Like Flower Shows, dog shows, garden tours and antiques shows in high school gyms or tents, the decorator show house is a convention of polite society that harkens back to a gentler time, when ladies wore white gloves and men donned hats to the office. Or when people got dressed up for air travel and the theater. These happenings, designed to give interior decorators a platform to showcase their talents and their wares, continues to fascinate and inspire, drawing the oh, so social to their gala openings and general admirers of all things beautiful to their open-to-the-public hours.
For more than four decades, the pinnacle of this convention has been the Kips Bay Decorator Show House in New York City. Started in 1973 by several dedicated supporters of the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club, it’s ironic that something so patrician and refined was born at the very time when interior design was leaving the world of traditional décor in favor of more modern expressions. Gone were velvet-covered sofas and silk damask curtains with tassels and fringe. In their place: mirrored walls, vast expanses of lacquer and acres of shag carpet accented with huge chrome gazelles and paintings of the number “2.” There were conversation pits, “bethrooms” (ridiculous combinations of bed and bath) and undulating platforms sporting chairs shaped like hands—or lips. Let’s just say it was a time.
Early on, the Kips Bay Decorator Show House was very much a grassroots affair. It didn’t matter that the core supporters came from the privileged world of New York high society; everyone just dove in with a kind of “let’s put on a show in the barn” enthusiasm. “You would see one of the DuPonts in rubber gloves cleaning the loos!” remembers designer Sandra Nunnerley.
*Opening image: Designed by Amanda Nisbet, photo by Max Kim Bee, Forty Years of Fabulous: The Kips Bay Decorator Show House by Steven Stolman, Gibbs Smith 2015