Decorators’ Show House 2017
Presented by The Junior League of Buffalo and The Buffalo News
Photos by kc kratt
Did you miss the 2017 Show House? Read on for an overview of one of the most unusual Show House projects to date.
The beautiful August Feine House may not be the grandest of the mansions that have been transformed as Decorators’ Show Houses, but it may very well prove to be the most lasting and meaningful. Now that crowds have stopped touring the property, the house is closed for further adaptations and reopens as the Russell J. Salvatore Hospitality House, part of the Kevin House Guest Complex. Located on Elliott Street along the fringe of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, it is perfectly sited to benefit and service patients and families traveling to Buffalo for medical care.
The Show House project is a highly successful fundraiser that’s undertaken every other year, and this mansion’s makeover is the nineteenth successful effort. Since 1981, the collaboration between the Junior League of Buffalo and the Buffalo News has raised nearly four million dollars for projects that benefit the community. Nostalgia buffs were able to view a hallway lined with framed renderings of the each of the biannual Show House projects dating from 1981.
The home was designed by George J. Metzger, a successful architect and builder who worked during Buffalo’s late Victorian period. He designed several residences for Buffalo’s prominent citizens, as well as commercial structures. His more famous designs include the Lancaster Opera House, the Cyclorama Building, several buildings at University of Buffalo South Campus, the 106th Armory State Arsenal (the largest in the country now demolished), and Children's Hospital.
The Victorian structure on Ellicott Street was originally built in 1881 for Albert Ziegler, owner of a long-running brewery on Genesee Street. Ziegler was a prominent citizen who actively supported Grover Cleveland in his run for president in 1884. In 1887, his brewery burned to the ground. When rebuilt on Washington Street, the business was renamed Phoenix after the Egyptian mythological figure that rose from the ashes. (That brewery is now redeveloped as residential units by Sinatra & Company.)
The house was then owned by Civil War veteran Johann Irlbacker, owner of Irlbacker & Sons Plumbing, and by August Feine in 1906. It changed hands two more times before becoming headquarters for the Buffalo and Erie County Tuberculosis Association (now American Lung Association) in 1955. Kevin Guest House purchased the home in June 2015.
Built in Second Empire style, brick with stone sills, concrete lintels, and a prominent corner tower, the structure is capped with a massive mansard roof. Similar to the Italianate style, the house features heavy brackets and richly ornamented windows and doors, projecting a distinctive, almost flamboyant, personality.
The front door features August Feine's original ironwork.
August Feine enhanced that personality, embellishing his home with many ornate details. He was a skilled craftsman whose hand-forged iron creations can be see on the Hotel at the Lafayette and the Statler Building. He sculpted pieces for fire escapes, stairs, and trim throughout Buffalo and beyond, and decorated his own home’s exterior with equal detail. His effusive iron decor is the reason the house is still identified by his namesake.
To best accommodate its new functions, the house has been rezoned, creating practical and inviting spaces for the visiting families. The third floor will house two apartments specifically designed for bone marrow and other transplant recipients, each having a full working kitchen and handicap-accessible bathroom. Three private suites are created on the second floor, providing four-to-five beds per space (each generous bedroom having its own full en suite bathroom). This answers a critical need to better accommodate families. The ground floor has its public spaces and will also provide additional housing.
Show House highlights
The 2017 chairs, Jeannine Yaegar-Aiello and Barbara Lupica, talk about the challenges and mechanicals that the decorators needed to deal with in this particular house and their amazing successes in integrating things like exposed pipes and sprinkler systems into the decor. In addition they tried to aim this particular Show House towards millennials, or as Jaegar-Aiello put it, “not just for ladies-who-lunch.” The hope was to appeal to a younger demographic interested in technology, for them to view the house and “meet decorators who think like they do.” Jaeger-Aiello (who is also an architect) comments that a lot of Show Houses can be fantasy, stating “I want functional and want to show people that ADA (American Disability Act) can be beautiful. With few small exceptions, this particular house is ADA compliant.”
There are two kitchens on the third level as part of the “transplant” apartments. One is the work of Auburn Watson. Wayne Watson realized early in the process that the kitchen would also serve as a sitting room, so it was designed accordingly. It’s large enough to serve as a comfortable gathering space, but also functions as an efficient workspace. Here, materials, which will all remain on site, needed to be sanitary and sturdy, appropriate for the living environment needed for the transplant guests. Instead of porous woods and stone, cabinets are laminate (Mouser donated by Watson) and counters and sinks are Corian (donated by Dupont and Shell Fabrication). JennAir appliances (donated by Orville's) have an Elica range hood (supplied by Seabar Sushi). A contemporary dark wood grain is used for cabinets and a wood-grained vinyl floor can handle heavy-duty spills. This is the Auburn Watson’s fifteenth Show House. (To read more about the Burchfield inspired wallpaper by Red Disk, click here.)
