You stand outside the handsome home with the rest of the well-dressed crowd, waiting your turn to walk through each elegant room, marveling over their many fine details. You’re surrounded by fellow design aficionados, as delighted at the furnishings as the chance to mingle among friends and influencers. This is the longstanding showcase home scenario – another tradition upended this year by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Like so many other 2020 and planned 2021 events and activities, these showcase homes haven’t gone away. They’ve just had to adapt for health and safety reasons. And adapt they have! Measurable results in terms of traffic and revenue are still to be determined, but the flexible, creative mindset is evident – especially in the new virtual-only showcase homes designed not with bricks, but for clicks.
Some well-established events like the Kips Bay Show Houses are looking at a combination of limited, live 2021 events with virtual tours. The Pasadena Showcase House is converting its popular tour for an existing home into a virtual-only event. So is The New American Home, launched every year at the massive International Builders’ Show.
The giant expo announced last month that its entire event would be virtual in February, so there will be no long lines of convention goers waiting to tour the new construction project, as envisioned by its builder and sponsors. Jamahl Gibbons, manager of the IBS Show Homes, is replacing the popular in-person event with 3D virtual tours, (previously a supplement to the live gatherings).
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“The visitors will be provided with a high-level TV show style tour that has strong call outs of sponsors’ products and capabilities throughout the homes,” he says. “Along with this new strategy, we will continue utilizing our 3D Virtual Tours that will be hosted on [the] websites. This year, we will have a virtual tour where viewers can see the products featured behind the finished wall. This allows our visitors to view a completely immersive tour with all product suppliers represented.”
The industry, its sponsors and the charities that use them for fundraising are keeping a close eye on all of these formulations. Stacy Palmer, editor of Chronicle of Philanthropy, observes that the combination of recession and pandemic is creating more demand for services and financial shortfalls for the nonprofits providing them. “The loss of this money is quite problematic,” she notes.
For the 70-year-old Pasadena Showcase House nonprofit organization, its popular annual event is its sole fundraiser for the area arts organizations it supports. Local interior designer Jeanne Khoe Chung is participating for the third time and sees the virtual-only format as a potential plus. “When the tour is a physical walk-through, the viewer may be rushed and not have enough time to soak in all the details, but with a virtual tour, the viewer can spend as much time as they want in each space and can even zoom in to see every last detail. If that viewer happens to be your ideal client, it is important that every detail is just as you intended it.” Some of her colleagues ducked out when they learned that the event would be online-only, she reveals. “It you ask me, that is the wrong approach! You never know where that next big project is coming from.”
New Generation Showcase Homes
Chung also signed up to participate in another showcase, this one not only conceived entirely as a virtual event, but built that way. The benefits appealed to her: “Unlike your typical showhouse, there is no construction, installation or demo involved for the designer, which normally takes weeks and can be quite exhausting. It is exciting to be part of it.”
The event she’s referring to is the Seasonal Living Interactive Luxury Designer Showhouse, making its debut online December 3, 2020. There are no fees to tour the virtual house produced by the digital magazine of the same name, but there are 11 well-known designers and 15 corporate sponsors supporting the idea of an online-only event from the start; they did not have to adjust their expectations or goals as so many others have had to this year. LG’s upscale appliance line, Signature Kitchen Suite, is one of these sponsors.
“The idea of a luxury, interactive, and shoppable designer showhouse that individuals could experience safely from the comfort of their own homes piqued our interest,” says the brand’s head of marketing Jack Palazzolo. He’s also bullish on its durability. “This virtual show home offers staying power – the home and its featured products will live on digitally, providing even more exposure to our designer and builder communities and homeowners.”
The Seasonal Living project isn’t the only virtual-only showcase debuting this year. Architectural Digest has partnered with the Black Interior Designers Network, a nonprofit advocacy and professional development organization, to create The Iconic Home, going live November 18, 2020.
Keia McSwain, BIDN president and Denver-based interior designer, comments, “I love that we’re reaching a larger audience with a virtual showhouse that has the support of Architectural Digest. Our rooms will be available for design lovers to see from every corner of the country and internationally – a reach that an in-person showhouse can’t provide.”
“One of the main goals of the showhouse, similarly to the mission of the BIDN, is to help spotlight the breadth of Black interior designers’ creativity, influence, and professional talent on a national platform,” comments the magazine’s editor in chief, Amy Astley. “While we’re eager for live show homes to open again,” she says, “scale is another advantage of the virtual format; for example, we’re hosting a series of events with the designers live on AD‘s Instagram for all of the brand’s 6.9 million followers to attend, which is a far bigger audience than we could fit in front of a physical stage.”
“Given the realities of the pandemic, my goal was to give consumers an innovative and inspiring way to safely explore design ideas and shop for products for their own homes,” shares Gary Pettitt, publisher of Seasonal Living Magazine. Pettitt was concerned at the start of the outbreak how his furniture company, also called Seasonal Living, and the designers he knew from both brands would fare. Now he’s feeling proud, he says, that the design industry is pioneering new approaches to doing business healthfully. If that leads to healthy profits too, it’s a win-win for everyone.
With regard to showcase homes, if designers, sponsors and publishers see tangible benefits of a virtual-only format and their metrics prove worthwhile, this will likely become an ongoing vehicle for promotion and possibly fundraising.
“The pandemic will have a lasting impact on the industry, from the way interior designers approach their work to making events like this one more accessible and inclusive,” Astley predicts. Just how much of an impact is still an ongoing question.