There’s no doubt that showhouses, those once a year swoon-fests that crop up all over the country, make for incredible eye candy. And yet, that’s not all that can be gleaned from these sweet pads. Working within the confines of real historic homes means designers are faced with some seriously tricky situations. From a lack of windows to shoebox-sized dimensions, the challenges (and genius solutions) are real. We asked a handful of designers from our Designer Showhouse Sale to share the ways in which their showhouse rooms challenged them, and how they managed a stylish fix. Ahead, see how pros tackle what just might be some of your most pressing room problems!


Lilac bedroom with metal canopy bed, white blankets, and mirrored dresser
Photo by Emily Followill

A Room With No Architecture

Catherine M. Austin, Southeastern Designer Show House

The Problem in Catherine’s Words: “The room had great proportions, but not much architectural detailing, and one solid wall was 10 feet high by 20 feet long.”

The Fix: An Eye-Catching Wallpaper & Statement Furniture
“I used a beautiful scenic wallpaper from Brunschwig and Fils to cover the expansive walls. A custom king-size canopy bed anchors the room, with larger case pieces and seating areas to fill the corners.”

Nursery with lemon tree wallpaper and drapes and lucite crib
Photo by Christopher Stark

A Room With Low Windows

Dina Bandman, SF Decorator’s Showcase

The Problem in Dina’s Words: “The windows were awkwardly low!”

The Fix: A Dramatic Curtain
“Obviously changing out the windows was out of the question, so I used optical illusions to make them seem higher. First, we added trim around the window. Second, we used an elaborate goblet pleat valance. It worked!”

Aqua living room with green couch and woven armchairs with bamboo dining chairs.
Photo by Marco Ricca

A Room With Little Natural Light

Amal Kapen, Hampton Designer Showhouse

The Problem in Amal’s Words: “This space was on the lower level and lacked sunlight.”

The Fix: A Light & Breezy Palette
“There is never a substitute for natural light, so I did my best to keep the space light and airy. I  sprinkled my favorite color combination—aqua and green—throughout the space. I also tried to keep the case pieces light or transparent to give the room an airy, breezy Modern Slim Aarons feel.” We added lots of real plants to complement this theme, and I treated the larger surfaces in the room: walls, ceiling and floor with light-colored, natural material textiles.”

Covered outdoor seating area with blue patterned couch and accent chairs with white drum tables
Photo by Mali Azima

A Room With No Walls

Kristin Kong, Atlanta Holiday Home

The Problem in Kristin’s Words:“Our biggest challenge was definitely exposure to the elements and how to layer and gain interest in the space without walls. Typically, we add texture and interest by using wall coverings, art and drapery fabric, but these were not applicable in the outdoor area.”

The Fix: Weather-Proof Materials & Plants
“We were able to overcome the exposure challenges by leveraging wonderful sources who design products that can withstand the elements. Outdoor furnishings and upholsteries are now similar to products you would utilize while designing an indoor space. In fact, we now use many of these durable outdoor products when designing interior spaces for clients who have children and pets. We also brought in a lot of greenery. Plants are a fabulous way to warm up a space.”

Bright sitting room with woven armchair and dining table with metal dining chairs
Photo by Michele Lee Wilson

A Dated Room

Heather Hillard, SF Decorator’s Showcase

The Problem in Heather’s Words: “The existing décor looked as if it had been, shall we say, dropped out of the early 1990s. All of the walls were heavy yellow plaster. There was a fleur-de-lys painted over heavy brick at the fireplace. The gigantic chandeliers were medieval in style, and the floors were bright orange brick.”

The Fix: A Rustic Reno
“We stripped away as much of the faux architectural and decorative detail as possible. Since we wanted the room to feel like a rustic indoor-outdoor space, we removed the brick at the fireplace, including the arched plaster log holders, the decorative vents and grilles on the walls. The brick floor also received a coat of white paint and a fantastic decorative painter, Philippe Grandvoinet applied a light plaster to give the walls a sun dappled appearance. We pictured Alice Waters cooking eggs on a long spoon over the open fire.”

