I’m a fan of decorator show houses for the same reasons I love hotels. The best create rooms with a heady atmosphere where you can step into another world and try on a different life.
And like a cleverly designed hotel, a good show house is jam-packed with decorating ideas ripe for picking.
And while the decorators didn’t have the run of the guest rooms – the hotel was redone last year to the tune of $140 million – they lavished their talents on something far more tempting, the The Mansion on Madison, one of the historic Villard Houses that form the base of the hotel.
Kips Bay, celebrating its 42nd year, is a moveable feast. Two years ago it occupied a pair of condos at The Aldyn, a brute concrete-and-glass skyscraper overlooking the Hudson River (and less romantically, the West Side Highway).
But instead of championing Donald Trump, this year’s setting, devised by the estimable Stanford White, channels Edith Wharton. The ceilings tower. The hallways expand. And there’s enough marble to fill a cathedral (how apt that St. Patrick’s, standing directly across the street, is the building’s landholder).
So on to the show. Here are five bright ideas you can try at home, with a tweak or two – or a decorator.
Divide and conquer A big room needs to be broken into conversation areas, or so says Interior Design 101. But instead of classic (ho hum) sofa-coffee-table-club-chair combos, Juan Montoya of Juan Montoya Design employs a massive custom two-sided sofa and boldly slices his untitled drawing room into two congenial areas. Though constructed from velvets and silks, the sofa is armless – and modern, as elegant and spare, in its way, as the room’s white backdrop.
Lose a closet, gain an alcove Framed by a massive pair of sliding doors, the shiny contents of the closet become the focal point in a snug-but-glamorous study by Villalobos Desio. The 21st-century curiosity closet commands added attention thanks to the designers’ decision to lavish pattern on the ceiling and floor — and envelop the closet with plain dark walls. The surroundings are so eye-catching, you almost don’t notice the room is windowless.
Made in the shade Blanche du Bois knew the power of paper lanterns. So does designer Alexa Hampton of Mark Hampton LLC. Her “Sitting Room Folly” – a wildly fanciful riff on Brighton’s Royal Pavilion – is show house-sumptuous with custom-printed wallpaper, Indo-Saracenic touches on the curtains and fireplace and well-chosen antiques, like the domed birdcage near the window. And illuminating all this exquisitely curated opulence? Two round paper lanterns. Who needs a chandelier?
Make the ceiling shine Two big issues faced designer Gideon Mendelson of Mendelson Group in creating “The Lady’s Lair,” a lavish personal space for a 21st-century woman. He had to connect the two halves of an ungainly L-shaped space. And he had to disguise the access openings in the ceiling. The solution: use thin wood strips to fashion a geometric pattern on the ceiling, and bathe it all in high-gloss white paint. The ceiling becomes a showpiece. And the access squares? I only spotted them after the designer pointed them out.
Tweak the art Washington, D.C. designer Darryl Carter is known to dress his signature white rooms with a mix of contemporary objects and antiques, from the serious to the flea market find. “The Collected Home,” his plush sitting room, reminds us not to take decorating too seriously. Ancestral portraits of a man and a woman gaze out from the wall, each with a slash of white paint covering the mouth. Carter calls them “The Happy Couple.”
Kips Bay Decorator Show House, The Mansion on Madison, 457 Madison Avenue between 50th and 51st Street; 212 755-5733; admission $35. Open daily through May 29th. Photo of Villalobos Desio room by Marco Ricca. All other photos by “timothy bell.”