Once a year, usually in the
spring, various charitable organizations procure a residence for the purpose of
opening it to the public for home tours. What makes the home of interest
is the fact that it’s been remodeled and redecorated by some of the best interior
designers, architects, carpenters and artisans in the country. Some of the rooms are sleek, modern examples
of contemporary living. Others are over the top confections of fabric, flowers,
art and antiques. Inspiration and visual appeal are clearly what show case “visitors” anticipate, drawing them back year after year to their favorite showcase.
The showcase concept raises
funds for good causes like Hospice, children’s hospitals, and schools. It showcases
design talent. It gives designers the opportunity to think outside the box
without creative restrictions. It’s a splendid event for the public. We all
appreciate the chance to contribute to a good cause and all the more if we can peruse
a beautiful home with imaginative architecture and décor while doing so.
I’ve participated in five
showcases and two home tours: three as a student, two as a designer and two as
a homeowner and all of them were satisfying, worthwhile experiences. From a
designer’s point of view, it’s a large investment of time of money. It takes
about six months to present schemes to the committees; do any necessary
demolition work; procure furnishings from vendors; enlist the help of subs
(some are paid, some are volunteers); and complete installations. At the end of
the six months there is often a grand opening or evening gala and about two
weeks of daytime tours. Ticket prices vary but the daytime
tours are usually more affordable.
The first showcase I
participated in began as a vacant, dilapidated Victorian mansion in a
small, northern California town. I worked with our college design team on
the outdoor luncheon area; a small room next to the kitchen; and the main stairwell.
The challenges we students faced were lack of budget, poor working conditions,
and a remote, hard to access location. The benefits however, were working with
others on a design related project and forging relationships with experienced
The highlight of that first
showcase for me, was attending the evening gala. The living room was warm and
comfortable yet had elements of drama with a black, baby grand piano; beautiful,
quilted maize colored, floor length curtains; and large scale furnishings. It
was a very special event for my late husband and me and I felt validated
knowing I would be doing this professionally one day.
The second showcase was
equally magical. This time the home was in good condition. It was inhabited by
a local surgeon who generously allowed the use of his main residence. It
remained open to the designers for six months in preparation. It was a large, contemporary
residence, and again we students created an outdoor luncheon area and transformed a
small room off the kitchen. Attending that evening gala also had a profound
effect on me. The living room had a custom iron, cat tail motif screen
installed just inside the front door, creating a small entry space. Chocolate
brown mohair sofas flanked a redesigned fireplace. Stained concrete floors were
popular at the time and the designer had commissioned one and topped it with an
A few years later I was
awarded a room of my own. It was my first as a professional and it was not the best space in the house. New
designers get the less desirable spaces while returning participants get the
better ones. However, the house was significant architecturally speaking.
Designed by the late architect William Turnbull of Sea Ranch fame, it was a clean and
spare, sprawling wood structure. Turnbull was noted for designing buildings that
were in sync with nature. It had lots of window and angles and was comprised of
three structures linked by a large, central atrium. The basic design was
comfortable and functional but the home needed many updates like a new front door,
flooring, window coverings, and a new kitchen and baths. Noted designers Leavitt and Weaver redesigned the atrium filling it with their imaginative, custom furnishings.
My “room” was unfinished.
There were no walls or windows or flooring. It was probably a large utility
space in its previous life. I’m not sure
how many tour guests were brave enough to venture up the stairs but if they
did, they were rewarded for the effort.
I called the space “Mary Jo’s
Study” after a special client. It consisted of two small yet distinct spaces
divided by a central staircase. We installed walls, beautiful wool carpet, custom
iron stairwell guards, and several light dispensing solar tubes since the
owners wouldn’t allow me to install windows. I designed a reading nook with a built-in counter and custom fitted mirror under the eaves of the roof and a custom
designed counter “skirt” that coordinated with all the other fabrics in the
There was a pair of gorgeous,
French antique mirrors and a French sideboard loaned to me by the design store,
Fleur de Lis. Many of the furnishings were on loan from various showrooms at
the San Francisco Design Center with whom I’ve developed a relationship over
the years. There was a parquet topped walnut desk from Wroolie and Company; Tole
style planters from Shears and Window; and an overstuffed, linen leaf print
covered armchair with a tufted velvet ottoman, both from Lee Jofa.
Two of my favorite pieces
were a pair of armless, mahogany framed, olive green velvet chairs from Kravet.
They were smashing. I had one of our
seamstresses sew up a slipcover to conceal a non-descript wooden bookcase. It matched
the “skirt” that went around the custom counter. Original oils by California
artists Chuck Waldman and Jack Cassinetto hung on the walls. One favorite in
particular was a misty shot of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The designer showcase concept
was conceived to raise funds for important causes and showcase design talent.
It garners community involvement. It inspires people and helps them to better
understand the evolution of style and function in the home. For many, attending
showcases with family or friends is a much anticipated, spring tradition.