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2013 Kips Bay Decorator Show House--A Study in Contrasts

When a designer does a show house, presumably it's to showcase his or her work to attract new clients. I mean, that's why I do it.

But at this year's Kips Bay Decorator Show House, I had to ask myself, Why? In New York, with its concentration of design talent and hodge-podge of artistic tastes, arguably some designers might choose to make a statement that wouldn't jive with most real clients. I get that. Drama is expected. But shock value? In two instances, the designs felt more thematic and avant garde than showcases of the designers' work.

This was Kristen McGinniss' first show house. Her dining room occupied prime real estate on the second floor adjacent to Gomez Associates' Drawing Room. My first impression was that there was a deconstructivist theme going on: the chandelier a.k.a. "Hanging Sculpture", a piece by the artist Elliott Hundley, consisted of an assemblage of driftwood, string, moss and neon. And the double buffet by French artist Vincent Dubourg was derivative of Frank Gehry's groundbreaking Santa Monica home, a harbinger of the deconstructivist movement.

    

                                Vincent Dubourg's piece in the dining room by Kristin McGinnis Design

Donning my interior design educator's hat, I would criticize this room for its misuse of scale and unity. The design exists in the room's perimeter: its perfectly lacquered blue walls and floor to ceiling chartreuse silk drapery panels are a study in the use (although some might say misuse) of color, light and texture. The buffet acts as a focus. Graphic paintings fill voids on the walls and provide some commonality for the eye to follow. But the heart of the room, its center, lacks girth, and I just can't reconcile all of the discordant pieces.

                           

                                           Photograph by Timothy Bell courtesy of Architectural Digest*

Similarly, Sara Story's Sitting Room and adjacent bathroom, entitled "Bamboo Story", was more an art installation than the designer's stylistic interpretation of the space. She described the room as "a composition of form and color that invites viewers' heightened reflection through dynamic optical effects." And indeed it did. Various black and white geometries arrayed the floor, walls and furnishings. A pair of sofas representing the planes of cubist paintings anchored the room's center, and reflected infinitely in a mirror-finish lacquered lilac ceiling. The adjacent bathroom's checkerboard tile intensified these "dynamic optical effects," making me dizzy.

    

                                                Photograph by Trevor Tondro courtesy of The New York Times*

                               

                                                Photograph by Trevor Tondro courtesy of The New York Times*

I'll give it to Ms. Story for creating a buzz. When I saw the room, I had no idea that her intention was anything but decorative. But in doing some research for this post, I read that Ms. Story intended the room to reflect her state of mind: “It’s all my insecurities about my work . . . I just wanted to be real and genuine. To talk about design and not decoration, and how do you get there, and how do you know when it is enough?” I get her point, but I can't see using this show house as the vehicle to express it.

Next, a look at some of the Show House spaces that interior design educators (like me) can hang their hats on.

*When I was photographing the show house, my camera was inadvertantly set to a view that narrowly scaled my pictures. To represent these rooms in proper scale, I've used professional photographs, giving credit to the photographers and publications in which they appeared.