The showhouse model has long been a staple of the American design industry. Even a global pandemic couldn’t appease them, with events across the country persevering or finding innovative ways to go virtual during the conflicts of the past two years. There are dozens of annual showhouses across the United States, and more join the list every year. Even the Kips Bay Decorators Show House, a flagship event for the New York design community, has branched out from its Upper East Side roots, adding editions in Dallas and Palm Beach, Fla. recent years. We can’t seem to get enough showhouses.
Surprisingly, this is not the case in the UK, where differing property laws and the lack of available real estate make show homes more of an occasional sight than a regular occurrence. Today the Managing Director of Design Center Chelsea Harbor in London, Claire Germanseeks to change that.
When she took over the role in 2010, German still had in mind the idea of the center hosting a show home. A lack of space had prevented the concept from becoming a reality until a new addition to the building earlier this year gave him the perfect place to realize his vision. Dubbed the Avenue of Design, the long rectangular space features a four-story atrium, providing abundant natural light and plenty of room for a large-scale installation where a new type of show home could be installed.
Called Wow!house, the inaugural event will take place in June and will showcase the work of 20 designers from the UK, Europe and the US—Rita Konig, Rayman drunkard, Paulo Moschino and Philip fair and Rui Ribeiro, to name a few, are all participating – who will be assigned a “room” in a scenic environment built to resemble a one-story house, spanning the full length of Design Avenue. “Having a purpose-built designer show home in a space like this makes staging easier,” says German. “We are already at the nerve center of where everything happens in the London design scene anyway. Everyone gravitates to Chelsea Harbor as the mothership. We are surrounded by showrooms and all major events in the interior design industry take place here. So it looks like a natural home for this event.
Port of Chelsea Design Center
German’s vision for Wow!house is highly sensory. As well as bringing in the Royal Institute of British Architects to design the outer shell of the facility: “We don’t just want a brick facade around it; it also has to be as amazing as the pieces inside,” she says. She also lined up a bespoke Italian perfumery to create scents for each room in collaboration with the designers and the hired conceptual sound artist. Rock Adjaye (brother of the famous British architect Mr David Adjaye) to create background music.
Brand partners for the event will include Chelsea Harbor tenants Colefax and Fowler, de Le Cuona, GP & J Baker, House of Rohl, Julian Chichester, Pierre Frey, Sanderson Design Group, Schumacher and Tissus d’Hélène. “We limited the number of sponsors because we want creators to have the freedom to do what they want, but we tried to approach it in a very egalitarian way,” German says. “The brands that cannot have a room this year, we have registered their names for next year. We are very lucky because we have more than 600 international brands here at the Design Center, we are the only ones in Europe. They all seem to be incredibly happy about Wow! House. It gives people another reason to come and hopefully will create lots of foot traffic in our showrooms.
As is the case with most American showhouses, German felt it was important to tie the event to charity. A portion of ticket sales will go to Centrepoint, which provides accommodation and support for homeless youth. “Homelessness is something that is close to our hearts, especially when we spend all this time focusing on filling homes with the best,” German says. “So by creating this wonderful model house, we are also accommodating the less fortunate.” Wow!house’s commitment to Centrepoint will also include a mentorship program, where participating designers will offer advice on potential career opportunities in the design industry. “We’d like them to shed light on all aspects of the industry, from the actual design to running a warehouse to showroom sales,” says German.
German not only plans to make Wow!house an annual event in Chelsea Harbour, but she also has a vision of one day bringing the event to other parts of the world. “Obviously I have to walk before I run, but I would like to one day do Wow!house in the Middle East and be a force in bringing the wonders of this industry to other markets,” she says. “I think it could be a game-changer.”
Homepage photo: The Design Avenue at Design Center Chelsea Harbor | Courtesy of Chelsea Harbor Design Center