The Showcase Must Go On!

By Anh-Minh Le

Applegate Tran Interior’s family/living room from the Decorator Showcase (José Manuel Alorda)

The 2020 San Francisco Decorator Showcase, having weathered unprecedented setbacks for a triumphant opening, welcomes virtual visitors far and wide.

1981, Suzanna Allen had just moved to San Francisco and was working for antiques dealer Ed Hardy, who invited her to join him for the San Francisco Decorator Showcase’s opening party. “It was definitely the thing to do,” she recalls. “I was very impressed; the house was beautifully done.”

Even after retiring from the design industry in 2009, Allen continued to attend the event, not missing a single opening party for nearly four decades. “Meeting the designers, seeing what they’ve done, it’s always so exciting,” she says. “There’s always such a great energy.”

This year, however, the Showcase party was absent from Allen’s — and everybody else’s — social calendar. Because of the pandemic, the newly decorated2020 home is not physically open for parties or tours. For the first time in its 43-year history, the Showcase is a virtual affair — relying on technology to transport design enthusiasts to the 1926 abode in the West Clay Park neighborhood.

For $25, virtual visitors can access a 20-plus-minute video that takes them through the interiors and landscaped grounds, a self-guided 3D interactive tour, and interviews with the more than 20 firms involved in the home’s
transformation. Viewers are greeted by a garden and patio conjured by Terremoto Landscape and, once inside, treated to 6,500 square feet of inspiration and ingenuity.

Martin Young morphed a small bedroom into a sublime multifunctional sitting room — “a catchall for conversation and reflection, focused on shape, geometry and texture,” says Young. The space features Holland & Sherry’s Kurama hand-printed sisal wall covering, a stone etagere, an Ann Gale painting from Dolby Chadwick Gallery, a Mitchell Denburg rug and a tufted daybed covered in Jasper’s Deauville floral pattern. (José Manuel Alorda)

In her nine years as director of operations for the Showcase, which benefits the financial aid program at San Francisco University High School, among the most challenging aspects of Jenny Bittner Borden’s job has been securing the location. For this year’s edition, when she met the homeowners and confirmed the dwelling in summer 2019 — months ahead of the usual schedule — it was an auspicious start.

But COVID-19 has upended the Showcase in previously inconceivable ways. “The hardest part for me and the designers was the unknown,” says Bittner Borden. “I felt horrible that I didn’t have an answer to a lot of their questions: Are we going to do this? Is this still possible? How are we going to move forward? With the Showcase, you’re living in the gray a lot, but especially this year.”

In early March, with the opening slated for late April, “We were on target, for sure,” Bittner Borden notes. Progress on the house then came to an abrupt halt as Bay Area counties were ordered to shelter in place, effective March 17.

It quickly became apparent to Bittner Borden and Thelma Garza, University High School’s director of events and special projects, that the Showcase would not happen in the spring. As the SIP stretched from weeks to months, the opening was pushed to September 5.

While anchored by Tom Faulkner chairs, custom channeled benches, and a pair of tables composed of ash tops by Thomas Fetherston and metal legs by Tuell + Reynolds, Kelly Hohla’s space is designed for more than just dining. With a wall of built-in oak shelving, work and reading — by kids and adults alike — are also encouraged. Overhead, hand-painted Porter Teleo wallpaper and a Gabriel Scott chandelier mesmerize. (John Merkl)

Across the country, show house organizers have had to scramble this year. The Pasadena Showcase House of Design was originally postponed from June before ultimately getting canceled. The 2020 Kips Bay Decorator Show House New York remains indefinitely on hold.

“When we first shut down the house, we didn’t know how long that was going to go on, and that led to some anxiety,” says Garza. “Once we could finish the house, everything began to feel a little more hopeful.”

Garza, who spearheaded the online undertaking, advises this year’s ticket holders to start with the video tour. “The walkthrough gives you the feel and flow of the home,” she explains. “The interactive tour gives you the
opportunity to really drill down. It allows people to go into any of the rooms and turn 360 degrees. They can
zoom in on different things — a table or a wall — and it gives much more detail.”

And there are plenty of details to take in. Linger in Regan Baker Design’s sage-green and marble stunner of a kitchen, where arches serve as a visual through line — a nod to the home’s Mediterranean-style architecture. Keep an eye out for the David Bowie portrait in the family/living room designed by Applegate Tran Interiors. In the lower-level lounge devised by Artistic Designs for Living, pan down and then up to marvel at the yellow
rug featuring geometric lines that are echoed in the motif on the ceiling by artist Elan Evans.

Upstairs, via the DZINE-designed stairwell and landing appointed with botanical art, the sublime gold-accented
walls by artist Caroline Lizarraga in K Interiors’, bedroom and closet are well worth a close-up. Ditto for the colorful tiles, reminiscent of otomi textiles, that Dina Bandman chose for the walls of a bathroom. Anyone considering a kid’s bedroom can find plenty of ideas in the space conjured by Benni Amadi Interiors, where a bed surmounting a built-in by Bermosk Woodworks is set against a dreamy forest scene.

