Friday, June 7, 2013


Once again the doors of one of the Upper Eastside's more prestigious townhouses was turned over to another group of New York's most acclaimed designers. Hidden behind a dappled sidewalk at 161 East 64th Street lay the suffocating interior of this year's designer show house. I always remember the event referred to as a designer event not the less complimentary "decorator" moniker but due to my advancing age I could be totally wrong and laziness and the inaccessibility of getting on the internet at La Guardia is preventing me from goggling past events to see if I'm right. I'm sure someone out there will correct me if I'm wrong
I just caught the show on the Sunday before it closed, on one of those dead stagnant days in New York when the heat and humidity combine, coating your skin in a fine mossy film with beadlets of sweat dripping off the back of your neck and down your spine. Being so old school I couldn't don a pair of shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt to go to the show house. No, I needed at the very least a pressed dress shirt, appropriate slacks and shoes with socks and laces. Staying on the Westside I thought it would be a short and beautiful walk to cross Central Park over to the show house. I was wrong. About halfway through the park was when the sweat started its short journey from the nap of neck to the crack of my butt but at half way there, there seemed no point in turning back. The prize at the end of the sojourn would be the cool air-conditioning breezing through the five floors of 161 East 64th.
Each step I took toward my goal came slower and slower as I fought my losing battle against the humid air of that Sunday afternoon. When I reached the front door under the dappled shade of decades old trees my resolve remained high. Unfortunately, my whole body wilted when I crossed the threshold into a completely un-air-conditioned reception area. I wanted to turn around but to where? I paid my $35 in sweaty limp bills and decided to reap my revenge by ignoring the no photography signs posted at every turn and on every landing and on I went camera boldly held in hand to photograph the heck out of every room.
I had to hand it to the designers present that day for the event. No one would want to have to spend an afternoon explaining to the ladies who lunch how sorry they were that their Marc Jacob silk blouses might never recover from those embarrassing underarm sweat stains.
Here are some of my favorite rooms if not favorite designers:
Lets start in the kitchen. Christopher Peacock is one the world's premier kitchen designers and this year's installation was no exception.
What he added this time was a known chef who had the unfortunate obligation of having to be the docent for the kitchen on this particularly uncomfortable day. Julie Elkind was the consummate professional walking and talking anyone through all the bells and whistles of the Peacock kitchen.
What I was surprised at was the use of Kitchenaid appliances and Caesarstone countertops. It was nice to see more moderately priced items in what is normally a knock-your-socks-off budgetary approach.
I loved this little powder room by Andrew Suvalsky Designs. It was mid-century provocative without being too Jonathan Adler. It also set the tone for a lot of lacquer walls throughout the townhouse. I was still sneaking around with my camera at this point and the guards were out in full force on the bottom floor. If I had bigger balls I would have taken more details of this tiny jewel.
Niviera Williams Design added this outdoor oasis in the backyard.  The subtle handling of the landscaping along with the minimalist approach to the furniture made a complex design seem simple and tranquil. Who couldn't find a piece of serenity in such a quiet space?
The dining room designed by Kristen McGinnis was a highlight for its inventiveness, its spirit and most of all the graciousness of Kristen who was there sweating away with the rest of us and smiling all the way through it. There is so much to address in this space and unfortunately my little point-and-shoot didn't do it justice.
From the ceiling to the floor each detail went beyond mere object and became poetry in three dimensions. The hanging sculpture by Elliott Hundley made of neon, wood, metal and cork hung from a papered ceiling by Maya Rudolph and then over painted with silver leafing for depth.
But the show-stopper had to be the deconstructed breakfront by Vincent Dubourg. Backed up against these amazing ocean blue lacquered walls. The broken breakfront was more art than buffet. I'm just glad I didn't have to pack this one up after the show came to an end.
Each year there is at least one headliner whose name creates the buzz that brings everyone in. This year, I assume, it was West Coast designer Kathryn Ireland. The irreverent star of Bravo's Million Dollar Designers did anything but an irreverent design in the Master Suite.  This room could only be defined as Traditional with a capital "T". It's the room you want to find on your next holiday to Nantucket. It's old world and charming, totally appropriate for a New York show house but unexpected in the reverse.
Most designers who show at these venues want to appear trendy and on the cutting edge. I think Kathryn has the hutzpah to say to hell with that. I'm going to give you the Master Suite I want to sleep in - like it or leave me alone.
I have to end with someone whose work I have respected every since I first saw her name in one of my favorite shelter magazines. Eve Robinson has had a connection with a mutual friend of ours so we've been able to follow her career a little more closely than some other designers.
We'd never met before so it was a real pleasure to see her battling the heat on that horribly humid Sunday and way up on the fifth floor. After a five-flight journey it was a joy and a surprise to see her and her family lounge that she titled "Modern Family".
Danish Modern in design but mixed with contemporary accents the room had a playful feel appropriate for family fun. Nothing seemed too precious and there was lots of space to move around the way a room meant for a family should be.
I know from experience the work and financial commitment it takes to pull off a room in one of these show houses. I know the word decorator shouldn't make my skin crawl but anyone who has been selected to be a part of the Kips Bay show house should be, with reverence, called a designer.

Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield at Romanoff's Beverly Hills, 1958
Joe Shere, photographer
Represented by Monroe Gallery, Santa Fe

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