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New York's Kips Bay Show House Is the Beginning of Trends to Come

By Belle Elving
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page H01


The Kips Bay Decorator Show House will be more important after it closes. About 18,000 design enthusiasts are expected to visit the house during the four weeks it is open to the public. Millions more will see it, or glimpses of it, in the months to come, when the ideas floated here start showing up in magazines, coffee-table books, TV home shows and the marketplace.

A simple drop of white linen that dresses a window here could easily do well at Pottery Barn. Dark polished wood floors may begin to replace the lighter stains in builders' model homes. Mirrored beds and tables popular here may be reflected in an upcoming Ballard Design catalogue (Windex sold separately). If a bath vanity covered in dyed sharkskin is not practical for every budget, maybe Formica, the great imitator, will promote a pattern called "Shagreen." Paint companies should be ready for spikes in sales of orange, melon, coral and marmalade. If enough people notice the delicate row of imported silkworm cocoons hand stitched along the edge of a curtain, will G Street Fabrics sell a faux version soon?

In a top-floor office, designers Matthew White and Frank Webb sandwiched their new Intaglio furniture collection between a glowing melon ceiling and coral carpet. (Dale Mincey for The Washington Post)

Kips Bay, invariably bowed to as the premier showcase of American interior design, is a spring fling by decorators whose names often appear in upscale shelter magazines but whose commissions are concentrated mostly among moneyed inhabitants of the Upper East Side, or the Hamptons, or maybe Paris.

The show house, which for 33 years has raised money for the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club in the Bronx, is unapologetically opulent, and why not? Such events stoke the engines of affluence at the highest levels, and set in motion trends that are reinterpreted at lower price points. Trickle-down design.

This year's show is set in a century-old, four-story townhouse reclaimed from years of coffee spills and scuff marks left by ink-stained writers at the New York Observer. The paper decamped to other office space last fall. Behind a relatively understated facade on an Upper East Side block are the soaring ceilings, Venetian plaster walls, burnished woodwork, virtuoso painting techniques and acres of fabrics anyone buying a $25 ticket might expect.

The 20 designers participating this year include London decorator Nina Campbell, who relied on fabrics and wallpapers from her collection for Osborne & Little to exquisitely dress a master bedroom in shades of lavender and cream; Maureen Wilson Footer, who tented a boudoir in blue-and-white mirrored fabric from India; David Barrett, who disorientingly doubled the splendors of his small sitting room with an entire mirrored wall. San Francisco socialite Ann Getty, a first time participant, took this opportunity to promote her old-world-grand-tour furniture collection for Watkins & Fonthill (framed maps, globes, botanicals and an extensive collection of preserved mushrooms).

But among the fantasy spaces are genuinely inventive solutions for real life.

In her bedroom space, Campbell came to terms with inconvenient radiators by hiding them behind knee-high fabric-covered folding screens, turning the unsightly into an asset.

In her lavishly billowed boudoir, Footer cheered up a gaping black fireplace by leaning a mirror against the back wall, positioned to reflect hydrangeas on the hearth. Interestingly, baseboards were mirrored, too, making the walls "float," the designer said.

In the basement kitchen by European Country Kitchens, old plumbing pipes that might have been banished as an eyesore were painted crisp white and used as a pot rack -- the most endearing idea in the room. Nearby, identically framed black-and-white photographs of family gatherings (empty wineglasses, flickering birthday candles, a crumpled napkin) added a sense of people to the perfection.

Colors were exuberant: In a tiny office on the uppermost floor, Matthew White and Frank Webb paired a melon ceiling (Benjamin Moore's Melon Popsicle, No. 2016-50) with a coral carpet. In a vivid green dining room, Keith Irvine and Felicity Wilde of Irvine & Fleming made ceiling molding memorable with a single green pinstripe, painted wall trim a striking black and played chess with black-and-white plastic Ghost chairs by Philippe Starck.

Such events reveal not only what's on the design horizon, but also what may be fading away. After years of ubiquity, there was notably less sisal on the gleaming wood floors. That look got its start here. Could its trickle-down days be numbered?

For more information about the show house, at 54 East 64th St. in New York, call 212-826-2340 or click on www.kipsbay.org.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company