Design Viewpoint

Some Thoughts On Show Houses

Some Thoughts On Show Houses
Alan Tanksley’s Salon at this year’s Kips Bay Decorator Show House. The event runs through May 28th at 125 East 65th Street. Tickets and more information on the event’s website. Photo credit: Nickolas Sargent
By Carl J. Dellatore
Carl Dellatore

If my memory serves me correctly, I attended the Kips Bay Decorator Show House in New York for the first time in 1988, and while I can’t remember the designers who participated that year, I vividly recall how awestruck I was. And so short of the pandemic years (and one year I was out of town for work), I have attended every year since.

Each spring, 18 (or so) remarkably talented designers/decorators come together to lavish their creativity on a New York City townhouse supporting the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club with the money raised by ticket sales for those who visit.

I’ve seen many extraordinary rooms and been inspired by an equal number of ideas, from conceptual flights of fancy to bedrooms I would have given anything to sleep in, even if just for one night. One memorable year, I encountered the late Mario Buatta on the street outside the house; after a brief conversation, he invited me to join him for a tour. I will never forget his kindness that day, shepherding this industry newcomer through the Park Avenue home.

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Kit Kemp’s fantastical dining room for the 2024 Kips Bay Decorator Show House. Photo credit: Nickolas Sargent
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Michelle Gershon chose a meditation on black and white for her bar at the 2024 Kips Bay Decorator Show House. Photo credit: Nickolas Sargent
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Decidedly feminine in pink with grey counterpoints defined Shawn Henderson’s bedroom for the 2024 Kips Bay Decorator Show House. Photo credit: Nickolas Sargent

Earlier this month, I was invited to a press-preview visit of this year’s Kips Bay Show House, with Jessica Napp, the Director of Publicity at Rizzoli New York, as my date. And once again, the designers didn’t disappoint. Kit Kemp’s dining room, Michelle Gershon’s bar, and Shawn Henderson’s bedroom were standouts.

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Turning back the clock 25 years: Scott Salvator, for the 1999 Kips Bay Decorator Show House. Photo credit: The New York Times

I remember visiting the event in 1999 when I conversed with decorator Scott Salvator, telling me about the pea-green swag-and-jabot confection he had created for Kips Bay that year, which garnered high praise. I asked him about the importance of participating, and he explained, “Kips Bay is the Academy Awards of the interior design industry. Pulling out all the stops and creating a memorable room can launch a successful career. History proves that to be true.” 

I decided to test that hypothesis by contacting a few designers who recently participated in show houses to get their views. Here is what a few of them had to say.

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Timothy Corrigan’s Family room for the 2023 Kips Bay Decorator Show House. Photo credit: Nickolas Sargent

Timothy Corrigan on the financials: “Design showhouses can be great fun and are a terrific way for younger and up-and-coming design firms to establish themselves in the market. But they take a lot of time away from your core business, and the costs can eat up the entire marketing budget for a year, so an established media partner must be involved with the showhouse to leverage your participation. If you rely only on the people who visit the showhouse to see your work, the cost of your involvement might not cover the cost of time and money. It’s best to go in with a clear understanding of the financials.” 

More Is More Is More Designer Amanda Lantz Photographer Stephen Karlisch 1
Amanda Lantz for the 2019 Kips Bay Decorator Show House in Dallas, Texas. Photo credit Stephen Karlisch

Amanda Lantz, on landing a new client: “Participating in Kips Bay in Dallas has been a true highlight of my career. From a marketing perspective, it added to my portfolio and put my work on a national platform. From a business perspective, one of my best and favorite clients first saw my work at Kips Bay. I’m working on three projects for this family and having so much fun with them! Although doing a showhouse is an extreme investment in time and money, focusing on making your assigned space livable, relatable, and reflective of your personal design aesthetic will be well worth the hard work!  I firmly believe in participating in showhouses to grow your brand and business.”

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Philip MItchell’s sitting room for the 2018 Kips Bay Decorator Show House, which drew inspiration from the life of Lee Radziwill. Photo credit: Nickolas Sargent

On exposure and a book deal, Philip Mitchell said, “I would say the key benefit was the exceptional exposure it provided. By showcasing our work in person, we connected with numerous industry professionals, suppliers, colleagues, and potential clients, allowing them to experience our firm’s work firsthand and to get a sense of our personalities. This alone was an incredible opportunity that you could not get anywhere else. Additionally, we made new relationships with suppliers and showrooms, expanding our network. 

Moreover, the show house offered unparalleled media exposure. With top national and mainstream outlets, magazine editors, digital content creators, and various smaller media platforms in attendance, our firm gained significant visibility and awareness. As a result, we were featured in numerous design magazines, both in print and online. Moreover, the expanded awareness of my firm helped capture Rizzoli’s attention, leading to our book with them.”

Kati Curtis
Designer Kati Curtis tackled the staircase with flair for the 2016 Kips Bay event. Photo credit: Kati Curtis

On the importance of remaining present, Kati Curtis said, “Being chosen as a designer for the Kips Bay Showhouse signifies an esteemed milestone that, in my view, is an essential achievement for any interior design firm. Having the privilege to participate in this event entails a substantial commitment, not just financially but also to dedicating considerable time and resources from you and your team. 

That said, if you are fortunate enough to join this prestigious group, I advise making the most of the opportunity by being present in your space throughout the duration of the show. This allows you to engage with the media and potential clients directly.”

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Ellie Cullman’s celestial dining room for the Kips Bay Decorator Show House. Photo credit Nickolas Sargent

For an industry legend’s perspective, I asked Ellie Cullman of Cullman and Kravis to share her thoughts on the charitable component of show houses. She explained, “Often participation will not bear immediate fruit, but I am always struck by clients that saw one of our past rooms and connected with us years later. And show houses donate proceeds to charity. For example, the Kips Bay show house supports after-school programs for 10,000 children ages 6-16 in the Bronx. So while designers promote their work, they are also doing good.”

As a design journalist and book author, I have one final thought: Designers looking to establish themselves in the age of social media are well served by spending the time, energy, and expense to participate in show houses. 

Documenting the experience with before and after shots, process shots and videos, and plenty of vignette images creates content you can share now and in the future. I’ve discovered many design firms on Instagram, seeing photos of their showroom rooms. Follow me, and I’ll follow you back so I don’t miss your work!

Stay updated on this series author, Carl Dellatore, by following his Instagram. About Carl Dellatore & Associates – provides designers, architects, and creatives with writing, editing, and copyediting services by an established team to effectively reveal your story.