban Essex Magazine in New Jersey.

A Path to Success

From homelessness to happiness

By Sue Baldani

Women experiencing domestic violence often have to flee with very little money and few belongings. They often do so after years of abuse and risk everything for a chance for a better and safer life.

Julie (a pseudonym) knows this well. Her husband beat her and belittled her for several years, and coming from an abusive childhood, she felt like she didn’t deserve any better. “I didn’t know how precious I was,” she says. “It was ingrained in me that people can do whatever they want to you.”

After a particularly vicious beating last year, Julie knew she had to leave – this time for good. She left multiple times before, but her husband always managed to find her. “I just packed a bag. I left my cell phone, my credit cards. I had less than $300,” she says.

Julie had a long journey ahead of her, and although he found her once, she managed to get away again. “I drove for hours; I didn’t know what to do or where to go.”

It was during this drive that she heard a woman call into a radio show about her abusive husband. The show’s host, who is from Tennessee, told the woman she needed to get away from him and that she mattered.  

“That’s how I chose Tennessee,” says Julie. “I slept in my car for about two weeks and then I walked into the local police department. They got me into a shelter.”

It was this shelter that introduced her to a path to success through Resera, a jewelry company based in Nashville. “I founded Resera, along with Alexis Cook, in 2017,” says Corbin Hooker. “I had this growing sensation that I needed to try to do something to help the homeless, and from day one, our heart has always been about this mission. The jewelry has been a means to work with women experiencing homelessness and survivors of domestic violence.”

By partnering with other organizations such as Community Care Fellowship, the YWCA and Renewal House, not only are these women given jobs, but they also learn many skills, such as wax injecting, molding, chaining and distribution. Resera also partners with financial literacy coaches and career counselors who come onsite to help the women navigate these issues.

“Some women come in with a really clear idea of what their dream career is, and they can use this job as a stepping stone to stabilize, earn some money, develop some skills, and then go get that dream job,” says Corbin. “For others, they may come here and decide that this is their dream.”

“My case manager at my first shelter told me she thought I would be a really good fit for Resera,” says Julie. “I had no jewelry-making skills whatsoever, and when you interview with Corbin, he totally understands that.”

She was also able to get into another shelter, which offered her a lot more support than the first, including therapy. On January 1st, she went from being a maker (which is what they call the women at Resera) to the director of events. “I handle all of our events and do all of our outside sales because that’s my passion.” And thanks to her job at Resera, she moved into her own apartment on January 7th.

“I wake up and I fall asleep in my blessing every day,” says Julie. “It’s where I feel safe.”

She wants other women in her situation to know there is hope. “It’s not going to be easy to leave and you’re going to be so scared,” she says. “But I believe you can do it – you’re worth it! You’re going to start healing and you’re going to start dreaming. And those dreams are going to come true – like mine.”

Julie is a rockstar, says Corbin, and his dream is to grow Resera in order to support more women like her (he has helped over 20 women so far). He also wants to partner with other organizations to incorporate similar models. “It’s important to separate the trauma the women have been through and the person themselves,” he says. “You also have to recognize the legitimate barriers they face and come alongside them.”

Each piece of Resera’s high-quality and beautiful jewelry comes with a story of the person who made it. Just wearing it is impactful.

To support its mission, go to

Written for Belle Meade Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

Strong Women, Strong Families

How one mom persevered through tragedy

By Sue Baldani

What started out as a fun day at the community pool on May 21, 2019, ended in tragedy for Brentwood resident Lizz Krummel and her family. “We were at the pool with friends one evening and my husband Kurt went home to feed the dogs,” she says. “He was on a golf cart in swim attire and had on flip-flops. The best the police could put together was that he hit a manhole, his foot came off the side of the golf cart and then got stuck in the back tire and he was ejected from the cart.”

At the age of 42, Kurt Krummel, a bigger than life husband, dad and coach, died from massive head trauma. “We were just a regular Brentwood family – two working parents, two third-grade boys, and three dogs,” says Lizz. “We did yard work, we grocery shopped. You hear about tragedies on TV all the time, and I think everyone’s natural reaction is, ‘Oh, that doesn’t happen to people like us.’”

Sadly, it did happen to them, but fortunately for Lizz, she had incredible family and community support. They surrounded her and her twin boys, Roger and Cortland, who were only 8 years old at the time, those first few months to help in any way they could, even if it was just quietly sitting by her side.

“At first, accepting help was a tough one for me because I’m a pretty independent person,” she says. “But, there are some days where you just need someone to be there with you. I had a lot of friends that just sat with me and patiently waited until I was ready to talk or go to dinner or do whatever. They were just relentless in their care of me and my boys.”

