Designer Showhouses- Do or Don't?

One of my favorite things to do is working on textile designs. I always have a list of designs in my head that I want to do, but sitting down & finding the time to sit down & draw them is another story. Sometimes it just takes some good motivation. The DC Design House has started up again this year & so I've been busy drawing. I've seen the new house - along with all of the other interested designers in the DC area- and have been working on a design to submit for a space. (First everyone sees the house & then we have a couple of weeks to create a design, which is then submitted for review by the Design Committee. )

I've gotten a few emails & phone calls lately from designers asking if I thought it was "worth it" to do the Design House last year. And the answer is, I'm submitting a design again, so YES definitely :)

{My room from last year.. And just to warn you, something is wrong with blgoger and it won't let me upload any other pics so this is a pictureless post from here on out. sorry!!}

I have to say though... it's really up to each individual designer to decide if it's "worth it" for herself or himself.

First of all, Children's Hospital is an amazing cause & each year, I try to do something special to help people through our design work, so I think that's an important "pro" for doing any charity design showhouse.
Being involved in the Showhouse makes you feel like you're part of this big team & it's a ton of fun. I can't say it in any other way other than it just makes you feel special. (It kind of reminds me of doing plays in gradeschool :) People are generally really supportive of one another and in our showhouse, we had a great PR person (Sherry Moeller) who sent so much press everyone's way, so that was amazing. You get to work alongside amazing designers and see all these beautiful spaces happen up-close. It's really nice & exciting to be around so many people in the industry.
One thing that has to be taken into consideration is the cost of doing a room in a showhouse. Both time/ opprtunity costs & money. A showhouse is different from other projects in that you are working around a lot of other people and there are certain times when you have to get things done. The schedule is very compressed & there's a lot of pressure to get things finished much quicker than you would in an ordinary project. (For example, if you're doing COM upholstery, a typical lead time for a sofa could be 8-10 weeks or even more depending upon your fabrics & availability. Well, with the compressed showhouse timeline, you might only have 7 or so weeks to get everything in. Last year I was on pins & needles waiting for all pf my pieces to come in on time.)

As far as money goes- things start adding up. I tried to get as many donations & loans as I could. (I am forever grateful to companies like Peter Dunham Textiles & Michael Smith, and Stark Carpets and lots of others who donated their goods to make our room happen. And The team of people I work with was also right there for me, donating labor & time, which I never could have afforded on my own.) But expenses still add up & there lots of things you just have to purchase (sometimes custom ones for example) and you do end up spending quite a bit of money.

But I think being in a Showhouse really gives you the chance to show others that you're there. It puts you in a place to get noticed & to help make a name for yourself, and as anyone in our business knows, that's what keeps your business going.

Another question I get a lot is- "Did you get clients from the Showhouse?" ... My answer is a hazy one. We had lots of inquiries into our services, but not many that panned out into full projects.

We received lots of inquiries for consultations but unfortunately, due to our workload & staffing, we're only able to take on full-service projects. The one project we did take on that was related to the Design House was with a client whom a previous client had already referred to us & who was already considering working with us before the Showhouse. I think seeing the space we created in person convinced her & her husband that we were "right" for them. I would say if you're doing a showhouse because you expect to directly get clients from it, then you might be disappointed. Go into it thinking you won't get any clients & if you do, that's a great perk, but don't count on it for your finances.

Other people have asked about getting Showhouse rooms published in shelter magazines. It's another thing I would say to not go in expecting. Typically, certain magazines will shoot a showhouse for an upcoming issue. Home & Design Magazine (our local Design Magazine) used photos of every room of the Showhouse (I think) last year & so that was great for everyone. And Traditional Home also typically shoots the DC Design House, so of course everyone is dying for their room to get chosen. It seems like the more public/ larger spaces are typically shot for this like the living rooms, master, etc. but you never know- it coule be you! Last year, we were lucky enough to have our room photographed for an up-coming Better Homes & Gardens Magazine issue (coming out in April!! :) and I'm so excited about the article because it really focuses on the design decisions made & how to go about creating a room with that type of feeling.

