An all volunteer organization, the Pasadena Showcase House of the Arts has been in existence since 1948 and started the Pasadena Showcase House of Design in 1965 as a way to provide funding for music programs in the Pasadena area. In recent years, many winners of the Pasadena Showcase House Instrumental Competition have gone on to lead successful careers in music, including my personal friend and cellist, Jonathan Karoly, who after winning the competition in 1996 at 22, went on to become the youngest member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he still remains today.
As a violinist with the Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra and later the Pasadena Young Musicians Orchestra in the mid to late 80s, I have personally benefitted from the revenue brought in by the Pasadena Showcase House, and have experienced first hand what an impact their mission has on the community. Many are not aware, but not only is the Pasadena Showcase House the oldest, but it is also the largest and most successful show house in the country, with over 40,000 visitors per year.
The two story 10,433 sq. ft. Monterey Colonial residence, built in 1941, sits on a 1.79 acre lot in the quiet foothill town of Arcadia, 13 miles north of downtown LA and just minutes from the Santa Anita Race Track. It was designed for C. Lawrence Barker, a 3rd generation furniture executive, and his family, by Roland E. Coate, Sr., who is also credited with designing several prominent residences in the Los Angeles area, All Saints Episcopal Church, and Caltech’s Hale Solar Laboratory. It is said that the Barker family loved to entertain while using their residence as a place to showcase the furniture from the family furniture store, Barker Brothers, which at that time was one of the largest furniture retailers in the world. It was not unusual for them to host up to 500 guests at any one of their social functions.
As I pulled up to this year’s Pasadena Showcase House of Design, I felt a sense of déjà-vu. It turns out that feeling was, in fact, because I had been at the same exact location once before, as this year’s house was also featured as the Pasadena Showcase House thirteen years earlier, in 2000.
I made my way up the circular gray cobblestone driveway, through the early morning drizzle and was greeted by the sound of rushing water making its way down a meandering stream that seemed to be carved out of the landscape around it. The sound alone relaxed my senses and prepped me for what I was about to experience once I walked through the doors of the residence.
Entering through the front door, I was immediately “wowed” by the chandelier from Bourgeois Bohème that hung from above, fashioned out of orbs of hand blown French glass in shades of ocean blue, all connected by a gun metal steel frame accented with brass spheres. The soft organic lines of the of the hand blown glass against the contrast of the angular Chippendale pattern on the ceiling provided my eyes with such a treat, since I always love a play on contrasting shapes, materials, colors, or textures. Dolezal Design Group set the tone of what was to come with the neutral color palette accented by the ocean blue color of the chandelier that hung from above. A beautiful selection of complimentary works of art lined the perimeter of the large, open expanse.
Going from room to room, I soon realized that there were several recurring themes throughout the house – all of which contributed to this year’s Showcase House being one of the most cohesive houses I have seen to date. There was a natural flow from one room to another and the designers did an exceptional job in utilizing classical elements of the past and incorporating the same shapes into what is current and trending today.
HONEYCOMB, HEXAGONS, and GEOMETRIC SHAPES
A perfect example of this would be the hexagon pattern in the Chinese Chippendale secretary in the kitchen and the translation of the same hexagon shape into what is currently trending in interior design – the honeycomb pattern, also a key shape recently seen at High Point.
Chinese Chippendale secretary seen in The Kitchen, Saxony Design Build
image via Pasadena Showcase House of Design guide
Given the property’s close proximity to the world famous Santa Anita Race Track, it should be no surprise that horses were also a recurring theme and were seen in paintings, sculptures, and equestrian fittings displayed in several areas throughout the home.
Chinoiserie was seen throughout, but most prominently in The Living Room and The Teenage Girl’s Suite. The pagoda cabinet and the assortment of blanc de chine figurines in The Teenage Girl’s Suite created an elegant space utilizing classic details. However, passing by the Chanel, Bergdorf’s, Cartier, and Gucci shopping bags framed and displayed prominently on the wall and in the dressing area, I thought for a moment that I was in a teenage girl’s bedroom in Beverly Hills, not Pasadena!
The Teenage Girl’s Suite, Tocco Finale
In the living room, the pagoda cabinets, Chinese chow table, the intricately embroidered silk, and vintage wallpaper (which by the way, legend has it was designed by architect Roland E. Coate, Sr. to be hung in the living room in 1941 but was never used) are successfully juxtaposed against the contemporary works of art that adorn the room. Also, note the designer’s use of emerald, Pantone’s 2013 Color of the Year, in the plush drapery and the malachite bar cart in the foreground in the photo below. While many designers tend to over use emerald, especially when it is heralded as the “in” color, designer Maya Williams has gotten it just right.
Pagoda cabinet by Oscar de la Renta for Century Furniture The Living Room, Maya Williams Design
Ahhhh…..the kitchen. 900sq ft. of kitchen, completely outfitted for seamless entertaining. The original footprint of four smaller spaces was used to create one MUCH larger kitchen that was more suitable for the size of the home. Pewter countertops, historical nickel fixtures, handmade tiles from Bali, bleached walnut cabinetry, and the convenience of modern Silestone countertops were brought together to create a kitchen which is begging to be the center of attention at the next social gathering.