A third floor kitchen/dining area features Burchfield-designed wallpaper introduced by Red Disk.
The other specialized kitchen is a farmhouse design that harkens back to a simpler time and combines urban with contemporary components. By Cortese Construction Services, the cabinets, countertops, and materials are good-looking and able to accommodate medical-grade conditions. (There are a host of donated products.) Edison lighting both industrializes and warms the space. It’s all enhanced by the mixture of tiles (donated by Tiles International) in the adjacent bathroom designed by Barbara Reformat. There are shades of taupe in matte and polished tiles, and an effective glass-tile waterfall accent in the practical yet handsome bath.
The master bedroom has the best architectural bones of all the sleeping rooms of the house, boasting tall ceilings, huge bay windows, and original moldings. Four Honey Bees Cottage has used a handpainted four-poster bed as a centerpiece and benefited from the exceptionally large room size, original to the home. A faux fireplace has been installed and looks great. There’s a mix of disparate plaids, florals, leathers, and color, which somehow weave together to create a coordinated whole. MacKenzie-Childs fans will be thrilled at the inclusion of a host of ceramics, accessories, and collectibles in the signature black and white pattern.
The new bathroom adjoining the bedroom, created by the team Homestone Tile Gallery’s Karen Mattoon and Signature Designs by Sherry Collins, updates the Victorian theme in a warm palette. The unusual tiles are a luscious soft green and wonderfully detailed with scrolls and textures. It’s a treat to see the use of a high end American-made tile. Coupled with plank floor tile, window treatments, and careful accents, this is prettiest bath in the house.
A totally different bathroom was created by Bridge Interiors in a style branded Steampunk Elegance. This genre is inspired by fashions of the Victorian era and nineteenth century steam-powered machinery, or, as designer Julie DeAngelo explains, “lace and velvet mixed with metal pipes and gears.”Bridge donated all the fixtures and materials to the space, a mix of modern and vintage, industrial and textured.
A feng shui retreat features red accents and a "Sulfa," the first piece in a line of feng shui-inspired furniture.
Mark Taylor Interiors and Linda Ellson of Feng Shui Your World have paired to turn the first floor library into a feng shui retreat. With a goal of creating a sense of harmony and balance in a room that “just feels good,” the design uses color, shape, and basic elements to achieve a welcoming atmosphere. Taylor is a veteran of a dozen Decorator Show Houses, with a rock-solid portfolio of major design successes. Water is represented by a blue accent wall and a peaceful water painting, bringing a sense of calm and depth. Red accents energize the space with the fire element. Centerpiece of the room is Ellson’s “Sulfa,” whose boxy shape and gold fabric ground the space. The sofa is the first piece of what will become her line of feng shui-inspired furniture; its tagline is, “It’s not just a couch: It’s a lifestyle.”
Each item in this multi-purpose room seems to have been thoughtfully selected for its significance, combining an ancient art with current design. The showstopper in the space is the Crystal Laurel light fixture by Fine Art Lamps, furnished by Anzalone Electric.
Taylor has had live goldfish somewhere in each room (bowls, fireplace, bathtub) he’s designed for the series of Show Houses. This time the fish bowl is on the coffee table, but it holds a red Siamese fighting fish, completing the feng shui theme.
Another first floor communal space, the Bourbon Lounge, is from Kittinger Gallery & Design Studio. It’s designed by Karen Bialkowski, a veteran of ten Show Houses with a track record of creating beautiful spaces. (Her memorable solarium from the 2015 House was particularly pleasing and won three Judges’ Choice awards for excellence.) Oversized wing chairs in a supple leather surround an organic wood coffee table, creating an appealing space in which to pause and relax in comfort. The room features rich dark woods, inlaid flooring, and fine architectural details; indirect light filters from the adjacent glass-enclosed solarium.
A focal point is the mid-century modern bar, the first piece in Kittinger Furnitures new Reserve collection. This was designed by Karen personally from the ground up. Features include mood lighting illuminating the bottles on display, and a Bluetooth speaker, leather upholstering, and Buffalo nickel nailheads.
The Bourbon Lounge
The solarium is the true architectural jewel of the house, with floor-to-ceiling windows and ornate original ironwork. Reback Interiors has maximized its potential topped with a range of peacock pastels.
The dining room is by Michael P Design + room. Energized by large windows with metal grates, his goal was to create a light, bright space inspired by English conservatories. The use of metal was continued by incorporating brass metal dining chairs, a tufted banquette, and a subtle-washed oriental rug. The focus is a long scale that hangs over a custom table by local artisan Norman Cramer. Dove grey walls and ceiling details with soft brass accents and modern glass sconces add whimsy to this very pleasing room.