And another thing I would think anyone submitting a design for a showhouse agonizes over (I know I do) is which room to pick to submit a design for.  When big, talented & established designers do showhouses, I would think they pretty much get the spaces they want to do.  When you're new to the industry & haven't yet quite made a name for yourself, deciding on a room can be really worrisome.  Last year I chose a smaller bedroom space upstairs for my design.  I didn't get the bedroom I submitted a design for & was moved right next door to a very similar bedroom so I could keep my general design.  I felt sooooo lucky.  I loved my space and was happy with my decision to start small.  ...  Now what do you do if you decide you want a more prominent space?  (Spaces on the first floor of showhouses are really desirable and I think they are generally harder to get.)  I honestly don't have a good answer here, as this is the big question going through my head right now.  Part of me says, "play it safe.  If you're newer or have never been involved with a showhouse before, just choose a space you think you might actually have a shot at and play it safe."  The other part of me says, "Go for it.  What do you have to lose? Be true to yourself and if you think you can create an amazing design for a space, then do it, regardless of who you are."   No guts, no glory, right?  (But that's not exactly true in a showhouse ;) ;)  If you aim too high, you could just miss it altogether or you could be rewarded.  You never know.   

Anyway, those are my thoughts. I'm sure other people have other ones though, so if you've participated in a Showhouse before & have any advice, I think everyone (me included!) would love to hear it.

One last thing-  Never let fear of rejection keep you from making the Showhouse decision.  Don't even let it weigh in.  Rejection is scary and kind of makes me sick, but I think it's something we all experience & know we (eventually ;)  get over.  I was sooooo nervous last year & I'm surprised to see I'm even more nervous submitting a design this year, and that rejection fear is very real for me, but I'm fighting it because the risk is worth it. 

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.


Christina Marie said...

Thanks for all the advice Lauren! I'm a young designer in the Boston area and I have considered trying to get a design into a showhouse but have not entered yet because of the costs involved. However, after reading your post I'm going to consider it again. I think you're right about not expecting to get new clients as a direct result of the showhouse but rather to think of it as further establishing your name and brand.


Kristy @ I Design Love said...

I alway love hearing your opinion and advice on the design world. I am new designer just starting out and this is very helpful!

Jenny said...

Fabulous and very imformative post, Lauren


Windlost said...

A great post Lauren - I love hearing your thought processes on things. God, you remind me of yourself. You think about things from every angle. Do you lay away at night ruminating about things? Of course you do, but you are probably so physically tired that you sleep like the dead nowadays, with how busy you are and the boys! :D Wait 'til you are 40 - you will lay awake half the night thinking thinking thinking...

I hope you get the room! Thanks for sharing the pro's and con's. I was sure a lot more work would have come from it. But even so, it is exposure and experience and it all layers on to give so much depth to your career. And eventually you will have a bigger staff and be famous like I imagine. :)

xo Terri

Nancy said...

Bethany and I came to the show house last year from the anticipation posted on your blog, and as avid followers of yours, we were so pleased with everything we saw.... Your room was fantastic, and we loved that you got your well deserved recognition. We know the time and effort and support system you had to put it all together, and it is really about the exposure and being with an elite peer group in the DC area. I hope you get it again this year! Can't wait to see your room again.
Best of Luck! We're pulling for you!


Heather said...

Thanks again for the, as always, timely and useful advice. It was a pleasure meeting you at last year's DH and I can't wait to see what you come up with. I did a DH in Charlottesville, VA last Spring and agree, much excitement, but a lot of work and expense. I'm still on the fence for this year. Love your blog and new fabric line and can't wait to incorporate them into my own projects.


pve design said...

I admire your honesty and your passion. I love that you follow your heart and your instinct.

Unknown said...

Love the Kelly Green accents! One of my favorite colors!!

Jill said...

Just as you did with your post about how to manage projects, this post about the decision to do a design house resonates with me.

