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Even before the pandemic, chatter about the value of designer showhouses could be heard throughout the hallowed halls of both decorating firms and their pilot fish—the manufacturers, print, and digital media—and even the general public. Was this convention of high design coming to the end of its useful lifespan? Would there be no more gala previews, inspiring lecture series, or delightful on-site boutiques? And what about the major sponsors like Kohler, The Shade Store, Benjamin Moore, companies that had invested heavily not only in the show houses themselves but also the noble causes that they supported? Were they, too, down for the count?
Covid-19 should have been the knockout punch, but thanks to the perseverance of the most dedicated show house organizers, folks like Kips Bay Decorator Show House's Nazira Handal and San Francisco Decorator Showcase's Thelma Garza and Jenny Bitter, the best show houses not only have continued without missing a beat, they have thrived. Sure, the pandemic has forced modifications to certain aspects of the traditional show house, whether through virtual viewing or tightly limited access, but the beat goes on, bolstered by generous sponsorship and robust media coverage.
As for whether the designer show house itself is a valuable tool for the entire industry, all one has to do is look at the fashion world. While in-person runway presentations haven’t been possible for the last year, all sorts of creative ways to showcase what’s new and what’s next have arisen. And the moment the catwalks can safely return, they undoubtedly will. Because designer show houses are the design world’s equivalent of a fashion show, they, too, will forever be a part of the messaging strategy for those who practice the craft of creating environments that are the stuff of dreams.
The real proof of the value of show houses can be found in the number of designers, especially those who participate in out-of-town events, who not only walk away with new clients but find themselves with enough business in said new jurisdiction to warrant the opening of a satellite studio and/or showroom. In many cases, their investment even includes new residences for themselves.
Here are three outstanding examples of how the Kips Bay Decorator Show House Palm Beach, now in its fourth year, has brought top talent into the Palm Beach mix for more than just the moment.
Meg Braff Designs
This iconic Locust Valley designer, known for her exuberantly irreverent take on traditional East Coast patrician chic, presented an electric citrus-colored fantasy of a bedroom in 2019. It wowed and resulted in new South Florida business—enough to send Braff shopping for a place of business.
Her find, a former printery, will house both a comprehensive design studio and retail showroom. It’s smack dab in the middle of a burgeoning design district strung along the formerly workmanlike Georgia Avenue (West Palm Beach’s doppelganger to LA’s Sepulvada Blvd.) Further proof that Braff sees a future in the Palm Beach market: She and her husband bought that year’s show house and are wintering there now.
A Chicago star known for her lavishly layered rooms exquisitely informed by her Roman roots, designer Alessandra Branca crafted an homage to all things blue and white seen through the lens of traditional Portuguese tile work (which was actually a smashing de Gournay wallpaper) with her 2020 buildout.
No stranger to the Palm Beach scene (she was a great friend of the late fashion legend, Lilly Pulitzer), Alessandra has just opened Casa Branca, a beguiling shop showcasing her exclusive furniture and textile designs, on tony Worth Avenue.
Nashville native Jonathan Savage was mentored by the late Albert Hadley. After several years in New York, he returned home to open his own practice. There, he became well-known for creating dramatically chic rooms that integrated fine contemporary art and cutting-edge architecture, a rarity in the steeped-in-tradition local vocabulary.
His French West Indies–inspired cabana from the 2020 Show House, complete with a pair of mirrors originally designed by Bill Sofield for Tom Ford’s New York boutique, resulted in three significant Palm Beach commissions. Following the onslaught of new work, he and his partner, Brad Wensel, the chief customer officer of a healthcare software company, couldn’t resist acquiring a Palm Beach base of operations in a spectacular midcentury modern building with mind-bending views of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The 2021 Kips Bay Palm Beach Decorator Show House opens to the public April 8 with an Opening Day Preview Reception on April 7. In-person and virtual tours will be available through May 9, with all proceeds going to support Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club in the Bronx, New York, and Kips Bay Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County. Tickets are on sale now for both admission and the reception.
Special thanks to the 2021 Kips Bay Decorator Show House Palm Beach sponsors, which include: Benjamin Moore; Bentwood Luxury Kitchens; Cosentino; Currey & Company; Fabricut; Kohler; Monogram Appliances; New Moon Rugs; New York Design Center; Perennials and Sutherland, LLC.; Susan's Jewelry; The Colony Hotel; The Container Store; The Shade Store; and Willoughby Construction.
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