How to Participate in a Designer Showcase House

How do you participate in a designer showcase house?  Before I participated in the Pasadena Showcase House this spring, I always questioned how to put my name in the hat to design a room.  I’ve written a lot of blog posts about showcase houses but just now am I realizing that I never asked designers about the entire vetting process. Throughout the entire process of the Pasadena Showcase House, I talked to a lot of people, and their first reaction was always “oh, what a great experience – everything gets paid for by the owner and you can do anything you want, right?” If only. Today’s post is to walk you through the process and demystify what the experience entails because it really is an experience BUT it is also a lot of work and a big financial commitment.  Even though I accomplished what I needed to, it isn’t for everyone, so it is best to know what you are getting yourself into before you even start.

2017 Pasadena Showcase House - how to participate in a designer showcase house

The 2017 Pasadena Showcase House of Design

The process for being considered for each designer showcase house may vary, but I am speaking of my recent experience designing a room for the Pasadena Showcase House – at 53 years, the oldest show house in the country.

The Designer Selection Process

First Steps

Reach out to the show house association to forward your website address or set up an appointment for a portfolio review to be invited to the Designer Walk-Through. Designers are vetted before the walk-through and I can only imagine how many inquiries they receive, and admittedly many may not be ready to tackle on quite a production.  Be aware that the process starts months before the house even opens, so you need to start the process earlier than you might think.  This year’s house opened in mid-April, but the first walk-through was in early October, so keep the timeline in mind when planning.

Talk to designers who have participated in the past and ask them about their experience.  This may help if determining if participating in a designer showcase house is for you.

The Designer Walk-Through

On Designer Walk- Through day, prospective designers are invited to tour the house to submit their ideas. Designers may bring their trades with them to help evaluate the feasibility of designing a space.   For the Pasadena Showcase House, each designer is allowed to submit design concepts for 4 rooms and for each room bid, a sketch and written concept is submitted within 24 hours.  Many designers opt to sketch and submit their ideas on-site, but I opted to submit a simple color rendering, as I know that I best relay my message utilizing visuals.  We were told that we were not allowed to photograph anything – perhaps in respect of the homeowner, so for someone who relies on her camera phone for EVERYTHING,  not being able to take pictures was somewhat of an annoyance, but I made due.

2017 Pasadena Showcase House-Cozy Stylish Chic

I made a visual estimate of the room measurements and sketched the features I knew that I needed to include in my drawing, then went home and put together my sketches.  While initially, I thought I would submit a bid for two rooms, I ultimately decided on submitting a bid for one room – a guest bedroom.

At the entry of the house was an inspiration board with fabrics and colors with this year’s color scheme,  all procured by the interior chair, Jennifer Bevan of Jennifer Bevan Interiors.  We were allowed to use our cameras to snap pictures of the inspiration and colors boards so I quickly snapped a few to help me put together my ideas.


I opted for a neutral palette of cool greys and warm gold tones, and I immediately thought that the the fireplace mantle would be the perfect place for the Sony Life Space UX Portable Ultra Short Throw Projector that I knew I wanted to showcase as I knew a TV was needed but I detest the obtrusive look of a big black screen.

2017 Pasadena Showcase House-Cozy Stylish Chic hand rendering

Two days after submitting my room bid, I was invited back for a second walk-through.  The room that I had bid on was being turned into a media room, so I was shifted to the adjacent room, while still utilizing the same design concept.  I had also looked at the same room that I would ultimately design during the walk-through but decided against submitting a bid on that room as I noticed that the walls were not in the best condition and I knew that I would be responsible for all the labor to bring the walls to a condition worthy enough to show.  I was also urged to take on an adjoining bath.  As enticing as it sounded, I knew that I had more than I could handle.  Even with all the tile and plumbing being donated, I knew that I would be responsible for the labor, and tackling a 101 year old house I had no idea what kind of plumbing and electrical issues I would come across and I wasn’t about to take a chance.

