For the past several years, a trend toward traditionalism has defined New York’s Kips Bay Decorator Show House, the nonpareil of designer showhouses that each year raises money and awareness for the trailblazing Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club. Recent iterations have evidenced a certain theatrical, romantic style — call it maximalist classicism — that referenced the work of Tony Duquette or Renzo Mongiardino. But now, with those pyrotechnics out of their system, participating designers’ penchant for tradition has settled into something more grounded in time-tested architectural details and old-world craft — eglomise, in particular, is enjoying a new vogue.
Many rooms of this year’s showhouse — occupying a double-wide Georgian townhouse on East 74th Street, designed in 1920 by D. & J. Jardine and once owned by George Whitney, as well as, later, by Dorothy Hearst Paley — also feature labor-intensive wall treatments and spectacular lighting. With few exceptions, rich color palettes prevail.
There are too many spaces to cover comprehensively, but here are a number of our favorites, from the top of the five-story structure to its garden level.
Robert Passal, partnering with Daniel Kahan Architecture, offers a subdued yet sensuously chic look in his living room (above). One barely notices the low ceiling, thanks to the subtly classical interior envelope of white-painted paneling, cornice and overscale ceiling frieze, punctuated by an Art Deco chandelier from Newel. The curvaceous, feminine forms of pieces like a pink silk-velvet sofa with fur throw, Deco bergeres from Karl Kemp and a voluptuous custom tufted armchair are balanced by more masculine materials: the bronze of an Angela Brown coffee table and handsome circa 1963 mahogany Maison Leleu bookcases from Maison Gerard.
It’s easy to almost miss the narrow set of steps that leads from this level to Young Huh’s artist’s garret — actually a penthouse space above part of the fifth floor. Young enveloped the stairwell, as well as the garret, in Fromental’s lush, graphically upsized Braque wallcovering. Many designers might have surrendered to the pattern’s impact by pairing it with clean-lined furnishings and muted fabrics. Not Young, who worked with consultant Cynthia Byrnes Contemporary Art to fill the walls and an adjustable easel from Maison Gerard with equally strong artworks. Plaster chandeliers (a three-tiered version and a smaller Stephen Antonson one from Liz O’Brien) illuminate the designer’s own French chair and duchesse brisée, a marble-topped table from Bardin Palomo Home and a Turkish-style corner sectional.
Like Passal, Sarah Bartholomew used architectural elements — and white — to transform her space: a small dark room that has become a serenely elegant woman’s study. Fluted plaster wall panels play up its height, their white-lime paint mitigating its petite size. Artworks like Robert Motherwell abstracts from Marlborough Gallery, mixed-media pieces from Gerald Bland and a scribbly Karina Gentinetta painting from L’Art de Vivre provide plenty of distraction. A custom daybed anchors the space, flanked by a marble mantel from Chesneys and an ebonized Louis XVI desk from Newel.
To enter Jennifer Cohler Mason’s moodily sophisticated sitting room, visitors pass through a vestibule whose custom Paul Evans–inspired wall painting announces that tradition will not reign here. The palette of the main space plunders the jewelry box — amber for the console lamps and a Todd Merrill Studio channel-tufted Racetrack sofa; sapphire for the Karl Springer Soufflé ottomans; and amethyst, plus more amber and sapphire, for a banquette’s toss pillows — while artworks by Robert Longo, Donald Sultan and Manolo Valdés inject some blue-chip muscle. An eglomise mirror hangs over the fireplace, and at the center of it all, a trio of Ghirò Studio tables sits under an arresting bronze-and-quartz Markus Haase Circlet chandelier from Todd Merrill Studio.
Saturated tones reappear in Pappas Miron Design’s sitting room and bath (below), whose rich furnishings and objects show off handcrafted materials and forms. Teal upholstery reaching not quite to the ceiling presents a vivid contrast to a superb handwoven Bakshaish carpet from Avery & Dash Collections, and Scandinavian ceramics huddle together on a burl dining table from VN Vintage & Modern. Across the room, a tufted chair from 145 Antiques boasts extravagant bullion fringe as the metalwork of a Silas Seandel coffee table converses with Cristobal Morales’s disc-shaped assemblages of found metal objects.
Like Bartholomew, Studio DB’s Damian and Britt Zunino faced the challenge of a tiny room — the former staff apartment. The pair thumbed their noses at the diminutive square footage, painting the space a deep forest green and applying an enormously scaled interpretation of wallpaper from a Beverly Hills house once occupied by Marlene Dietrich (executed by de Gournay). A custom L-shaped sofa that can double as a bed stands at one end of the room, a custom bar-vanity and bath at the other, and a Gregory Nangle mirror for Wexler Gallery hangs over another mantelpiece from Chesneys in between.
Paloma Contreras presents another of several woman’s studies in the house, picking up on the existing architectural details of built-in bookcases below eglomise panels. Against a mainly white background — relieved by some de Gournay Japanism here and there — Contreras deploys full-bodied tones: midnight blue in a settee and citrine yellows in the chairs and curtains. The uncluttered array of furnishings includes a Maison Baguès cocktail table and Louis XVI–style bureau plat, both from Elizabeth Pash; a faceted crystal ceiling light from L’Antiquaire; and an ebonized Directoire commode from Gerald Bland.
