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A look back at Decorators' Show Houses through the years

Fans of home makeovers will be eager to see what design pros have dreamed up for Decorators’ Show House 2017. They have to wait until April 29, however, when the transformed house opens its doors to the public for its three-week run.

But the biennial event, which dates back to 1981, is such a longtime tradition in Western New York that we decided to give readers a treat: A look back at what decorators did in previous show houses.

Those new to town should know that Decorators’ Show House is a major community fundraiser sponsored by the Junior League of Buffalo and The Buffalo News that takes place every other spring. It involves the efforts of interior designers, painters, artists, craftsmen, landscapers and other local talent.

This year’s house is the August Feine House, 766 Ellicott St., a 7,800-square-foot home that is being restored as part of the Expansion Campaign for Kevin Guest House, located next door. The makeover has begun. In the meantime, we have been busy searching the photo archives.

Sunroom in the first Decorators' Show House in 1981, designed by Florence Cooper. Photo courtesy Diana Augspurger.

Through the years, Decorators’ Show House has been the place to check out the current colors of the day. The newest furniture finishes. The latest word in window treatments.

And, of course, the imaginative themes that fit the times – or transport visitors to an entirely different place or period. Tuscany. An African jungle. The French countryside. Nantucket. A 19th century garden. Space.

That’s why it’s fun to look back at photos of some of the rooms.

What were the hot colors in 2005? (Red would be one.)

Some whimsical ways to dress a window? (A valance designed with camisoles and bloomers comes to mind.)

How about novel ways to transform a niche or closet? (Oh, to dream of having a gift-wrapping closet.)

And is there a wall treatment that has not been featured in a Decorators’ Show House? Through the years, we’ve seen stencils, murals, faux finishes, trompe-l’oeil, wallpaper, fabric, frames of all sizes, even newspapers used to cover a sloped attic ceiling.

What’s clear is that while some trends have changed in home decor, others have circled back – or maybe never disappeared at all.

Breakfast room at Show House 2013 by Mark Taylor. (News file photo/Mark Mulville)

The Round Library by Conley Interiors in Show House 2001. (Buffalo News file photo)

For example, there’s something familiar about the color of the Round Library from the 2001 show house, the Schoellkopf-Vom Berge Manor on Chapin Parkway. The springtime green walls look very similar to Pantone’s 2017 Color of the Year – Greenery.

“Talk about serendipity,” said James D. Furman, president of Conley Interiors, when told of this observation.

Furman recalled the library’s decor, designed by Conley’s: “There were three shades of green in the room – the walls were green, the trim was a different green, and there was a third shade of green, if I remember correctly,” he said.

“The green was a great color to do, especially since the show house comes in the spring.”

And now the million dollar question: Would the decor work today?

“Absolutely. I think any room that combines a lot of different styles and elements is always timeless,” Furman said.

Similarly, Kathi Vandura, who participated in two Decorators’ Show Houses, described the bedroom she decorated in 1999 at the Buffalo Seminary Larkin House as having a timeless theme.

With its pink decor, window seat, Victorian dollhouse and dance costumes, it’s all about fantasy – “a little girl’s dress-up land,” said Vandura, a former East Amherst resident who now lives outside Charlotte, N.C.

Play area in child's bedroom from Decorators' Show House 1999. Decorated by Kathi Vandura. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News file photo)

Other color trends emerged through the decades – with perhaps less staying power. “In the early ’90s, it was seafoam green and peach and mauve and blue,” said interior designer Sandy Nelson, who runs Designs of the Times.

The Summer Sitting Room at Show House 2013. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News file photo)

Retreat from Show House 2003, by Homeward Bound. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

Similarly, one wonders about gray. Shades of the color were popular in the 2013 Decorators’ Show House – the Knox Summer Estate at Knox Farm State Park.

In the Summer Sitting Room, for example, the upholstery, area rug and hand-painted walls were all done in shades of gray.

“It’s the new neutral. It looks great with pinks, aquas and greens, and navy looks fantastic with it,” said Nelson at the time. She was part of a design team that decorated the room, the former second-floor sleeping porch.

Four years later, has gray had its day? “Gray is still popular, but people are realizing that gray is very cool for Buffalo winters, and they are starting to move to warmer tones,” she said when reached by phone earlier this week.

“Now everyone wants lighter, cleaner, fresher, brighter,” said Nelson. That also means fresh takes on jewel tones: cobalt instead if navy; emerald instead of hunter.

And white walls – instead of gray – for showcasing artwork, she added.

Enjoy our look back at previous show houses – as you wait to see what 2017’s will bring.

For ticket information and more information on Decorators’ Show House, visit

See a photo gallery of the last Decorators' Show House  - from 2015 - the Edward H. Webster House on Lincoln Parkway.



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