The Digital Domain

The 2021 Decorator Showcase goes virtual

Above Image: The Foyer, designed by AubreyMaxwell. Rendering by Steelblue.

By Anh-Minh Le

During its 40-plus-year history, the San Francisco Decorator Showcase—an annual benefit for University High School’s financial-aid program—has encountered its share of twists and turns. After all, the design process can be unpredictable, particularly when dozens of firms are involved. COVID-19, however, was an unprecedented challenge. In 2020, even though the site, a circa-1926 residence in the city’s West Clay Park neighborhood, was fully decorated—top to bottom, inside and out—visits became strictly virtual. For 2021, not only are tours virtual, but the entire design process went digital. New Perspectives, presented in conjunction with creative agency Steelblue, features the work of ten Bay Area design firms in an interactive online space.

The idea for New Perspectives originated with Geoffrey De Sousa, chair of the Showcase’s design advisory board. De Sousa, founder of his namesake interior design firm and cofounder of SFDC showroom De Sousa Hughes, visited a 5,500-square-foot penthouse this spring while house-hunting with clients. Although they didn’t purchase the property, De Sousa had a light bulb moment: “The Showcase didn’t have a house yet, and we knew it couldn’t be an in-person scenario,” he recalls. “So I asked Gregg Lynn, the listing agent, if we could use the property as a template for a showhouse.” Lynn gave his blessing, and soon architect Stephen Sutro was reimagining the flooring, molding, and placement of doors, while Steelblue, a San Francisco agency specializing in interactive experiences for the real estate industry, began developing the online tour.

The design brief called for a cohesive aesthetic throughout: modern (to complement the architecture) with a subdued palette (to underscore the stunning 360-degree views). Along with De Sousa’s firm, which conceived the family room, nine Bay Area design studios were invited to participate in the tech-forward endeavor: AubreyMaxwell (foyer and hallway), Studio Collins Weir (central atrium, kitchen, dining room, and terrace), Martin Kobus (living room and bar), Peruri Design Company (library), Catherine Kwong Design (primary bedroom and bath), Applegate Tran Interiors (principal closet), DLC-ID (guest bedroom and bath), Chroma (guest bedroom and bath), and studioHEIMAT (meditation room).

View of yoga room.

The Meditation Room by StudioHeimat, featuring a cloudlike textile installation envisioned in a Coraggio sheer; fabric through Hewn. Rendering by Steelblue.

Despite the lack of a physical space with which to work, studioHEIMAT’s Eva Muller Bradley and Alicia Cheung Lichtenstein approached the project like any other. “We were thorough and thoughtful,” notes Lichtenstein. They considered the intangibles as well. As Bradley notes, they mused “What do we want the space to feel like? How do we achieve the vibe that we’re going for?” For example, in creating the meditation room, cognizant that activities such as yoga and meditation often mean being seated on the floor, the duo devised an overhead art installation: an ethereal interpretation of San Francisco’s topography, crafted with undulating panels of a Coraggio ecru sheer.

Modern living room.

Subtle gestures can also be appreciated with the tour interface’s zoom feature. The pillows topping the sofa in De Sousa’s space, for example, feature embroidery by London artist Geraldine Larkin. “The visuals are really beautiful,” De Sousa says. “From the texture on the fabric to the little metal details.” 

Boutique leather goods store.

Visitors can get a closer look (and feel) of the pieces from SFDC showrooms at the Design Center: The Ted Boerner mirror and Fuse Lighting sconces in Applegate Tran’s space can be found at Hewn; the bold, cobalt-hued Dedar fabric adorning the chairs in the dining room is by Studio Collins Weir, at Kneedler Fauchère; and the fabric designer Martin Kobus selected for the living room drapes is Osborne & Little. Most of the virtual walls are swathed in paint shades from Benjamin Moore.

Collage of images: one of a bedroom, a living room and a dining room.

More firsts this year: The location is a high-rise penthouse (rather than a stand-alone manse) and admission is free, with donations accepted to support the financial-aid program. “This was uncharted territory,” says De Sousa of putting the 2021 Showcase together, yet “everything went very smoothly, and it was wonderful to see how our design community came together.” New Perspectives is accessible through August 2021.

Collage of images of two bedrooms and a study.

Two Henry Adams Street, Suite 2M-33
San Francisco, CA 94103