In the bedroom next door (below), Peter Pennoyer Architects‘ director of interior design Alice Engel also worked in blue and citrine. The gray of the Schumacher fabric used on the walls causes the yellow accents to pop brightly, especially from underneath the bed canopy. Among the many custom furnishings are notable vintage items, such as a mahogany French bureau plat from Newel; busts on pedestals from Gerald Bland; and a Cristal Arte mirror, lion candleholders and Scandinavian bud vase, all from Bernd Goeckler. A pair of playful floor lamps by Roberto Giulio Rida adds insouciance to an otherwise traditional room.
Eve Robinson goes even further against the general traditional grain in her woman’s study, distinguished by its tranquil, dreamy palette of lilac and the palest of grays and blues, as well as its dramatic Jeff Zimmerman pendant from R & Company. Robinson pairs the curves of a desk and settee of her own design with Gianfranco Frattini armchairs for Cassina, sourced from Donzella, and a Pierre Yovanovitch Frog chair. Eglomise makes another glamorous appearance here, on the gold-splashed-white floor-to-ceiling fireplace surround.
Two showstopper rooms dominate this level. The most expansive is a grandly proportioned salon (below) that Jeff Lincoln has turned into a living gallery of furniture and lighting by important contemporary artist-designers. Flora and fauna have taken over one end of the room, with the Campana Brothers’ furry Bolotas chair and sofa, a fish seemingly jumping out of an Imaginary Geographies Manufactured Landscapes coffee table and Nendo’s Cabbage chair, all from Friedman Benda. In the center, a Zimmerman Vine chandelier from R & Company swoops down from the ceiling, while at the other end, Rogan Gregory’s Fertility Form standing lamp, also from R & Company, looms over another seating arrangement.
The young design partners of Cullman & Kravis Associates have created a dining room (below) of polish and drama, qualities that owe much to the wall treatment. Hundreds of 24-karat-gold-covered porcelain drops by Dougall Paulson, hand applied to the deep-blue, gold-flecked lacquer walls and mirrored fireplace surround, create the impression of gold coins raining down around the dining table and curved benches. Maison Gerard provided the massive Maison Leleu sideboard, while Roberto Giulio Rida floor lamps from L’Art de Vivre illuminate a pair of mid-century armchairs from Bernd Goeckler. Overhead, the custom bronze and Murano glass Charles Burnand light fixture appears to be shattering into pieces.
Finally, on the ground floor, Gluckstein Design’s three-floor-long lighting fixture of 4,000 brass cherry blossoms spills through the stairwell into the blue entry gallery. Designed by Richard Rabel Interiors + Art, the space was inspired by James McNeill Whistler’s famed Peacock Room, although it can take a minute to recognize the elaborate MJ Atelier blue-and-gold wall treatment as an abstract version of the eponymous bird, complete with crest. (With its contemporized Gilded Age splendor, it matches in bravura, if not design idiom, the Memphis 1980s insouciance of Sasha Bikoff’s stair hall last year) This partially encircles a 1945 room screen by André Ducaroy and an armchair and ottoman by Achille Salvagni, both from Maison Gerard.
To one side of the stairs is the Salon des Chiens (below), a receiving room that Sheila Bridges has reimagined as a space for the dog walker, endowing it with a powerful message. In additional to traditional canine portraits, Bridges has unearthed archival photos showing various breeds as players in uncomfortable, racially charged situations: Martin Luther King in a police car with a German shepherd, police using a dog to subdue a black man on the street. Perhaps most affecting is a work from Fabiola Jean-Louis’s “Rewriting History” series: a Thomas Gainsborough–like portrait of a black woman and her dog set against a reworking of a 1632 painting by Christian van Couwenbergh in which white men are assaulting a black woman.
Across the entry gallery, Vicente Wolf plumbed the depths of his 1stdibs storefront, VW Home, to create a bathing/lounging area, complete with a tub by Kohler and aubergine walls and pouf (the color, he insists, is coming back). Epitomizing Wolf’s signature global style, an 18th-century bodhisattva overlooks the scene from a pedestal, marble vessels crowd around a 1940s bust of a woman atop an inlaid Indian chest of drawers, and the tub tucks under an 18th-century Chinese console. Wolf also incorporated some interesting tricks to add interest and a touch of the unexpected — uplighting the lacquered walls to brighten the potentially dark space, for instance, and hanging art off-center on the mantel.
It is precisely this sort of creative thinking that has distinguished the Kips Bay Show House for so many years. The best of the installations demonstrate the power of unrestrained imagination, with designers given free rein to experiment with ideas for living, absent the constraints of a client’s personal tastes. Such displays are what draw an average of 15,000 visitors annually to the event. But even more important than the stage the showhouse provides for design masters is the money it raises to support some 10,000 disadvantaged New York City children, mostly between 6 and 18 years old, through after-school enrichment programs sponsored by the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club.