Interior decorators and their clients have a marriage of sorts--they need to listen to, learn from and trust each other. And celebrity marriages of any kind create a lot of interest.
The public gets a glimpse into these relationships and of the stars' homes at the Traditional Home Built for Women Showhouse, a project that raises money for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. It is open to the public through Nov. 16.
The showhouse, an Upper East Side townhouse, features rooms designed specifically for notables such as Barbara Walters, Evelyn Lauder, Elizabeth Taylor, Tina Turner, Diane Sawyer, Candice Bergen, Bette Midler, Jane Seymour and Donna Karan. Many of the women provided personal items to be displayed, such as Turner's gold records and Midler's 19th-century art collection.
"It's like being a matchmaker. We put them together," said Karol DeWulf Nickell, editor-in-chief of Traditional Home magazine. The rest was up to the celebrity and the designer.
Bergen's room is a Swedish spa; Karan chose a Zen garden with a tent with skylights to see the Manhattan sky; and an elaborate dressing room was designed for Taylor, who had costume replicas of her jewelry made to be displayed.
It took three months to transform the building into six floors of miniature celebrity homes, Nickell said. As with many private homes, the kitchen, which was designed by Mary Douglas Drysdale for Midler, was the last room to be finished--mostly because custom-made cabinets were used.
Barry Dixon, who has a longtime decorating relationship with Sawyer, did her section of the showhouse, a parlor that included three pillars that housed hidden bookshelves, and a wooden game table.
The inviting living space was separated from the game area by a woven screen displayed in a giant picture frame that was suspended from the ceiling.
"Diane is one of the warmest people you'll ever meet and she doesn't want to intimidate people when they walk into her room," Dixon said.
Sawyer's style is "secretly romantic and a little sexy," he described.
To achieve that look, Dixon painted the ceiling in a coral-salmon pink that adds a soft glow, and all the light bulbs are tinted pink, which helps create a romantic ambience. Using art glass in a mirror created an old-world feel.
The sexiness comes in subtle details, explained Dixon, like the slim, stiletto legs on the game table, a curvy chair and sheer fabrics.
The room is supposed to be a cocoon, a place where Sawyer can relax and curl up with one of her poetry, biography or history books. There is no television--and that wasn't an accident, Dixon said.
Roderick Shade had never worked with--or even met--Seymour before, but he said he got a sense of the actress' personal style from going through her photo albums.
"I requested some family photos to use in the room. She sent albums, so I studied the background of the photographs and I saw she liked traditional," said Harlem-based designer Shade.
He decided to do an "updated traditional" living room, a room that had a classic English feel but made slightly edgy by draping orange Indian sari fabric over bookshelves to act as a curtain. Shade's favorite items in the room are a Venetian mirror over the fireplace and a winged victory statue, both of which came from his house.
Seymour sent many photographs and pieces of art to be used.
"It's very feminine, very romantic," Shade said.
Updated traditional is becoming a very popular style. Young clients want the luxury and permanence that a traditional look offers, but they don't want the stuffiness they associate with chintz, he said.
For the showhouse, each designer did the work and provided all the products at his or her own cost. The March 2001 issue of Traditional Home and the Spring 2001 Traditional Home Decorator Showhouse will feature extensive photography of the exhibit.