A Designer Show House is often part fantasy and part reality.  Designers typically pull out all the stops for the homeowner – a person who exists  only in our imagination. 

That’s precisely why taking part in a Designer Show House can be a wonderfully creative endeavor, as well as a marvelous way for the public to gather fresh ideas for their own homes.

Some years ago, I participated in a local American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Show House, featuring the historic Moore Mansion on Seattle’s Capital Hill.

This project was a classic example of how an interior design concept might evolve, and how designers come up with their inspiration.

The home, built in 1901by James Moore, was located, in a tree-lined street close to Volunteer Park, home of the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM).

As it happened, I was assigned the Master Bedroom of this stately old house. It was a large, attractive room with generous proportions. However, it was dominated by a bold, geometrically patterned carpet in shades of chocolate brown and white.

It was the kind of pattern that makes your vision go blurry after a minute or two of looking at it. However, the owner of the house had made it clear that replacing the carpet with something a bit more subtle was not an option.

What do designers do in such a situation?

We simply make the best of it – yes, it takes a bit of creativity and ingenuity, in using the rooms’ shortcomings to create a whole new look.

For further inspiration, and using the benchmark of 1901, I explored what else was happening in the world at roughly the same time. As it happened, this was a period in history that was greatly influenced by the arrival of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris, in 1909.

The Ballets Russes was defined by the music of Rimsky-Korsakov and the spectacular dancing of Nijinsky, in combination with sensuous décor and flamboyant costumes.

It is interesting to note that the exotic costumes of the Ballets Russe in turn influenced Paris fashions, eventually extending to home decor and culminating in what we now refer to as the Art Deco style.

Now that I had my inspiration, I set out to evoke the glamor and exoticism of those times. However, this was no ordinary bedroom. The room in question became the Boudoir and backdrop, for the dramatic life of a ballet dancer from this famous dance troupe.

There are dance-related props throughout the room, such as colorful costumes and ballet slippers. In fact, the entire color scheme was influenced by the colorful dance costumes so pervasive of this period.

Well, that and the chocolate brown carpet. Which, in the end, worked quite well with the brilliant jewel tones that were introduced in shades of blue, gold and red.

These became the stars of the room.

Enlarged, black and white dance photos featuring performers of the Ballets Russes, decorated the walls. The louvered closet door panels were cleverly disguised with a classic ballet scene from ‘Afternoon of the Faun’, depicting the dancer Nijinsky.                           

This four-part image was achieved by first greatly enlarging a photo from a book, and then dividing it into four sections to coincide with the shape and size of the each closet panel.

The image was printed on heavy-duty cloth, which easily stretched across a wood frame, that was subsequently hung from the closet doors.

The highlight of the room was the chaise with a draped canopy, in shades of chocolate brown and cream to tie in with the carpet. Elsewhere, I introduced luscious fabrics and colors to play up the exotic theme of the Ballets Russes, such as the fanciful draperies fashioned after a pair of pantaloons – straight from the costume book.

And the unique  – and very contemporary – Philippe Stark ‘Ghost’ chairs?

The style of this particular chair is straight out of 18th century France, yet the material is polypropylene – thus creating the effect of a visual pun, since it’s both historical and modern at the same time.

It was the perfect way to freshen up the room and bring it into the 21th century, while retaining some of its historical allure.

Oh, one last thing.

As luck would have it, our very own Pacific Northwest Ballet signed on as sponsor of the Show House, providing another perfect link to the world of dance.