Re-designing The Design Show House Event

And these;

It’s that time of year again. Many “designers” participate in their local, usually annual, design show house event. PROFESSIONALINTERIORDESIGNER has lamented on this aspect of our professional public relations effort before. Not to sound like a broken record but each spring the press is literally flooded with pronouncements and advertising promoting the local show house. It is without a doubt one of the profession’s best opportunities to convey its true value to society. A lot of time and effort can be invested in these events and granted many are held as fundraiser events- this is admirable….although does the local symphony count as a viable charity? I digress.

Unfortunately what are usually touted as “designer” show houses with many local prominent “interior designers” showcasing their best, or state of the art “interior design”, are nothing but a mélange of disparate furniture showroom vignettes. Basically the designers, or decorators, are simply throwing paint on the walls, carpet on floors, drapes on the windows and furniture in the space they have been allotted. All venues for these houses are huge mansions that only the 1%’ers could afford so who better to fill all of these rooms?

This is what the public thinks we do. That is sad on so many levels.

Sorry but I am here to say this is not “interior design” it is interior decoration at best and unsustainable temporary decorator showrooms at worst. And given the mish-mash of talent, budget and time I question if it is even good decoration- but then that is part of the draw. People like to see an extreme range of creativity and unaffordable gaudiness seems to sell. There is a voyeuristic quality to these events as well. It is like sneaking in to the rich neighbor’s house down the street and seeing how they live- who doesn’t like that? If HGTV is reading this there is a great new series idea for you. These show house events are chock full of forced stress and drama posing as interior design- how’s that for a free pitch? I digress yet again.

Of course there are exceptions and varying levels of design talent. Some of the general public can take away some inspiration and handy D.I.Y. tips but let’s face it- ultimately this is the Interior Design professions annual Halloween Haunted House event and it is a truly lost opportunity for us to enlighten and educate. Even the show Extreme Home Makeover has more cohesion and attention to a result that improves the lives of the owners. Why can’t we do the same?

Therefore this is PROFESSIONALINTERIORDESIGNER’s annual call for our professional interior design organizations to rethink this entire marketing effort.

Keep the fundraiser focus but maybe emulate the Extreme Home Makeover objective. Don’t just throw a bunch of crap in every nook and cranny of an unsellable monstrosity. Maybe you actually take stuff out to make it more useable. Maybe the owner is aging and the house is just too unmanageable. Or  gee maybe you could take a 10,000 square foot McMansion and divide it into 2 or 3 smaller condo units that are redesigned to accommodate aging in place. This would require a level of expertise that would preclude most interior decorators posing as interior designers. Screw the huge mansion venue all together. Try using a more reasonable venue- you know like one that most of us live in. Maybe you could take some of the new stock of vacant unsellable class “B” spec office space, or a vacant strip mall big box retail venue, and turn it into a viable residence for the elderly or low-income. Maybe we could team up with local contractors to facilitate the construction/remodel work….maybe…..

But then who would want to see that?

Never mind.

P.S. In San Fran it is the “decorators show house” but it is done by “interior designers”- go figure.



5 responses to “Re-designing The Design Show House Event”

  1. Again, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Someone needs to rethink the thinking process… ;->


  2. Why is it that interior decorators want to use the term “interior designer” to identify themselves? Is it because they don’t understand what the word “design” means??? Oh and its funny to call them out if you come face to face with them. 🙂


    1. Ha I am not sure that is a battle we will ever win. Even if we all became REGISTERED Interior Designers, which will not happen in my lifetime, I doubt the nuances will be understood by those who watch HGTV and attend Designer Show Houses. It’s a conundrum those pesky decorators are causing us.


  3. I have found that many shelter magazines to which I subscribe ( Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Traditional Home) now use the term “decorator” much more frequently – perhaps the pressure is working. I was recently a judge to our local charity ( which deals with Womens and Children’s health issues) for the annual Kitchen Walk. We had an assortment of projects, one in a mansion with rich detailing and many dollars spent; but the one that many people liked was in a high rise apartment, done on a budget for a senior who has mobility issues. This truly showcased that design could be done within a budget and done with a universal design for all in mind.
    The idea that showhouses must show extravagant decor is inherent especially since many decorators gain clients from this form of marketing. However, many will include students in one room and the budget for that is minimal, thus showing talent, not just dollars. Most Designer showhouses used to be named Decorator showhouses, but as the profession has evolved, the public also equates the word decorator as one who is less worthy; and thus we have perpetuated our own downfall. We really do need to point out the differences, but without judgement. I call myself a designer, but don’t begrudge the decorators or what they contribute to our overarching profession ( as I refer to them, the Building Arts). Perhaps if we (designers) stop looking down our nose at those (decorators) they would use that name more proudly (Carlton Varney does).


  4. Agreed- Decorators were here before Interior Designers afterall. It is a noble occupation I just wish they would own the term and use it.


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