Just as spring blooms draw out the desire to refresh wardrobes, interiors and gardens, the crispness of fall air and brilliant foliage inspire a sprucing up at home. It's a fabulous time to take stock, indoors and out, with an eye to toward a few strategic seasonal tweaks heading into the holidays.
One way to collect design information is by checking out designer showhouses. These open houses of existing or builder homes, which often benefit charities and may be sponsored by national or city shelter magazines, are an excellent opportunity to see stylish ideas and new materials in the flesh, rather than in print or online. The cool thing about them is that dozens of designers, and even celebrities, are involved -- like Kara Mann, who fashioned a stunning dining room for the Holiday House Hamptons, sponsored by Cottages & Gardens Media Group, this summer. So you'll get a sampling of different flavors, styles and points of view.
While many showhouses take place in the spring, there are a fair number in the fall, as well as special edition house tours such as those focused on cooking or holiday decorating. (Holiday House Soho, for example, which benefits the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, runs from Nov. 17 to Jan. 8 in New York City.)
"Bringing a magazine brand to life has never been more important in today's digital age," says Elizabeth Ralls, editor in chief of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, which sponsored the Southeastern Designer Showhouse & Gardens' grand 20,000-square-foot home in Atlanta this past spring. "It's an authentic extension of our brand -- with trend-worthy cutting-edge content."
Designers like them because "they show off what they can do," says Marsha Raisch, executive editor of Traditional Home magazine, a major showhouse sponsor that features many from all over the country in its magazine.
The standout rooms will spotlight riveting color combinations, dazzling ceilings and floors, outrageous light fixtures and amazing hardware. Unorthodox layouts or furniture pairings are a little bit like set design, with some designers fully intending to shake it up -- because they can.
Some rooms may strike an emotional chord, or even wax nostalgic, though modern is usually well represented. Some ooze elegance or simply scream decadence or Lady Gaga theatrical. Then there are, the take-your-breath-away, drop-dead gorgeous rooms. Others, meanwhile, are masterful in the mixing of materials and elements that just stop you in your tracks, uttering "How clever, why didn't I think of that?" or "I'm not sure I could pull this off ... but wow!"
Literal translations are not necessarily the goal, although some showhouse visitors are so inspired they have been known to recreate an almost line-for-line version in their own homes -- if they can afford it.
Hacking some of the lofty ideas presented in showhouses can be done on a more modest budget. You need to be somewhat of a student of design to shop, but if you know where to go (One Kings Lane? Wayfair? Target?), you might land a reasonable facsimile of that coveted starburst mirror, sheepskin stool or mid-century chest
What ideas can you take home?
Try a feature wall. Victoria Hagan topped a fireplace with a sexy wall in lipstick red lacquer in her Great American Salon at the annual Kips Bay Decorator Show House. For similar impact, you might try a canvas painted red in matte or high gloss, or paint or fresco the wall with a high wax finish for a similar effect. Paloma Contreras chose a beautiful de Gournay hand-painted paper with a taupe ground to set off the iron four-post bed in a room she designed for Traditional Home's Southern Style Now showhouse in New Orleans. Companies like Tempaper (www.tempaper.com) have amazingly sophisticated designs that range from chinoiserie to palm prints. Best of all, it's DIY peel-and-stick.
Get artsy underfoot. The design firm Sawyer/Berson went with a bold, large-scale marble terrazzo floor in its Kips Bay room. Try Flor (www.flor.com) carpet tiles in bold geometrics for a similar effect. They can be arranged as you wish -- and removed easily if you get tired of the look.
Heads up. Suzanne Kasler took the ice blue from her dining room palette for the Southeastern Showhouse & Gardens and painted the ceiling in that shade in a high-gloss finish. Then she used a chunky square molding on the diagonal to frame the chandelier like a piece of jewelry. Try patterned wallpaper or stencils or textures like grass cloth and wovens to lend interest to ceilings.
Play up forgotten spaces. A narrow stairwell wall is prime for glam treatment, like the brass grummet-studded grass cloth paper selected by designer Brian Watford at the Southeastern Showhouse & Gardens.
Re-think. Instead of conventional moldings, Garrow Kedigian re-imagined a lavish French Empire-style salon at Kips Bay by enlisting artist Rajiv Surendra to work some trompe l'oeil magic, using chalk for the treatment on the walls and ceiling.
Mix up those patterns. Parker Kennedy Living is a design team known for eclectic combos of flea market, antique and new -- plus a marvelous mash-up of pattern and color. The group's Southeastern Showhouse bedroom teaming tangy orange and palmy prints is divine -- as is the eclectic pairing of a grass-cloth-covered, nailhead-bordered nightstand topped with a Buddha head lamp.
Target accessories. Especially in neutral, all-white or all-black spaces, color dazzles. A sophisticated bath with black vanity and gold accents is electric with cobalt blue towels hung on a leaning ladder. Ditto for the pop of black-and-white-striped pillows that Barbara Westbrook propped on white-skirted chairs in front of a beautiful, classic white mantel at the Southeastern Showhouse.
Add texture. It's the key to neutral schemes, especially with an organic pairing of tactile fabrics, ceramics and wood, with contrasts like soft-to-the-touch angora and wool with burlap.
When you visit a showhouse, zone in on details you love.
"People who come to showhouses want to see great new ideas," says Marsha Raisch. "Not just something to look at. They may not be able to replicate an entire room, but maybe how (the designer) did the wall treatment. They want to be able to say, 'I can do that.'"
-- Paloma Contreras, 832-509-3967, www.palomacontreras.com
-- Kay Douglass, 404-995-0802, www.southofmarket.biz
-- Groves & Co., 212-929-5221, www.grovesandco.com
-- Victoria Hagan, 212-888-1178, www.victoriahagan.com
-- BD Jeffries, 800-954-3004, www.bdjeffries.com
-- Suzanne Kasler, 404-355-1035, www.suzannekasler.com
-- Parker Kennedy Living, 770-272-7800, www.park erkennedyliving.com
-- Garrow Kedigian, 212-517-8451, www.garrowkedigian.com
-- Amy Morris, 404-389-0628, www.amymorrisinteriors.com
–– Christopher Nutter Designs, 202-744-1923, www.christophernutter.com
-- Eve Robinson, 212-595-0661, www.everobinson.net
-- Sawyer/Berson, 212-244-3055, www.sawyerberson.com
-- Brian Watford, 404-409-5532, www.brianwatford.com
-- Beth Webb, 404-869-6367, www.bethwebb.com
-- Barbara Westbrook, 404-355-9430, www.westbrookinteriors.com
-- Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, www.atlantahomesmag.com
-- Cottages & Gardens, www.cottages-gardens.com
-- Holiday House Soho, www.holidayhousenyc.com
-- Traditional Home, www.traditionalhome.com
(For editorial questions, please contact Clint Hooker at email@example.com.)