I have only been in business for 2 years. I decided to do the Historic Ellicott City DH this past September and I loved the experience for all of the reasons you listed. I just committed to participating in the BSO DH. My husband questions the benefits of this and your blog reinforces all of the reasons I gave to him.

I would have to say that the one thing I am doing differently this time is that I am designing a space with my "audience" in mind instead of creating a space that is more about flexing my creative muscles and expressing my personal style. I am hoping that this will increase the odds that I get great exposure and maybe even a client.

I was fortunate enough to receive some good press on my first show house...fingers crossed for my second.

Thank you for sharing such a personal, inside look at how you make your business choices.

Holly said...

I went to my first design show house last year and my instructor for my classes talked a bit about her experience with design show houses. She really stressed the fact that it was expensive from the designer's standpoint. She also made it seem as though she got a ton of business from it, so I appreciate your feedback on your experiences. Hoping to see your room this year when it's all done!

debra said...

Hi Lauren -

Congratulations! I have a question - you mention that you are unable to do consultations - only full service. I'm confused as to what consultation means. I'm guessing you aren't referring to the first go-see. I'd also like to understand the definition of full service. I'm sure you have better things to do but I'm finding my design business getting busier and busier and seem to lose alot of time to go-see consultations where the work isn't worth my while. I do ask for scope of project in that first conversation but more often than not, the answer is vague. Can you help? Thanks so much, Lauren. Debra

Jenny Castle Design said...

Great post Lauren - so many back and forths on doing a show house and you hit on all the things that are concerns or excitements. Good luck on the upcoming showhouse!

Bethany said...

nicely put Lauren.

And I think you did such an amazing job on your room at the DC Design House last year, so I sure hope you get another spot this year!! You have to show the world your talent!!


Tiffany Leigh {thedesignerlifestyle} said...

Hi Lauren! I'm a brand new follower, and also just beginning my education in interior design. I can't tell you how helpful just reading the last couple of posts you've done has been! I'll be going through your archives for sure. Such an inspiration!!!

traci zeller designs said...

You did such an amazing job last year, Lauren, and I cannot wait to see what you will do this year! (Clearly I'm already counting on you being selected.) I definitely want to do a show house, but my plan will be to do one of the smaller spaces - mainly in hopes of minimizing the expense. Maybe this year or next!

Cecilia said...

Last year, I loved seeing the design boards you had submitted and reading about the progress of your room in the DC ShowHouse. I suspect you'll be using some of your new Lauren Leiss Textiles and excited to see which ones you'll pick - any maybe one of the new rugs in your upcoming line? Keep the updates coming! I would be thrilled to take on a show house project and agree with you on the cost-benefit of the expense! Good luck!

Jennifer Reynolds Interiors said...

Great post Lauren! I have not taken the leap yet to apply for a showhouse but your thoughts definitely give me the courage to revisit and think about it again.
Thanks again for your honestly and all of your tips!

kaylamarieinteriors said...

Hi Lauren,
Your last couple posts have been very imformative and I love that you always keep it real in your blog. I think I speak for many of the readers when I say we appriciate that. I was wondering if you knew Allie Mann from the DC Design house? I am a student at NVCC and she is our Kitchen and Bath Design professor. Good luck with the design house this year. I'm sure which ever room you choose the design will be amazing! =)

terri said...

Your room looks amazing! Thank you for sharing your show house experiences...

katiedid said...

Lauren, this post could not have come at a better time for me. I am on the eve of the "Press Day" for the Marin Designer Showcase where I have designed one of the larger Guest Suites. I have done Showcases before here in Sacramento, but always as the lead designer for the firm I was working for, so the pressure was definitely less intense, and I had a team of people to work with me. This is the first time it has been my own firm, and in an area that is much for affluent and prominent in California. Suzanne Tucker is the designer for the Living Room, for example. I have to say, I am feeling VERY nervous, but you are so right....that should never be a factor in deciding whether to do a Showcase. Nerves are something one can fight through, and the reward is more confidence in your abilities....not just in design, but in public relations.

You are so right!

Good luck with your submittal. Based on last year, you have nothing to worry about!!!!

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