I was invited to participate in a showhouse by The Kaleidoscope Project, which seeks to showcase diverse talent in the creative design industry. Twenty-one BIPOC designers took over the property of the Cornell Inn in Massachusetts to take the dated bed & breakfast into the 21 century. There are four different buildings on the property, and we really transformed them — truly it’s like night and day.
Photos by Frank Frances
I chose to take a small attic bedroom and bath (the bath was so tiny we couldn’t even fit inside to get a photograph) that was charming but a little bit Granny chic (heavy on the Granny). My inspiration was the Ett Hem Hotel in Stockholm which was designed by one of my design idols, Ilse Crawford. The Ett Hem is also a small property that was built as a private residence, and Ilse transformed it into a refined, but pared-back, experience that retains the historic feel of the building but is also modern and chic.
When you decorate a showhouse space, you don’t have a client whose needs and wants dictate the direction of the room, so I like to invent an imaginary client to get my creative process started. For this room, I channeled a writer or artist who needs a getaway to finish the last few chapters or find a renewed sense of inspiration. The property is in the Berkshires, so I wanted it to feel slightly rustic, but in a modern, elevated way.
I covered the walls in a neutral, textural wallpaper by Schumacher and then painted the ceiling a tonal pearlescent color by Benjamin Moore. The bed is a custom piece by Hallman Furniture: The shape of the headboard feels like it could be a vintage wood bed, but it is actually upholstered in a mohair by Schumacher. The sheeting is percale (my go-to is by Casa del Bianco) and there is a chenille duvet folded at the end of the bed for extra warmth and a note of texture. The round side table is by Kravet, and Currey & Company generously donated all of the accessories. The most comfortable mattress that I have ever experienced was generously donated by Saatva. I had my friend, Seattle designer Brian Paquette, do the painting, and I am honored to include his work in this space.
I had the floors refinished and left them feeling a little raw, and went against my usual rules and skipped a rug so they could really add to the rustic feeling of the room. I had the moulding sanded down and painted high-glass black, but specified that the texture of the wood be allowed to show through the paint. In the corner, I included a vintage chair that I have had on hand for several years. I painted the wood frame a bronze color and upholstered it in a cut velvet, also by Schumacher.
The room is small, but I was able to really flex my design muscles and make it feel really special. When the door is closed, the space feels so quiet and relaxing, which is exactly what I was hoping for.
My Tips for Working on a Showhouse
Now that I have a few showhouses under my belt, I’ve worked out some criteria for how they can work for me and be beneficial to my business. First, I only take on projects when I know the labor will be paid for, otherwise, it just doesn’t make financial sense to get involved.
It’s tempting to choose a high-profile (and high square footage) space like the living room or kitchen because it feels like there will be more exposure there. But, I like to choose a smaller space like a bedroom, because it forces me to think creatively to make the space really special and really show what I am capable of.
A showhouse is an opportunity to fully express yourself in a space without restrictions, show what you can do, and put your best foot forward to the client you want to attract. I always make sure I get the photos, and then I take them to an artist and have a painting done of the space. Then, I make calling cards or business cards made with the likeness of the room so that my work lives on beyond the house.