According to Garza, the annual net goal for the Showcase is $600,000; patronage of the opening celebrations, corporate parties, general admission ticket sales and advertising in the program book are the primary revenue sources. Thankfully, last year’s Showcase brought in more than $1 million, and money that exceeds the fundraising goal can be rolled over.

Bittner Borden, who describes herself as the “mother hen of the house” — navigating between the designers, the high school, subcontractors and homeowners — is concerned with more than the bottomline. “One of my biggest goals is keeping the designers happy and giving them the best Showcase experience possible,” she says.

The participating designers in the 2020 SF Decorator Showcase, in front of the West Clay Park residence they transformed. (Dan Valine)

For interior designer Martin Young, who was tapped to reimagine a small bedroom, this is his first Showcase. His concept, which he refers to as a multifunctional sitting room, has proved unexpectedly apropos in the time of coronavirus, as more people are working from home.

With furnishings that include a tufted floral daybed and a vintage mahogany-and-steel Hans Eichenberger writing desk, “It can be a place to read or reflect,”says Young, “or in today’s work-from-home world, break away to deal with email or take a call.” (The room’s Holland & Sherry hand-printed sisal wall covering would make an enviable backdrop for Zoom meetings.)

At the time of the March shutdown, Young was in the midst of completing the high-gloss ceiling in the room and awaiting furniture that was in production, some of which was delayed due to closures worldwide. In the months since, he has “waffled between disappointment and optimism,” he says.

A silver lining, he observes, is the special bond developed among the participating designers owing to this
unique experience. Another part of the optimism, he adds, is the belief that the online endeavor could lead to even broader exposure than years past.

Kelly Hohla — whose dining room marks her firm’s second Showcase effort — concurs, noting that those who reside elsewhere or have reduced mobility can now enjoy the house. “This opens up the potential for more people to buy a ticket, which is good from a fundraising and exposure perspective,” she says.

Hohla views social media as an opportunity for designers to post additional photos and “tell their own stories,” she says. In her space, for example, she wonders if the intricacy of Liza Lou’s hand-beaded artwork will come across in the virtual tours: “Will it just look like a big, burgundy square on the wall? Maybe that’s our job — to talk about things, on Instagram and Facebook, that might be missed.”

Her dining room is anchored by a pair of sculptural tables that combine ash tops by Thomas Fetherston with blackened steel and etched bronze legs by Tuell + Reynolds, surrounded by sinuous Tom Faulkner chairs and custom channeled benches. The furniture can easily be rearranged, yielding a venue that can accommodate a variety of functions. “I wanted to create this cool library/workspace/dining room,” says Hohla, calling attention to the white oak built-in shelves and a window-side settee.

Reflecting on the designers, Garza is overcome with emotion. “We didn’t lose a single designer. They have been gung ho and positive the entire time,” she says, her voice beginning to crack. “I really appreciate their commitment.”

The current plan is for the virtual Showcase to be accessible indefinitely. “The 2020 season is indeed an experiment born out of necessity,” says Garza. “The results will tell us whether we will keep a virtual Showcase tour, in addition to the in-person tour, in future years.”

Allen, the longstanding Showcase attendee, is pleased that it is happening at all. “It’s great that they continued on and did the house,” she says, “and that they’re going to let people see what the designers have done because everyone worked so hard.” She is also optimistic about next year: “I think people will flock to it! I know I will.

What you’ll see

Tickets for the virtual event are $25 and can be purchased at The package includes
tours and interviews with this year’s participating designers.

Gardens and patio: Terremoto Landscape

Nature Always Wins entry: Leap Interior Design

Salle d’Étude dining room: Kelly Hohla Interiors

Modern Mediterranean breakfast nook and kitchen: Regan Baker Design

Azure guest bathroom: Barbra Bright Design

The Sun Down Lounge: Chroma

Random Nature Meets Balanced Geometry family/living room: Applegate Tran Interiors

Raw Simplicity powder room: Studio Ku

Botanicae stairwell and second-floor landing: DZINE

Soak & Spin laundry room: Nest Design Co., Inc.

Listening room and bathroom: Chad Dorsey Design

Principal bedroom and dressing closet: K Interiors

Luxe main bath and Il Armadio: FDG Design Group

Lumber Slumber bedroom: Benni Amadi Interiors

Learning to Fly bathroom: Emily Boulton Interiors

Wabi Sabi Wunderkind bedroom: Sean Leffers Interiors

No Drama Llama bathroom: Dina Bandman Interiors

Silhouettes bedroom: Martin Young Design

Green With Envy lounge and gallery: Jeffrey Neve Interior Design

The Liquid Lounge and Cala Mezcal: Artistic Designs for Living

Wine cellar and bar: Studio Nahemow

Related Articles

Back to top button