Participating in a showhouse can boost your store’s recognition within the design community.
By Marilyn Nason
Showhouses have become an exciting fundraising vehicle in a growing number of U.S. cities, serving as an almost limitless – if somewhat unique – way to “introduce local/regional interior designers’ talents, as well as demonstrate how decorative lamps and lighting fixtures can be artfully integrated with innovative flooring, wall art, furniture, plus outdoor living areas and landscaping. Seeing is believing; homeowners touring these showhouses observe the professional touches in home décor and are often inspired to tweak their own residences regardless of home size, shape, style, and age.
Lighting showrooms that cater to higher-end interior designers have the opportunity to participate in these designer showcases and should make their willingness to get involved in such a project known. If there aren’t any annual showhouses or parade of homes offered in their metro area, lighting showroom owners and managers could create a fundraising charity event from scratch and partner with other home décor businesses in the community. Similarly, many towns – typically those that have a lot of historic homes or luxury estates – host tours with a theme, such as the holidays or summer living, and typically comprised of several homes.
While store displays and vignettes help consumers visualize how lamps and lighting fixtures might look at home, showhouses and parade of homes up the ante and provide truly aspirational settings. Very often, several local interior designers are assigned a room or “lifestyle” to present, each very different from the next. Savvy lighting stores would be wise to tap into as many of these opportunities as possible to reinforce their store as a source for innovative and beautiful products in a broad range of styles.
While these special showhouses over the years have become much-anticipated annual events (i.e. Manhattan’s Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse, Elle Décor’s showhouses in Miami and San Francisco, and The Hollywood Reporter’s showhouse in Los Angeles) only one can boast the undisputed title of the oldest, continuously presented showhouse in the country. And what is even more interesting is that its popularity continues to grow with each passing year.
The Kansas City, Mo.-based Symphony Alliance coordinates the U.S.’ longest-running continuous fundraising showhouse, which celebrated its 44th edition in 43 years (they ambitiously and successfully did two houses in 1989 on the same property). The 2013 Bent-Ward Showhouse – a property added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 – was previously Showhouse XVI in 1985. Attesting to the success of the Alliance’s efforts as a non-profit fundraising auxiliary for the Kansas City Symphony, the group has raised over $5 million since the event’s inception in 1961.
How does participating in this type of showcase work? For the Bent-Ward fundraiser, interested interior designers tour the house in December and choose a space they’d like to transform. Then they must prepare and submit a design board of their concept to the Showhouse Committee, which then selects the specific designers and their spaces in January.
The design work begins in late January/early February, with the chosen designers creating and outfitting their spaces entirely at their own expense and time. It is during this stage that the interior designers will be researching their lighting choices and looking for opportunities to partner with a lighting resource. Lighting showrooms interested in lending products for a showhouse in their own community should have already contacted the local designers involved in the project by this stage and offer their assistance. Perhaps a store’s lighting designer can help by suggesting appropriate lighting controls, or by brainstorming how to layer the light levels for maximum versatility, utilize the latest technology, or target a specific demographic.
In the case of the Bent-Ward showhouse, there is a “preview weekend” tour in January that typically draws nearly 1,000 visitors. The showhouse officially opens for three to four weeks in mid-April through mid-May.
The final headcount of paying visitors ranges from 8,000 to 10,000, with all funds benefitting the Kansas City Symphony. The opportunity for your store to have such a great number of local consumers viewing lamps and lighting fixtures available from your business becomes priceless advertising.
Behind the Scenes of the 2013 Bent-Ward Showhouse
Admission: $5 for preview tour one weekend in January
Regular Admission: $15 pre-sale through members or selected outlets; $18 at the door
Volunteer Manhours: 6,300
Interior Design Companies Participating: 31
Rooms/Spaces/Landscape/Porches Involved: 43
Student Tours: 344
Boutique Vendors: 39