Published: July 28, 2020
The design world was not exempt from the closures imposed by the pandemic and when various designer showhouses were canceled, 1stdibs, one of the world’s leading online marketplaces for design, art, jewelry and fashion, came up with an alternative opportunity for interior designers to flex their creative muscles. The 1stdibs Virtual Showhouse, which went live on June 28, gave ten interior designers the opportunity to redesign a room of their choosing — historic, iconic or personally resonant — any way they chose. The one caveat: they had to primarily deploy furniture, objects and art found on the website. The participants included Sara Bengur Interiors, Sheltonmindel, Romanek Design Studio, Gil Melott of Studio 6F, Solís Betancourt & Sherril, Nicole Fuller Interiors, Peter Mikic Interiors, Suzy Hoodless, Jayne Design Studio and Courtney McLeod of Right Meets Left Interior Design. We caught up with Anthony Barzilay Freund, 1stdibs’ editorial director and one of the chief architects behind the showhouse, to walk us through how it came to be, the response it has generated and to give us a tour of one or two of the rooms he liked most.
Tell me about the Virtual Showhouse.
First off, it’s not really a house, per se, but more a series of wonderful rooms. It’s an ideal house — there’s not a bad room in the bunch, which is not usually the case with a bricks-and-mortar showhouse, where someone inevitably is tasked with redecorating a mudroom or cramped butler’s pantry. We reached out to ten designers and said “What room have you always fantasized about getting your hands on; what space in the popular consciousness do you think you could update?” I was almost as interested in seeing the room each picked as I was in seeing how he or she transformed it — we were trying to capture the designer’s creative process from start to finish and I think that’s what makes our editorial story on the showhouse so much fun to read.
What was the inspiration for it?
The last few months have been tough both for interior designers — so many of whom can’t travel, visit museums or tap into their usual sources of inspiration — and for dealers, who’ve had to temporarily shut down their shops during the COVID quarantining. We’ve realized now more than ever we need to provide content that is inspirational, celebratory and shines a bright spotlight on the wonderful breadth of material available on 1stdibs and the talented interior designers who deploy these pieces with particular aplomb.
With so many important design events canceled this spring — the Kips Bay Show House, for example, which generates a lot of interest and gives interior designers a highly visible platform for strutting their stuff — we felt there was an opportunity to create a virtual event that captures some of that type of excitement.
Was it a lot of work for the designers? What’s been involved?
Oh, absolutely. Maybe it wasn’t as hard as doing a room in a real showhouse (the designers didn’t need to contend with shipping delays or a complicated install), but we asked a lot from them — and they rose to the challenge and delivered really compelling designs! Among their to-do tasks was to create mood boards, renderings, videos and a final schematic that was based on the original photograph so readers could easily toggle back and forth between the before and after images. We asked them to “shop” from 1stdibs, to give us a sense of what types of furniture and art they love. And we asked them to sit for Zoom interviews to be used both in the editorial story and for our videos, which we shared across our social platforms. We saw all these things as a way for our readers to better understand the creative process behind great interior design.
How did you select the roster of designers who are creating spaces for the launch?
We have a large network of interior designers who are highly engaged with 1stdibs and members of our “Trade 1st” program, and we interact with them regularly. From that remarkable pool of talent, we came up with the final mix of designers, each of whom has a unique style. This is evidenced by the rooms they selected, which run the gamut from the ancient Roman baths at Pompeii to Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion to Nelson Rockefeller’s Jean-Michel Frank-designed Fifth Avenue living room.
Have they enjoyed the project? What has their response been?
All of them have told us that the project was really fun. It pushed them intellectually and creatively and created a sense of community that has been lacking since the world shut down.
Can you walk us through one or two of the virtual rooms that people have done? What have people responded to most? What was the biggest surprise?
I was fascinated by the creative range of these submissions, from the types of rooms selected, to the different methods for showing their process and decision-making (a skill all designers need to hone when communicating with their clients), to the final renderings of their reimagined spaces.
Brigette Romanek’s approach to the grand Parisian salon that belonged to Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé was to edit out most of the remarkable treasures the duo had collected and displayed there and simplify the palette, to just black and white, with leather-upholstered Pierre Paulin sofas and chairs and a pair of Angelo Mangiarotti Nero Marquina marble coffee tables. Meanwhile, Thomas Jayne and his associate William Cullum filled the largely unfurnished Robert Adam-designed Lansdowne Dining Room, now found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s British Galleries, with a mixture of furniture that includes 1950s Jules Leleu fruitwood chairs upholstered in tapestry, curtains around the Palladian windows based on a Nineteenth Century palampore hanging from India and a comfortable sofa with accompanying bamboo armchairs — this Eighteenth Century dining room is now a Twenty-First Century multifunctional space! While these overhauls might have been considered design sacrilege in real-life, in virtual life they’re wonderful flights of fancy.
Do you have plans for more showhouses in the future?
I would love to do a showhouse again — perhaps with a different focus or theme, and with a new roster of interior designers. The project has received an incredibly positive response from our audience and I think that’s because it hits the 1stdibs sweet spot: beautiful things deployed in beautiful rooms in imaginative ways! Until the next iteration, this inaugural showhouse remains up on our site in perpetuity.
—Madelia Hickman Ring
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