Right after the accident, her parents and brothers traveled from Colorado, where Lizz grew up. Her mother, Lynn Lown, stayed on for the entire summer, becoming a pillar of strength for the family. Having been diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2017 and enduring two years of chemotherapy, radiation, and a double mastectomy, she understood the challenges life can throw at you. Lynn finished treatment in March of 2019, and her son-in-law died that May.

“My husband absolutely adored her,” says Lizz. “He used to love when my mom stayed with us. For three months straight after the accident, she never left our sides. She’s just an incredible individual with everything she’s been through and survived. She’s on a plane at the drop of a hat, anytime I need something or have to travel for work.”

Lizz says she and her mom have always been incredibly close –  she was actually born on her mom’s birthday. Even before the accident, Lynn always made sure to visit regularly. She was a high school teacher and would come for long weekends, and now that she’s retired, she often spends a month or more with her daughter and grandsons to help out in any way she can.

Her father, Gary, has also been there for them. “My dad’s been a real trouper,” she says. “He was there through my mom’s illness, and he’s all in on whatever the boys and I need.”

In addition to being an unexpectedly single mom, Lizz is also a full-time healthcare executive. “I’m the vice president of human resources for a company based here in Franklin,” she says. “Our CEO and the group that I’m with not only respect me as a professional, but they also respect me as a parent.”

Adds Lizz, “I’m incredibly lucky in a lot of ways. I’ve got these two boys who are just amazing. Kurt died a week before their 9th birthdays, and their dad was all things to them. He was their little league baseball coach; he was their basketball coach. He was the head tennis pro at Old Natchez Country Club. He also coached all the kids in our neighborhood. So, it was a huge loss to them and the entire community in terms of the people he impacted.”

Her boys play with Showcase Baseball. “A friend of my husband’s, Drew Muirhead, took over coaching the team. [His son plays on the team and is her boy’s best friend.] I also volunteer coach on the team, and coached flag football for the first time ever this year. I will never shy away from the opportunity to be involved in my kids’ lives. Although it may not be the typical for mom to be out on the football field, the boys seem to be fine with it. We had a ton of fun and I think it is, quite frankly, one of the things that brings us so much joy as a family.”

Although there’s been a lot of grief during the last three years, Lizz feels grateful. “I have this incredible supportive community, friends who are just incredible people, and a wonderful family. I also have a really great career.”

Her advice to others who have also suffered a major loss: “I think if you can refocus and look at all of the things that are left in front of you instead of dwelling on how big your loss is, it helps you to keep going. You might not be okay today, you might not be okay tomorrow, but you will be okay. It’s been three years now – the boys are off to middle school and love it. Professionally, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Of course, says Lizz, the loss will always be there, and this time of year, around the anniversary of her husband’s death, is always difficult. “My mom, my grandma, the women in my life helped mold me. You have two choices – you can fold up your tent and quit or you can keep going. Moving forward is what I’ve tried to do and what I’m going to continue to do. I try to give my very best to my boys, to my family.

“I never want them to forget all of the great things their father did and who he was. And if they can live a really normal, happy childhood and life and be successful in all the ways I think they’re going to be, then that’s what makes it all worth it.”

Written for Brentwood Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee (unabridged version).

Surfing and Spinning on Top of the World

A Guinness World Record holder is upping his own ante

By Sue Baldani

Flying through the sky with a board strapped to his feet is Keith (KĒBĒ) Snyder’s idea of a good time. What began as a hobby back in 1995 took him to the X Games and eventually on to win the Guinness World Record for the most helicopter spins in the air during a jump.

“In 1994, I saw this guy spinning and saw the smile on his face and I wanted to know what was going on there,” he says. “To stand on something in the sky – I just wanted to experience that. You are literally getting to stand on top of the world. It’s a very empowering feeling when you’re flying through the air and I actually go into this meditative state when spinning.” At this point, he has completed over 6,500 jumps all over the world.

Sky surfing, says Snyder, began in 1988, and it progressed when people started adding in little tricks like flips and spins. “It grew and grew until you had an international community of sky surfers. The X Games were born in 1995, and sky surfing went to an explosive level of participation because you had ESPN pumping money into the sport. That core group got so good so fast it became hard to chase. That became my fuel for a while.”

Making it to the X Games in 2000 was a huge accomplishment. “The next year, they ended up dropping Sky Sports, but I started winning Nationals in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and came in third in the World Cup,” he says.

Snyder became so good that he began teaching others how to do it, and eventually opened a school in Arizona, where he was living at the time. “There’s probably 250 people I’ve guided on how to do it safely.”

Little did he know, his time in Arizona was coming to an end. In 2020, his father, Chris, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer that can occur in the brain and/or spinal cord. “I was in the middle of a text conversation with my mother [Catherine] when my father passed out,” says Snyder. “The next day, they found tumors and were going to operate. I flew back to be with them as soon as he came out of surgery. About 24 hours later, I was in their house in Gainesville looking out the window and knew I had to move back here to be with them.”