The Second Walk-Through

When invited back for the second walk-through, the designers were given a packet of colors from this year’s paint sponsor, Dunn-Edwards Paints.  There were the 25 paint colors that we were allowed to use.  At this time I brought my tape measure, paper, and camera, and took detailed measurements and photos of the room so that I could more accurately render the room and bring my design concept to life.

Informal Presentation – First Week of November

We were given 2 weeks to refine our designs and present a mood board, plan, and elevations.  During Informal Presentations,  designers pitch their ideas, and the interior advisors and  benefit/interior chairs give feedback as to what changes should be made.  I lucked out and everything was approved as is.

2017 Pasadena Showcase House-Cozy Stylish Chic

Formal Presentations – Last Week of November

We were given 3 weeks to make changes to our designs before we were to present to the Showcase members at Formal Presentations.  At this time designers presented their designs, complete with fabric and mood boards, renderings, plans and elevations.  If there are any concerns at this time, the designers are asked to make any adjustments to their designs.  The boards are retained so that they can be presented to the homeowner for approval.  In my case, I was asked to remodel the closet, which I was going to do anyways, but didn’t include in my presentation.  Truth be told, even though what I had presented at the Informal Presentation was approved, I changed things up at the eleventh hour the evening before Formal Presentations.  I felt that there was a notable absence of color in the other room presentations I sat in on at the informal presentations, and even though I had thought about changing things around immediately after Informal Presentations, procrastination kicked in until the night before, when I added teal into my original palette of warm golds and cool greys.

2017 Pasadena Showcase House-Cozy Stylish Chic hand rendering

Empty House Party – Mid-January

The Empty House Party is held to invite the press and patrons to see the house before any work is done on the house.  This is a fun party where designers have their design boards on display with perhaps a small vignette.  As the guests travel throughout the house, they are greeted with food in each room. Our room housed the shrimp cocktail and clam chowder, so needless to say, our room was crowded.

2017 Pasadena Showcase House-Cozy Stylish Chic

2017 Pasadena Showcase House-Cozy Stylish Chic

You may recognize the Entry Hall as it was featured prominently in the 1988 movie, Beaches, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey.  The home was transformed into Barbara Hershey’s character’s childhood home.  If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll notice that the mint paint and carpet hasn’t changed since filming in 1988!

Demo and Construction

Work commenced the last week of January,  right after the Empty House Party, and we were given until the third week in March (8 weeks) to complete our rooms.

2017 Pasadena Showcase House-Cozy Stylish Chic

Demo Day

The first thing we did was to tackle the  grass cloth wallpaper covered with several coats of paint and all.

2017 Pasadena Showcase House-Cozy Stylish Chic

Before things get better, they always have to hit rock bottom, and this was our rock bottom.  The painted-over grass cloth wallpaper had to be stripped and the walls had to be patched extensively.  The ceiling had hairline cracks which also had to be repaired and prepped for paint.

Over the course of 100 years, the sconces next to the bed had been moved several times as evidenced by the patching on either side of where the bed once stood.

When pulling off a showcase house, you “cheat” where you can to minimize costs, especially if you are footing the bill.  We installed Mirth Studio’s digitally printed wood floor tile by floating the tongue and groove tile on top of the existing floor so that it could be removed after all was said and done.  Underneath the rug we opted to install plywood in the same thickness as the tile to minimize the amount of tile needed.  Only I knew and those who saw this being installed knew my dirty little secret.

You are allowed to make changes to your design, but all orders must be approved by the committee.  Some designers felt this to be a bit controlling, but I pretty much kept everything like my original submission, so luckily I never had to fight that battle.

