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Q&A: Anne Rothenberg, Pasadena Showcase House of Design

To the Manor Reborn

It's a massive undertaking. But benefit chair Anne Rothenberg meets the challenge, and sees a house turned into a magical home.


The Pasadena Showcase House of Design opened its 35th House & Garden Tour this week and expects throngs before it closes May 16. Anne Rothenberg is 1999 benefit chairman for the showcase, which is sponsored by the Pasadena Junior Philharmonic Committee. Born in San Diego and raised in Short Hills, N.J., she earned a bachelor's degree in classical studies from Boston University and has been a reporter for Life magazine and an editor for Fortune magazine and Architectural Digest. She and husband Jim have three children, ages 17 to 22. Rothenberg, whose interests include writing and art collecting, discussed the challenge of preparing for 50,000 house guests:

Question: Your group has restored a 13,000-square-foot manor, top to bottom, as well as revamped the landscaping. You're opening it to the public for a month of tours, and you're running an arts and crafts marketplace and a restaurant. Guests are shuttled from the Rose Bowl, to keep the traffic controlled. This is a massive operation. Is this the biggest such event in the country?

Answer: There are lots of well-known showcase houses, but this is the oldest continuous project and the most successful in terms of visitors, which started with 7,500 and has grown to 50,000.

Q: "Junior Philharmonic Committee" sounds like a little handful of people, but what you're overseeing seems more like a corporation. What's the structure?

A: It takes awhile to get a handle on the committee, which has about 80 active members. I'm not the president, Kay Quinn is. I am benefit chairman of the showcase and we have two interior chairmen, three exterior chairmen, two restaurant and two marketplace chairmen working on this, plus 30 interior design groups and 19 exterior landscape and garden groups.

Q: It's a major fund-raiser?

A: We give $100,000 a year to youth music programs in the area, have donated $8 million to date to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and pledged $1 million to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Q: When you joined the Junior Phils in 1991, did you think you'd eventually like to run the whole show?

A: Absolutely not. I was in awe of the women giving reports for the various committees, and I am still in awe of what this group accomplishes. Some of them hold full-time jobs and still manage to carve out time to help us do another full-time job.

Q: How much of your life has the project taken this year?

A: I would say all of it, and I'm not kidding. During the summer house-hunting period, which past chairmen have said is the hardest, I was fortunate to find a house early, but it also meant we started working earlier. No matter when you find it, there is a crunch at the end.

Q: The house you found in San Marino is perfect for your showcase?

A: Yes. It's a 1927 English country manor house on 2.6 acres, so people can feel they are spending the day in the country--we are encouraging them to tour the estate and shop and eat in the restaurant. And the house needed help inside and outside. An interesting family lived there for years who were indifferent to design and the house grew old with them. I likened it to Rip Van Winkle--there were vines growing all over and it was wooded and unkempt in the back. We were able to transform it totally, which is exciting.

Q: Who lives in it now?

A: The owners of showcase houses are kept anonymous, as is the address. The family vacates the house January through June, so we have about four months for the metamorphosis.

Q: How does the process work?

A: After we've located a showcase house, in the fall we open it for an invitational designer walk-through. Designers select the room they would like to do and sit down on the spot and write their concepts. It is extremely competitive--you might be sitting next to someone vying for the same room.

Q: Who chooses the winners?

A: It's like putting together a puzzle. The committee's interior chairmen make the selections, with guidance from liaison committees whose members include designers who have participated in past showcases.

Q: How do you coordinate 30 interior design groups so that the house doesn't look like a creative hodgepodge?

A: Over the years the committee has learned that everyone is happier if the home has a harmonious flow and there are several ways we control that. One is selecting a common color palette: This year it is a range of beiges and a yellow, red, blue and green--these are specific Dunn Edwards shades. Also we ask designers for presentations, to the committee and to each other, so that everyone knows what everyone else is doing.

Q: And everything is voluntary?

A: Yes. No one gets paid. Over the years, the owners have made specific requests they might pay for, but, by and large, the designers are not getting paid and obviously the committee members aren't. When the owners return to the house, they can select and buy any of the furnishings they might want. What they get free are the permanent decorating changes.

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