Chris died in September of 2020 at the age of 71. “After my father passed away, my mom started pulling things out of his end table and I could tell that it was stuff that meant something to him. My parents have been together almost their entire lives, and she found letters she wrote to him when they dated. There was also a little envelope with some of the stuff written about me for sky surfing.”

Later in 2020, Snyder was invited to a Jump Like A Pharaoh event by organizer Mahmoud Sharaf of Egypt. He was introduced to Sharaf by Omar Alhegelan of Saudi Arabia, one of the camera flyers who films him. Sky surfing over the pyramids was something he dreamed of doing for years.

Of course, winning the Guinness World Record in November 2021 in Giza, Egypt with 160 helicopter spins was another unforgettable experience for him. And he’s not done yet. “The idea is to break this record one more time. Right now, that’s planned for the beginning of November and my goal is to do 180 spins.”

He’s also recently joined forces with a group called StacheStrong. “They’ve raised around $1.2 million for brain cancer and 99% of this money goes directly towards research,” he says. Snyder is going to help them add to this amount by taking pledges per rotation. 

“Skydive Orange of [ Orange, VA] is supporting this Guinness World Record & Brain Cancer Research fundraising effort by giving me sky surfing flight time. We have an arrangement for the practice flights I need in order to attain the level of performance necessary to set these new record levels.” Onelife Fitness in Gainesville is also helping out with a free gym membership.

In addition to all of this, Snyder is busy writing a couple of books on sky surfing, which are due out in the near future. One is a guidebook on sky surfing and the other will focus on sky surfing from an engineering point of view. “I’m an engineer by trade and worked with the Merchant Marine Academy, so I want to help people understand the dynamics.”

Today, he believes he’s where he’s meant to be. “I get to be with my mother and my family here in Virginia and continue to pursue sky surfing.”

To see Snyder’s Guinness World Record jump, go to  

Written for Haymarket/Gainesville Lifestyle Magazine in Virginia.

Creating with a Conscience

By Sue Baldani

Healthy and humane design practices for every home

When most people hear the word vegan, they usually just think of the food aspect. But, being vegan is a whole lifestyle. Risha Walden, of Walden Interiors in Millburn, successfully and beautifully incorporates her vegan beliefs into her designs.

“The biggest issue with interior design is that it’s not something people think about every day,” she says. “Most only think about those decisions maybe once every five to 10 years when they need to, say, buy a sofa.”

Using vegan interior design strategies, explains Risha, does not diminish the aesthetic or how you want the room to manifest. And, these design elements can be as luxurious as any other. “Luxury is about rejoicing in this paradise we’re in and to have that appreciation in your home. Your home should reflect the abundance you created for yourself.”

As a vegan interior designer, she has never felt that she’s compromised a client’s design. “There’s so much available and it’s about being aware of it,” she says. “I’m always researching and finding new and innovative products.”

Adds Risha, “Your home is supposed to work for you. I can make anything look beautiful, but when it’s beautiful and functional it makes life easier and happier.”

Alternatives to leather, wool and other animal products

Alternatives didn’t come to be because they’re vegan, but because people are demanding high-performing, durable, stain-resistant, and fade-resistant fabrics. They want to be able to purchase something that they can put in their home that looks and feels good and that they don’t have to constantly maintain.

The importance of sustainability

I’m always looking for durable fabrics for my clients such as polyesters and nylons. I understand that my clients want their homes to look as beautiful as possible for as long as possible and man-made fibers have that resistance and durability that frankly a lot of natural products don’t.

Natural is not always the healthiest choice

Even though leather is natural and should therefore be compostable, it really isn’t because it’s treated with chemicals. Those chemicals are actually toxic and there is some off-gassing.

Mixing the old with the new

I love to repurpose what people already have. When I go into a client’s home, we talk about creating the vision they want, and if I can reuse a piece – that can be reupholstering it, repainting it, or fitting it out for another use – I’m going to do it if it fits into the vision they want. I love old furniture because it’s usually better made or it’s something that’s important to them, maybe passed down from their grandmother, so there are many ways of reincorporated these pieces into the design.

To find out more about how Risha can create a luxurious, comfortable and healthy home for you and your family, go to

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Alternative materials

Plant-based products such as leather made from apples, mushrooms, pineapples and cacti will be used much more in the future.

How demand creates supply

If we stop demanding animal products in home design, and start using more  alternatives, there will be a switch in thinking.

If it doesn’t work in your home, get rid of it

If a piece isn’t right for a room, or isn’t needed anymore, sell it or donate it.

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.