Showhouse Magic

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A beautiful young designer with a cellphone clasped to her ear scurried by a bulldozer going full throttle, scraping the future driveway’s mucky earth, raising a precipitous two-story plume of gray dust spewing forth from the rotary blades of the stone cutter’s saws.Dreary gray plastic tents encamped (like Sherman’s army) around the showhouse property kept the stone masons dry as they plodded through their heavy tasks beneath the pelting rain. A dapper looking designer, with a bevy of young assistants lugging iron sculptures, tiptoed gingerly between sinkholes of whipped up clay that covered his Gucci loafers with a thick gray cake of mud. Sweaty movers from up-island heaved wooden cases the size of large coffins between 10-wheelers parked diagonally across the entrance.

The showhouse cul-de-sac resembled a wet mob scene one might have seen during the Bolshevik revolution—except with UPS trucks, dump trucks, cargo vans, landscape machinery and flatbeds creating a chaotic din. Even inside the house, matters were far from calm. Electricians, plumbers, carpenters, designers, staffers, painters, movers, drapers, cleaners and throngs of design assistants all donned dusty blue booties while scrambling up and down steep stairways like obsessed ants. Tempers were flaring, nerves were shattering, cellphones weren’t working and frustration was seen on every brow. And still it rained on.

With only a week left to “show time,” many designers’ rooms were half empty—if anything was installed at all—and dust infiltrated everything. Ah, the glamorous life of a designer showhouse!

Three months earlier, an email invitation went out to a crowd of decorators who rushed to put dibs on specific rooms. As the benefit charity for this event made profound sense to me (my mother having been a breast cancer survivor), I enthusiastically threw my hat in.

However, at that time, I was sequestered on a job site in the Swedish archipelago, and I ended up responding late. As a result, I was granted a small darkened space in the upper reaches of the house. Thus, I proceeded to shape both a concept of architectural correction and a warming of the dismal space—then just a skeleton of raw studs and exposed brown paper insulation.

Would it be an office? A playroom? A nursery? A guest room?

The latter won out because I had the perfect four-poster bed and a Swedish wall clock, which was on the high seas at that moment, making its way to New York from Sweden. Midsummer’s solstice would be my holiday (as we all had to have a theme—after all, it is called Holiday House Hamptons).

Once selected to participate in a showhouse, a designer immediately approaches one’s vendors with whom one works. Because the expense to completely furnish a room could be astronomical, the lend-lease program is a must. Beg a carpet here, borrow a lamp there, swipe an accessory from your spouse’s shelf, and so on. It’s these items that often guide the design choice and concept.

With the timeline being extraordinarily short, the designer must commit to a design quickly, pay the showhouse fees and arrange for appropriate insurance. There’s also lining up the fabric house, the curtain maker, the decorative painter, the upholsterer, the antiques dealer, the lamp company, the pillow designer, the lighting company, the carpet purveyor, and most important, the transport company.

Then, of course, the designer must work his magic within the timeline.

Could my carpet, which was comprised of hundreds of creamy rosettes sewn together three-dimensionally arrive from India in time? Could Judy Mulligan, my talented and very busy decorative artist, meet our deadline and oil glaze over Sheetrock walls that were not as yet installed, primed or painted? Could she pull favors at the stencil maker to guarantee that Shakespeare’s words from Puck’s final speech would be cut out in time? These were to be the words I would stencil to redefine the featureless architecture of the room by using “printed moldings.”

Additionally, could the textile company from Germany be able to hand-embroider the fabric for their new collection fast enough to be upholstered on the four-poster with such a short lead time? Could Julia B. manage to have her Italian factory sew the custom-colored and custom-designed bed linens in time?

Then there are the artistic decisions to be made.

Will a four-poster crowd the room? How do I unify the two narrow windows plunked at the far end of a cramped space? How deep should the buttercup yellow oil glaze be—enough to brighten the room but not too saturated to darken the room further? Can I balance the stately refined furnishings with a crazy modern rough-cut wood table and some petrified stumps filled in with a crackled resin? Maybe? Why not?

Often, because of the publicity potential, showhouse designers find that companies will actually approach them to lend or donate products.

In my case, both Christofle and Gracious Home asked me if I could use their products. Well this was super fun—sort of like Christmas and “Supermarket Sweep” all rolled into one—shopping without regard to budget—my oh my! We gathered armloads of pillows, accessories, glassware and silver and shipped them out.

Normally, each of the 30 designers would have their load-in day scheduled over several days. However, despite the noble efforts of the showhouse staff, rain delays set everything back by two weeks, leaving only one day for everyone to install their rooms at the same time.

One small box of Christofle crystal has enough foam peanuts and bubble wrap to flood the floor of a small palace. Now multiply that by 30 designers and their valuables and you get the gist. Very quickly, the inside of the showhouse looked like the pictures we’ve seen too much of lately after a bad storm.

But despite the hurricane of activity, the showhouse successfully survived the installation day. Through much smoke and mirrors, the miracles materialized. At last, all was in place—the trees, hedges, stonework, furnishings, wallpapers, chandeliers, accessories.

Viola! Lights, camera, action!

And after a strong martini, we were all ready to go. So we welcome you to our peaceful and beautiful Holiday House Hamptons showhouse, which runs through July 21.

The Holiday House Hamptons showhouse, presented in partnership with Hamptons Cottages and Gardens, is located at 4 Fair Hills Lane in Bridgehampton. Participating designers include: Ally Coulter Designs, Decor by Guillaume Gentet, Design House, Donna Livingston Design, Duneier Design, Elizabeth Bolognino Interiors, The Design Studio, Farnaz Mansuri, Fawn Galli Interior Design, Huniford Design Studio, Inson Dubois Wood, James Michael Howard, Libby Langdon Interiors, Lynne Scalo, Mabley Handler Interior Design, Marshall Watson Interiors, Richard Mishaan Design, Stephen Burks, Steven Dubner Landscaping, Susan Glick Interiors, Tamara Magel, Thom Filiciak, Timothy Brown Studio and Tracy Anderson Method. Tour hours are Fridays through Mondays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. with evening wine tastings and live music. The showhouse will remain open through Sunday, July 21. Admission is $30 and includes a showhouse journal and cookbook. Proceeds benefit cancer research efforts. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at holidayhousedesignshow.com.

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