Other notable design observations:
•BUSTS – another trend seen recently in High Point, was spotted in several areas throughout the home. A nod to classic antiquity.
•GRASSCLOTH – seemed to be the wall covering of choice. The California lifestyle is all about eliminating the boundaries between the inside and outside and the use of grasscloth in interior design is perhaps our attempt of bringing a part of the outside, in. Grasscloth was seen in a variety of colors and varying textures, some with a metallic finish, which gives off a subtle sheen and is reminiscent of the soft patina seen in the 1940s.
As I walked through the house, I was teased at every window by the view of the garden and pool area. Perhaps the most captivating view of the gardens was that seen from the lounge area leading to the servant’s quarters on the 2nd floor. The herringbone patterned brick deck, the tranquil gardens and pool area and the view of the mountains in the distance is one that I wouldn’t mind waking up to every morning. Just think – if I had been the hired help in this very house in the 1940s, I could have!
Journey’s End (The Guest Suite), Design Details
Finally it was time to go outside. The rain had finally subsided and my fabulous docent, Hunter, and I were going to go outside and become one with nature. The first garden we came across was designed by FormLA Landscaping, whose design consisted of 80% of their plantings being either edible or native to California.
The Pool, a quiet, serene area, reminiscent of elegant outdoor living in the 1940s, is complete with an herb garden stocked with herbs that one would use to concoct a variety of poolside cocktails – how convenient! The area around the pebble finish pool features 8 separate garden groups with the plantation representative of what one would come across strolling along the California beach dunes and includes ornamental grasses and a variety of fragrant plants such as lavender and sage.
Continuing on the tour I was greeted by Jason Lee of Jason Lee Design Studio Inc, who is responsible for designing The Grand Patio. The raised planter houses 3 varieties of Coral Bells, which creates color blocking with the foliage without the use of flowers. When asked about the inspiration behind his design, Lee cited exotic orchid arrangements as the basis of his design. In a typical orchid arrangement, tall, leggy phalaenopsis orchids tower above varying colors and textures of succulents. In this particular design, the tall sycamore trees act as the orchid stems, protruding from a sea of contrasting color and texture. The garden is designed to be viewed from many angles, but my favorite is from the west, where Lee has created a dry river bed out of gravel and broken slate. From this particular location, the sound of the running stream in the background along with the visual of the gravel river bed in front, allows the viewer to capture the experience with both senses.
In addition, Lee utilizes agave, Mexican grass tree, fescue, kangaroo paws – all in dusty blues and grays, which echoes the color palette used inside the house. Again, the designers at work in reflecting the California lifestyle by incorporating what is seen inside, into the outdoors.
Upon exiting the backyard, I bumped into Russel Wightman of LA Farm Hands, the designer of A Place for Reflection, which serves as the main entrance to the backyard. Wightman cited his inspiration for the space he designed as the house itself and that he wanted to create calm and set the tone for the entire yard. Entering from the front, one is greeted by the sound of the water circulating through the steel and concrete fountain. The plant specimens being used are predominantly green and native to the Mediterranean climate, and the area is a contrast in shape and texture, where giant coral bells, fescue, yarrow, and acanthus are used to line the walkway and create a sense of serenity.
A Place for Reflection, LA Farm Hands
The Pasadena Showcase House is definitely not an event to be missed. I have been going since 1986 and always feel refreshed and inspired upon completing the tour. This year in particular, I was impressed by the cohesiveness of the rooms, from the color palette, the use of materials, and the themes running throughout the house.
Some of my favorite spaces:
The College Man’s Suite – I love the play on stripes. Vertical in the bedroom and horizontal in the connecting bath. A wonderful use of tile in the bath and be sure to check out the mirror above the vanity. Absolutely ingenious!
The Teenage Girl’s Suite – the soft lavender/thistle color is so soothing and so current. Stepping foot into the space is like being transported to a 5 star Parisian retreat. Be sure to make note of the chandelier made of iron, rock crystal and draping chains. Très magnifique!
Journey’s End -With a panoramic view of the grounds below and the foothills in the background, one can experience the California lifestyle of blurring the boundary between the indoors and the outdoors.
A Suite Symphony-the former servants’ quarters that now serves as a guest suite. Beautifully appointed with layered color and texture.
If you have not visited the 2013 Pasadena Showcase House, I urge you to do so before May 19, as the pictures I provided do not do the designs justice, and there is much more that I was unable to cover. Tickets may be purchased HERE and vary from $35-$45, depending on the time. Plan to spend a while, as there is a phenomenal restaurant, Sixty Six West with a more upscale menu, or The Santa Anita Pub, for a more relaxed pub atmosphere. No trip to the Showcase House is complete without a stop at The Shops at Showcase, with 22 merchants from around the area featuring a variety of merchandise – something for everyone!
Just as the Pasadena Rose Bowl is the “grandaddy of them all” to college bowl games, the Pasadena Showcase House is the same to show houses throughout the country. The crème de la crème of Showcase Houses.
I hope you enjoyed my tour of this year’s Pasadena Showcase House. Next stop – Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse in NYC in less than two weeks time!