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April 2012

Designing a Show House

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By Susan Tully, Communications Director

Have you ever wondered exactly how designing for a show house works? Local interior designer and chapter member Camille Saum is a frequent participant and exhibitor in regional show houses and shared her thoughts on the process with us.

If you have never participated in a show house, you are required to submit a portfolio. There is a short amount of time in which to make all necessary decisions: what rooms to bid, how to design the space, where to get the furniture and accessories and how much it will all cost. You can bid on more than one room, but for your first choice you must submit a board with a rendering; fabric choices; colors for walls, trim and ceiling and your choice of floor covering.

As you make all these plans, it is also important to be sure that they can be achieved in a short amount of time if you are awarded the room. For example, this year for the DC Design House, the designers could begin on their awarded room on March 1, and had to have it completed by April 6! Designers have to worry about when their fabric will arrive—will it be in time for the work room to fabricate and get it to the Design House before the deadline? Will the painting contractor be available, the electrician, the floor refinisher... You are very pressed for time and constant follow-through is needed everyday.

Another important consideration is that the designer finances the entire project—you have to be prepared to pay for fabrics, labor, shipping, delivery and installation—everything needed in a typical room. Vendors typically give a break on labor and materials because they receive press coverage as well as the designer. Depending on your relationship with a vendor, they might loan several pieces, which is always a nice break. The items are then available for sale over the course of the show house. Typically, everything does not sell, so the designer can sell it afterward to clients or to people who see the furniture in a publication that covered the room, or hold onto it for personal use.

Despite the pressures, a show house is a wonderful way for a designer to express his or her style and favorite color schemes. It is of great importance when choosing the design plans that it be functional for a client and also appeal to the press, since press articles often bring visitors to the house. The photography of the rooms should be one of the main concerns when selecting a space.

Press day is usually scheduled a few days after completion of the room. Designers should present the press with written material about the room. I believe most designers like to be present in their rooms, at least on the weekends and on Friday afternoons. It is good to talk to the public about how you designed the room, and where you started.

Show houses take a lot of attention, but provide designers with an opportunity to promote their work and attract more clients, while contributing to a good cause!

The Washington DC Design House, which benefits Children's National Medical Center, will be open from April 14 to May 13, 2012 in Spring Valley, Northwest Washington, DC. More information is at
American Society of Interior Designers | WASHINGTON METRO
9 Midhurst Rd.
Silver Spring, MD 20910
T 202 488-4100