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Behind the Scenes of the Kips Bay Decorator Show House — Top Interior Designers Reveal What It’s Really Like

Roundtable Discussion Shows How Much the Opportunity Means to These Design Stars

BY // 07.17.21

There were laughs, awe, and surprises as Nazira Handal, director of special events and sponsorships for Kips Bay Decorator Show House, led the discussion at Roche Bobois as part of Texas Design Week Houston.

Joining the roundtable were designers from Kips Bay Decorator Show House Dallas 2020: Doniphan Moore and Chad Dorsey, both from Dallas, and Lauren Rottet and Margaret Naeve from Houston.

“Kips Bay not only focuses on the design community, but it is also game changing for the designers,” Handal told the standing room only gathering. “I think most designers will agree that when you have the honor to do Kips Bay, it’s like getting an Oscar.”

The show house fundraiser for Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club in New York was founded in 1973. In 2017, the show house expanded to Palm Beach and, the year 2020 saw the show house introduced in Dallas.

The burning question among interior designers and design enthusiasts in the audience: How do you garner a room in the show house? The process begins, Handal said, with the presentation of a portfolio that shows the selection committee what the designer has to offer.

“We go through all the portfolios and make sure that we are picking designers based on their work,” she said. “We select the designers, and then we assign the rooms via a lottery process. We’re looking for all different types of designers. We’re looking for people that put great rooms together, great rooms that are very professional.

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“Designers that know their identity and style, I think, is the most important thing. You want to be true to yourself. . . It’s an opportunity to showcase who you really are. You are the client. This is the only time you won’t have a client to inform your design.”

The selection committee is open to the full spectrum of styles — modern, traditional and everything in between — and participants are selected from across a wide designer landscape, with entries coming from across the United States as well as from Canada and Europe. The 2020 show houses, however, were something of an exception due to COVID travel limitations.

Show House Challenges

The biggest challenge for designers, the roundtable participants agreed, is the short fuse on the project: A show house usually opens its doors about 10 weeks after the designers are selected.

“At first, I was really freaked out. How was I going to make this space memorable?” Naeve said of the hallway and powder room that were her draw. “We had to do a bathroom within 10 weeks, dealing with contractors and meeting deadlines — and things that you never run into.

“I don’t care how good you are as a designer. It’s tough to come up with something really good that fast. My advice to someone who is doing this is: Commit to your plan immediately. Go for it.”

Moore recalled that his 1,200-square-foot space — encompassing an octagon-shaped bathroom with a gilded dome, coffee bar, and his and hers closets — was “a true Texas mess.”

He quipped that he suffered PTSD after the project, but it was worth every penny. “It’s very exhilarating,” he said. “It’s a challenge. At the end of the day, you hope it’s game changing. In my case, it is career changing. It does have an impact, a big one.”

Rottet embraced “the daunting task of doing the master staircase and entrance hall, a very traffic-heavy area.” The architect/designer approached the project as a nod to Southern gardens. “I felt like this was the palette cleanser — the edge of the woods,” she said.

KipsBay_Dau3_0444-COMP (Photo by Stephen Karlisch)
Lauren Rottet’s master staircase and entry hall for the 2020 Kips Bay Decorator Show House Dallas. (Photo Stephen Karlisch)

Dorsey, design committee vice chair, was involved in the house selection and considered the kitchen the least workable space. “A kitchen this large felt abnormal and just Texas-sized,” he said. Surprise: His draw from the lottery was the kitchen.

“Being on the committee, I felt it was important for us to convey Texas in a really positive national light,” he said. “We wanted it to be Texas hospitality, but also to have spaces that everyone appreciated.”

For the kitchen’s backstory, he considered fictitious clients who were world travelers. The main kitchen was inspired by yacht design, with large-scale entertaining in mind. To one side, he created a prep kitchen inspired by an English scullery.

Moore perhaps summed up the Kips Bay experience the best. “The moment I found out that I had this opportunity, I cried,” he said. “And, of course, I cried every night after that. I paid bills until February. . . It was the only thing I did fun last year. And it was really fun.”

The design crowd, welcomed by Roche Bobois’ Adriana Gonzalez, included Stuart Rae, Lauren Wills, Megan Hotze, Stephanie Boles, Mary Lambrakos, Maria Tracy, Stacy Graubart, Courtnay Tartt Elias, Laurence Cartledge, Bonnie Likover, Adam Cook, Marjorie Partin, Rasha Nasreddin, Karen Pulaski, and Yesely Love.

TXDW sponsors: Roche Bobois, New Orleans Auction Galleries, Monogram, Porcelanosa, The Shade Store, Alto, K&N, and Swiggard Creative.

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