Behind the Mystery: Explaining the Process of Decorating for a Show House
The most asked question of any Interior Designer designing a space in the Decorators' Show House is "How do you do it?"
There seems to be a great mystique associated with the design work in a room for imaginary clients in an unoccupied home. How do you get inspired? Where does one begin? What can possibly be the motivation?
My most recent Show House room was the library in the Peninsula House for the Atlanta Symphony Associates. My first step for any showhouse is to visit the space and get a real feel for the room. What does the architecture say to me? Is this a serious structure with important elements that cannot be ignored? This year it was. The Grinling Gibbons-style fireplace set the tone for the room. Gibbons was one of the foremost carvers of architectural elements in England and this fireplace dictated how the space should be treated - a proper English library.
The paneled walls, built-in bookcases and bay window with a view to the garden all contributed to the stateliness of the room.
The other crucial part of this first visit is to measure, measure and measure; every window, wall, door jamb, and in this case, wall panel! It could be as long as two months before we see the room again. One must know what size the walls are when ordering furniture and artwork and how much fabric is required for the window treatments.
The time line is crucial. We first see the space in December and the "curtain" goes up in April. (Anyone that has ever tried to have one piece of upholstery refurbished by a professional Interior Designer knows that the process can be less than timely!)
The next step is to make the hundreds of decisions that go into one completed scheme. All work rooms - drapery, upholstery, pillow makers, painters, faux artists, carpet installers, delivery services - and countless fabric, furniture and accessory show rooms, are put on alert to be on the ready. This is definitely a pulling together of the industry to make our profession shine.
One of the most important elements of any scheme is the palette. Mine most often are pulled from antique carpets. This room was no exception. I found the perfect Oushak with divine bittersweet, gold and biscuit tones before I left home.
The lead fabric is the next really critical decision. I chose a Chinoiserie pattern that echoed the tones of the rug and carried the English Regency feeling the rich paneled walls evoked. In general, designers will use one fabric house to supply all the fabrics because they make it more appealing to us financially. Our fabric was English from one of the most stylish fabric houses on South Audley Street in London.
The third step is to acquire all the items for the room in this short amount of time. Knowing that most of the items for our room should be English, I booked two flights to London for my assistant and me and we "skipped the pond" to collect our goodies.
On our trip to London we visited at least three markets or dealers every day. We even took the Chunnel to Paris and visited three design shows there. We had a blast ordering from one accessory line and received the goods two days before the Show House opened. The really exciting part was when the invoice came in Spanish.
All the shows were vignetted beautifully and we felt as if we were doing our duty to the community by bringing back all the latest European design ideas to our room.
Once all the items are selected and work orders are in place it is time to wait and watch. Each designer is trying to beat the clock and the true test comes with move in day. We are given three weeks to complete all renovations to the space. The electricians seem to work around the clock. If the room is not wired for a chandelier or does not have the correct number or placement of switch plates the designer has them installed.
All contractors are hired by the design firm and must adhere to a strict schedule set forth by the Show House volunteer staff.
It gets very hectic with all the trucks of 30 design teams coming and going. And there is always a surprise. This year the ceiling caved in the day we were having our "before" picture made! We spend lots of time on the job there overseeing because you have to check it every day to make sure things are proceeding. There is no time for mistakes.
And then the big day - move in! Each designer is allotted two hours of driveway time for the unloading. All furniture is set in and then we get busy accessorizing. In our case, the bookshelves proved the biggest challenge. It takes many books and much imagination to make them library-like yet interesting.
The last detail is the arrangement of the flowers. All are required to be fresh and remain pretty until the end of the show. We used magnolias in the fireplace from the yard, wheat grass with a Gerber daisy on one end table and buckets of fresh lilies, belles of Ireland, and bamboo shoots to complement the fabric and appear very natural on the drum table in the bay window. With the last details in place it is time to "raise the curtain."
As for my motivation, I enjoy the feeling of having met the challenge and hope to have inspired a student to continue, a home owner to try something new, and the industry to keep believing in the good old-fashioned practice of interior decoration.
from an article in the Atlanta Buckhead newspaper July 1999
Patricia McLean Interiors, Inc. firstname.lastname@example.org 404. 266. 9772