Eclectic bar area with orange walls, graphic orange floor, and framed photos
Photo by Marco Ricca

A Low-Use Room

Mark Addison, Hampton Designer Showhouse

The Problem in Mark’s Words: “In a space that is otherwise used only a pass-through from the kitchen to the dining room, the biggest challenge I faced was creating an energized space that captured guests’ attention and encouraged them to linger.”

The Fix: Turn it into a Visually Interactive Space
“To turn the petite butler’s pantry into highly-functional and entertaining space, I titled it ‘Bar L’Orange’ and took inspiration from my passion for classic cocktails and iconic crystal glassware. I designed a bright orange textile pattern incorporating illustrations found in my book Cocktail Chameleon to create a dynamic wallpaper. The Hermes Orange wall-covering was the ideal backdrop for a portrait collection featuring photography from Cocktail Chameleon as well. The more images in the Cocktail Portrait collection, the more time guests spend in the space ‘sipping up’ the design elements!” 

Office with blue polka-dot wallpaper, glass desk, and brass bookshelf
Photo by David Duncan Livingston

A Tiny Room

Kari McIntosh, SF Decorator’s Showcase

The Problem in Kari’s Words: “This room is actually the master closet and there is a walkway from the bedroom to the bathroom that eats up real estate. The room was essentially 10×10 but felt more like 7×10. Luckily, the ceiling was tall which helped the room feel larger than it was.”

The Fix: Dark Walls & Transparent Furniture
“Counterintuitive, but the deep rich color of the St. Frank Indigo Dots wallpaper helped the walls to recede and made the room feel more open. Special attention was paid to editing furnishings in the room so that the floor plan didn’t feel too cramped. A glass or lucite desk doesn’t take up as much visual space and adds to the open feeling in a room.”

Graphic settee in wall-papered room with standing lamp and pool table
Photo by Alan Berry

An Oversized Room

Eric Haydel, New York Holiday House

The Problem in Eric’s Words: “The greatest challenge of this space was its size and the need to give it a true function. At over 24 feet long, this ground level room would simply just collect dust as another family room or craft space. In this six-floor townhouse there needed to be a reason to come downstairs!”

The Fix: Creating Zones
“We split the room into two! Using the RADG tete-a-tete we made seating accessible on both the lounge side of the room and the gaming area of the room. Further, we used dark finishes on both the left and right side of the rooms, while keeping the molding and ceiling beams white. This contrast connects and expands the visual lines of the space.”

Wood-paneled room with light purple velvet couch and built-in bookshelves
Photo courtesy of Michelle Workman

A Long & Narrow Room

Michelle Workman, The Dallas Designer Showhouse

The Problem in Michelle’s Words: “The room was long and narrow with a lovely window at one end and a fireplace at the other. The space was too long for one seating area, but also not really functionally conducive to two separate areas.”

The Trick: Back-to-Back Sofas
“We solved the problem by ordering two small sofas (only six feet long) from Wesley Hall in the same shape and size and putting them back to back. We upholstered them in different, but harmonious fabrics to keep things interesting. This created the two separate seating areas, but also left us enough space for a beautiful Louis XV-style desk from French Heritage.” 

Bright seating room with curved couch and floating shelves with sheer drapes
Photo courtesy of Mead Quinn

Bonus: A Long & Narrow Room—Take-Two!

Mead Quin, SF Decorator’s Showcase

The Problem in the Mead’s Words: “We had to find a way to create cozy seating around the fireplace, the center of the room, while utilizing each end. We wanted the room to feel cohesive and for the all of it to be usable space.”

The Trick: Small Facing Sofas & Entertaining End Caps
To accomplish this, we used two small custom size Flexform sofas, facing each other across a round coffee table. The sofas were small enough that they did not block the flow from one end of the room to the other, but were big enough to feel generous and comfortable. At each end of the room we set up functional spaces for entertaining, relaxing and enjoying the view.”

Shop the Designer Showhouse Sale >>

Lead photo by Emily Followill


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February 28, 2019

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