Bryan Siranaula is led to East Hampton Town Justice Court. JON WINKLER
Movers struggle with a heavy chest of drawers at this year's Hampton Designer Showhouse. STEVEN STOLMAN
Developer Frank Bodenchak on site at this year's Hampton Designer Showhouse. STEVEN STOLMAN
Painters apply a final coat to the soaring entrance hall of this year's Hampton Designer Showhouse. STEVEN STOLMn
Steven Stolman== 2016 Hampton Designer Showhouse Gala Preview Cocktail Party == 1597 Noyac Path, Sag Harbor, NY== July 23, 2016== ©Patrick McMullan== Photo - Jared Siskin/PMC== ==Steven Stolman
Like dog shows, cat shows and flower shows, designer showhouses have always been a convention of polite society akin to the world of Helen Hokinson’s New Yorker cartoons. Usually mounted by well-meaning matrons for the benefit of a compelling nonprofit organization, they had a structure that was pretty much standard. Organizers would tap their favorite interior designers to each “do” a room of an available empty house, there would be an opening preview gala, admission tickets would be sold, a journal would be printed and maybe there would be a boutique in the home’s garage selling donated decorator castoffs, knickknacks and jellies and jams, all to benefit the deserving recipient.The most renowned of this ilk, New York City’s Kips Bay Decorator Show House, began exactly in this way back in the early 1970s: a group of Park Avenue ladies banding together and just doing it. “It was wonderful,” remembered designer Sandra Nunnerly. “You’d see the DuPont girls in rubber gloves cleaning the loos!”
Now entering its 45th year, the Kips Bay Decorator Show House has evolved into the jewel in the showhouse crown, although it’s been joined by similar efforts in Atlanta (for the Atlanta Symphony), San Francisco (for the University School) and many others. On the East End, the Hampton Designer Showhouse, which now benefits Southampton Hospital, is a perennial fixture. Relative newcomers are Holiday House, an offshoot of the New York City-based organization that benefits the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and the Coastal Living Hamptons Showhouse, which features the work of only one designer but showcases a plethora of manufacturers—a far more blatantly commercial product than a traditional showhouse.
Actually, showhouses are nothing new to the Hamptons. Nearly three decades ago, iconic houses such as “Keewaydin” on Halsey Neck Lane, Ellen and Chuck Scarborough’s “Swan Lawn” and “Red Top Farm” on Wickapogue Road were venues for designer showhouses to benefit the Rogers Memorial Library. The work of décor luminaries such as Gary Crain, Michael DeSantis, Mariette Himes Gomez, Victoria Hagen, Noel Jeffrey and Charlotte Moss was presented to the public amidst great fanfare. There were buoyant opening galas in tents, with seated dinners and dancing, gushingly covered by “The Beachcomber.”
I should know: I was there, laying out toile tablecloths and floral centerpieces with the late Ann Swint, Southampton’s legendary “can-do” gal.
Designer showhouses have come a long way since those charmingly glamorous but decidedly grassroots efforts. Instead of an existing house, showhouses today typically feature new construction and can be an integral part of the developer’s marketing strategy.
“Finding the house is the most challenging part,” admitted Nazira Handal, the petite dynamo who serves as the director of special events and corporate partnerships for the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club. “It is important that we find not only an ideal location, but a beautiful backdrop for our designers,” she said. “This year’s Carlton House Townhouse provided an incomparable blank canvas.”
Indeed, even showhouses mounted by the most distinguished nonprofit organizations will seek major corporate sponsorships and media partners in pursuit of amplifying an undertaking that, in most cases, lasts barely more than a month. For example, Kohler, the global kitchen and bath plumbing fixture company, is providing all seven bathrooms for the upcoming Hampton Designer Showhouse, along with cohosting a dinner for the designers along with presenting sponsor Traditional Home magazine. A number of other design and home building-related companies, such as Pratt & Lambert Paint, Silestone and Circa Lighting, are part of this year’s presentation, along with 27 individual designers or design firms. Shameless self-promoting plug: I will be applying my touch to the small powder room off the foyer.
It is from firsthand experience, therefore, that I can attest that participating in a showhouse is not for the faint of heart nor the frugal. “A budget?” exclaimed the late fashion legend Lilly Pulitzer, “How embarrassing!”
Indeed, one cannot cut corners when building out a showhouse room; for even though it’s a temporary installation, it must endure the scrutiny of a constant parade of onlookers, many of them design professionals. Having served as a lowly docent for several showhouse rooms over the years—it’s called roomsitting—I have overheard some of the nicest people say the nastiest things.
So why do designers do them?
“Showhouses give us a chance to show the interaction of design and construction that can be interpreted in large or small ways by every visitor,” said designer and antiquaire Judy Hadlock, whose firm, Old Town Crossing, has been a frequent participant in the Hampton Designer Showhouse.
They can also act as design laboratories. “I did the big living room in 2003 when it was on Great Plains,” said Alexa Hampton, who continues the design legacy of her late father, the beloved “decorators’ decorator” Mark Hampton. “The furniture that I used became the prototypes for my Hickory Chair line,” she said.
“This will be my second time participating in the Hampton Designer Showhouse,” said Gideon Mendelson, who has also shown at Kips Bay. “It’s such a wonderful event and an even more wonderful cause.”
Tony Manning, the president of the Hampton Designer Showhouse Foundation, said, “Over the past 16 years, the Hampton Designer Showhouse has become one of the most popular events in the Hamptons.” He noted that it was the Hamptons’ first showhouse and now features designers from across the country.
So when the beach stops calling your name, or the golf links have turned their back on you, or you simply want to see something beautiful and be inspired, go visit a showhouse. For the minimal price of a ticket, you’ll leave with a head full of ideas on how to make your own home more livable, more functional or simply more fabulous. Or, it will make you want to move.
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