2017 Pasadena Showcase House-Cozy Stylish Chic

We had approximately 8 weeks to complete our rooms before the photography for the program was shot.  Those who were not ready were able to shoot a vignette.  I know some showcase houses that cut it down to the wire, but we were expected to finish a full month before opening day because there are many events that lead up to opening day.  The electric load needs to be tested, there are a few days reserved for Media Week to help create a buzz a couple of weeks before Opening Day, there are luncheons, and the Pasadena Showcase House Association members and patrons are invited to view the house before it opens to the public. There are a lot of parties and social events associated with the Pasadena Showcase as it seemed as though every other day there was something going on not only leading up to Opening Day, but all throughout the month that it was open.

Who Pays for What

Contrary to what people believe, the designer is financially responsible for everything – fabric, product, labor, EVERYTHING. The designer is also responsible for obtaining the proper building and electrical permits needed to get construction off the ground.  I joke that in order to pull off a show house that you have to beg, borrow, and steal but honestly, this is not too far from the truth! There may be some instances where you can get the homeowner to contribute to the cost, especially if the homeowner wants a big say in the design process, but expect to cover the cost on everything. Anything you can get in addition to that is icing on top of the cake.  If you have a good relationship with your vendors, you can obtain discounts on product or some vendors may even loan you product.  Paint, wallpaper and plumbing, wall to wall carpeting usually stays in the home once the show house is over.  You are allowed to sell the products that you utilize for the design of the room, but many visitors to the show house may not realize that, so make it known because any way you can recoup the expenses, helps offset the cost.

Procuring Product

A lot of designers contact their vendors well in advance of the Designer Walk-Through so that they know what they have to work with and several arrive already knowing what they are planning to do.  Since this was my first time doing a showcase house, I opted to wait until I had a better idea of the space and the overall theme before approaching sponsors and vendors for product.  I always need to see the space to see how I will be inspired, so it didn’t make sense for me to talk to vendors if I wasn’t actually using their product.    In tomorrow’s post  I will cover more on the many products and layers that comprised my design.

Staffing the Room

Some designers think you can install your room and then you’re done.  Au contraire.  After installation and once the showcase house opens is when a large portion of your hours are put in. The Showcase House requires that designers put in a certain number of hours – I believe it is 10 hours per week.  However, the way I look at it is, if you’re going to invest that much time, money and effort to pull off a room, do it right and be there to talk to the people (and potential clients) that make their way through the house.

I hear many people complain that they don’t get business out of doing showcase houses. If you are not there selling yourself and answering questions, you won’t get business – you need to put in the face time.  Potential clients want to meet the designer and hear about the inspiration behind the room, challenges faced during construction, etc., and oftentimes the docents simply can’t answer those questions or they have so many other rooms in the house that they don’t know all the nitty gritty details that designers like to share.  So if you are planning on doing the Pasadena Showcase House, make sure you have the time to be present at minimum, during peak hours and on weekends. It is hard, as projects need to be attended to and business must go on, but it is well worth it.

After the Showcase House

You think you’re done once the Showcase House closes?  Think again.  Just as much time, effort and scheduling goes into disassembling a showcase house as putting one together.  Furniture must be moved out, those pieces that have been sold must be delivered to their new owners, appointments with electricians need to be made to remove the light fixtures, final electrical inspections need to be made and signed off on, and repairs/touch ups need to be made.   The room must be left in better or same condition and there is a LOT of work to be done.  Three weeks after the showcase house ended I was still touching up paint and making minor repairs, and as of 4 days ago am finally done.  I am crossing my fingers that I do not receive that dreaded call or email in the next week, though.

How to participate in a designer showcase house - 2017 Pasadena Showcase House, Cozy Stylish Chic

The original hardwood floors with our digitally printed wood floor tiles removed.

One word of advice, don’t be a design diva and be as accommodating as you can.  If you are flexible, people will be the same with you.  When you’re doing a showcase house, the other designers are your friends, not your competition and you need to help one another.

I hope this post was helpful and demystifies all the questions that you have regarding how to participate in a designer showcase house.  Tomorrow I’ll post photos of our finished space and will also speak to the many layers that comprised the final design, so be sure to check back.

Jeanne K Chung | Cozy Stylish Chic