We like decorator show houses for many of the same reasons we like hotels. The best show house rooms are fantasy rooms, a designer’s vision for an imaginary occupant. When a designer gets it right, you’re transported to another world where you can try on a different life, albeit fleetingly, just as you do in an evocative hotel room.
Not every show house is filled with magical rooms, but Kips Bay, currently in its 39th year, does better than most. Still, magic is elusive. Most rooms in this year’s manse, an 1870 East Side townhouse whose occupants included Maurice Brill, owner of the famed Brill Building, and John Hay (Jock) Whitney, owner of The New York Herald Tribune, seemed more about decorating ca. 2011 than the stage craft that launches mind travel.
In other words, we stayed put in 21st-century New York but came away with a slew of decorating ideas. In the spirit of news you can use, here are five trendlets to steal:
+ Put up an easel In a house with 21 rooms and spaces, four contained artworks displayed on easels. But these weren’t paint-smeared artist’s easels. A dulled brass easel showcased a painting by the bed in designer Amanda Nisbet’s edgy/exuberant hot-pink bedroom. The gorgeous polished chrome easel in designer Campion Platt’s worldly library (left) echoed the lines of an Eileen Gray side table. And a handsome, dulled brass easel outfitted with a light showed up in designer Robert Stillin’s contemporary sitting room and designer Richard Mishaan’s sleekly traditional sitting room. An easel is a decorating two-fer, doubling as sculpture while showering attention on the art it displays. It fits into a tight corner with less bulk than a cabinet or side table. You don’t need to hammer a nail in a wall to show off an artwork. And if Kips Bay is any indication, easels have never been better looking.
+ Fringe Benefits A tufted sofa with expansive curved arms in designer Celerie Kemble’s fanciful library (left) proved an eye-catching antidote to decorating’s stern mid-century mod-inflected zeitgeist . Besides a cleaned up Neo-Victorian vibe (it’s white, not oxblood red), the sofa boasted a fringed skirt. But the fringe alternated with beaded tassels; instead of fussy, the effect was witty and contemporary, not your grandmother’s fringed sofa. In other words, a decorative detail properly wielded almost never goes out of style.
+ Whip up a Clifford Still Can’t find – or afford – the real thing, be it a Damien Hirst or a Fernando Botero? Take a tip from Richard Mishaan. His enormous, fabric-walled sitting room features examples by both artists along with a set of wildly Victorian mirrors and Murano glass chandeliers. And the pair of Abstract Expressionist canvases flanking a large wood-framed mirror of the same dimensions? Mishaan painted them himself in two weekends (left). They’re “whatever you want them to be,” he told The New York Times. “It’s more about the vibe it gives your room.”
+ Choose a theme Themed rooms are a show house staple. But do you want to live with one 365? Your call. Our choice for Most Meticulously Developed Theme was the Stereo Lounge, a cool guy pad by designer Brad Ford (left). This ode to vinyl featured decorative speakers marching along the wood-slat walls like creamy portals and an enviable collection of jacketed records on a raw wood shelf. The massive wood-slab table in the center boasted a working turntable in the center — a turntable table, in other words. It was custom built by SoHo furniture designer BDDW, whose showroom is next to the new Mondrian SoHo (couldn’t resist a hotel reference).
+ Small space, big statement Not every house boasts a stair landing, but those decorated by designer Wayne Nathan (main and second floors) and sister designers Janet Rauber and Carolina Rauber (third and fourth floors) offered turorials in how to make small spaces sensational. Working with Aakash Nihalani, a Brooklyn street artist known for 3-D installations, designer Wayne Nathan cooked up a 60s-inspired backdrop with a round hot-pink patent leather table and Pan Am blue walls scattered with Nihalani’s cut-outs (left).
+ Rauber + Rauber looked to the Ballet Russe and Russian artist Leon Bakst for the boldly patterned black and gold fabric that swirled up the walls like pirouetting dancers (left). Against a curved staircase painted black – and an under-stair painted gold – they grouped towering gold finials like outsize chess pieces. We can’t imagine this look transplanted to our apartment, but it might just work in the right hotel.
The Kips Bay Decorator Show House is open through May 26 at 163 East 63rd Street.