Mr. Feine’s Design Studio was created by Frontier High School Interior Design Students. They wanted to create an industrial space with a strong Buffalo architectural theme. Dubbed Schon Eisenwaren (Beautiful Ironwork), it’s a wonderful homage to the home’s namesake and his beautiful ornamental creations. The room is full of deliberate details. There’s a faux-brick wall, Buffalo memorabilia and accents, and vintage artifacts, all symbolic of Fiene and his sons’ careers. Under the guidance of Debra Townsend and Lisa Potters, the students made everything. The blueprint on the vintage drafting table was done by Alyssa Rautenstrauch who drew the ironwork from the front door and digitally reversed it into an old style blueprint. Original charcoals of Buffalo architecture were created by Zachary Bridge and Crystal Lawson; they have been donated to KGH.
A nearby bedroom by Timothy Aaron Creative is a casual, relaxed space. Its neutral palette is a backdrop to a thoughtfully designed room. With key pieces (like bed platforms) in the room on wheels, it becomes judiciously flexible. Given the range of families who could be adapting to a temporary living situation, it makes great sense to be able to reposition furniture in different combinations. Here, a cushioned headboard runs the full length of the room, but furniture and lamps can swing and angle in any direction. As reconfiguration happens, spots are provided where treasures can be tucked away. Aaron’s passion for repurposing materials and creative thinking is especially refreshing.
One particularly delightful room has been created by Special Spaces Buffalo, a not-for-profit organization founded in Tennessee in 2004 on the principle that children battling life-threatening medical illnesses each need their own special space. Its goal has been to create dream bedrooms, giving a child who is battling a serious illness a place where he or she can find comfort.
Here, they’ve crafted an inspiring, jungle-themed tree house where a child can find peace or a diversion. The bed itself is modular, made of a weatherproof product that could be installed outdoors. A bright and colorful hand-painted jungle mural by Bogue Arts Studio and other artists incorporates walls and ceiling into the tropical forest. A terrific accent in the room is a freestanding chest of six drawers; each drawer has been painted and customized to look like a stack of old suitcases, ready-to-go on a jungle adventure. With a budget of $3,000 dollars per room, relying on sponsors from the private sector, Special Spaces has created over fifty bedrooms across Western New York and hundreds more across the country.
The Jungle Theme Children's Room is by Special Spaces Buffalo, a not-for-profit organization that creates dream bedrooms for children battling illnesses.
The house’s function is mainly lodging, so there are bedrooms galore. Natale Builders created a serene nursery in textures of white against a grey backdrop. The theme “Love you to the moon and back” is played upon with a custom-created cradle by Wrisleys Woodworking. California Closets created the wall unit. It’s appropriate that the view out the window from the nursery is of the new Oishei Children’s Hospital.
The Sophisticated Sapphire sitting room by Erin Kent Interiors coordinates with a Blue Velvet Retreat bedroom by Buffalo Paint & Wallpaper. The designers coordinated their uses of color and mood, playing off the architectural moldings with paint and wallpapers. “We wanted to create calm, serene, restful spaces,” says Kent. Her sitting room incorporates an electric fireplace with pretty custom ceramic white-sand tile.
It’s impossible to credit all the decorators for their work in one article, as there are so many contributors to the project. Bogue did the decorative finishes in the beautiful main foyer and stairs, where the home’s original woodwork and moldings are at their best. Rosemary Zobel decorated the lovely vestibule which also features David Tiftickjian and Sons carpets.
Students and faculty from Villa Maria College transformed a transitional hallway with a Stop and Smell the Roses theme, featuring many design details, framed original watercolors, and lovely glass art.
A central role has been played by MP Carroll Hardwood who sanded and refinished all the hardwood floors on the first floor, and donated and installed all the new hardwood flooring on the second floor, working with each decorator to make selections appropriate to their design.
Members of the Interior Design Association of WNY, a network of local designers, donated their time and talents to create a Family Entertainment Lounge. Here they transformed a very rough basement (with help from New Era Cap and Buffalo Sabres Sports) into a light and airy playroom and media room for families to enjoy. It’s colorful and comfortable. Michelle Peller White and the team of designers have done a series of similar charitable projects and will remain after the Show House closes as strategic partners to KGH as it adapts the house to its actual long-term function.
Russell J. Salvatore, a prominent restaurateur and philanthropist, donated $500,000 to the home’s restoration. Approximately half was used on exterior work and restoration of the ironwork, most visible on windows, porch, and doorway. In addition to work on mechanicals, every window in the house has been replaced, while beautiful landscape enhances the surrounding property and adjacent city-owned land.
The most refreshing thing about this project is the unique aspect that almost every participant has underscored—the fact that here one charity is helping another charity. That concept alone makes Show House 2017 doubly successful!
To read more about the Kevin Guest House and it's contributions to provide a comfortable and supportive environment for patients and families traveling to receive state-of-the-art healthcare and treatment in Buffalo, click here.
Barry A. Muskat is Spree’s architecture critic.