Design House International takes over mansions to stage creative showcases

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 7:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 7:19pm

Last November, an empty room - one of 55 in a sprawling Beverly Hills home - was transformed into a showcase for a top Los Angeles design duo. It was part of a wider project that is a popular template in Los Angeles, and is destined to travel overseas: beautiful heritage houses whose rooms are temporarily taken over for designer showcases.

The Greystone Mansion event, which has run for eight editions, saw 29 Los Angeles-based designers take over various rooms and spaces of the empty mansion, a 1927 estate once lived in by the oil-rich Doheny family, and now owned by the city of Beverly Hills.

But this was the first time that the event featured a theme. For "Titans of Business", the designers were invited to choose a source of inspiration, ranging from Muppets creator Jim Henson to singing superstar Stevie Wonder.

Designer Suzanne Furst, who worked on the library at the mansion with her daughter-in-law, interior designer Estee Stanley, found inspiration by channelling Michael Meldman, a high-profile land developer and philanthropist who owns 17 luxury retreats in Hawaii, California and the Bahamas.

"He believes that preserving the natural characteristics of the land is the most crucial element of any development project," Furst says. To tap into that sensibility, Furst and Stanley infused the space with a "warm and comfortable" feeling.

"We thought it would be interesting to have a mix of contemporary, vintage and mid-century influences, and to put them all together to show what you can do with various elements of design."

Underpinning the pieces were white walls, and bookcases lined with earthy grasscloth. Then Furst and Stanley set to work filling the space with elements that conveyed a sense of rustic elegance, in a neutral setting punctuated with shots of dark red or black.

They added a cream couch, drapes made of a grey linen and jute blend, and a wall of taxidermy heads (antelope and elk) acquired at flea markets in Paris and at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, which give the place a homespun vibe.

Modern sophistication came by way of black velvet and red leather couches, and Christofle bar accessories. There were intriguing touches such as a hookah-style lamp, a vintage game table, a carved Chinese-dragon chair, antique mirrors, fox fur and Moroccan rugs.

Such is the success of heritage house showcases - the month-long Greystone event brought in several thousand people who paid US$42 each to tour the house and grounds - that the organisers are now looking to go international.

"We want to do some across Europe and Asia," says Victoria Reitz, a founding partner of Design House International, which produced the Greystone Mansion showcase.

"It's about finding the right place. We've been offered one in Dubai, and we are talking to someone in London," she says.

Showcases are an appealing way for designers to reach design aficionados keen to see the latest trends. With each room done in a specific way, it is easy to get a quick feel for the aesthetic of the designers.

Designers pay a fee that goes towards marketing, photography and production. Participation yields new business opportunities, in addition to sales of furniture, accessories and fabrics.

"We can show that there is a vast difference in designer styles. We are showcasing the designers as opposed to showcasing the home," Reitz says.

She is now seeking out potential international locations - and says that in Asia, Hong Kong or Singapore would be ideal. But the logistics are challenging, as American designers will have to freight things over and travel to check the work prior to the opening.

"There are restrictions," she says. "But I would think, depending on who we talk to, that we can probably have one up and running somewhere in the world in 18 months."