The 2001 Decorators’ Show House:
A Special Preview

By Elizabeth Licata
All photographs in this article by Jim Bush.

There are two ways to approach a 9,500 square foot, forty-room renovation—with the appalled horror of having to do it yourself or with the fascinated glee of watching somebody else do all the work.

Those who love interior renovations—especially if they’re participating vicariously—will get a biannual chance to see the mother of all makeovers, the Junior League of Buffalo and Buffalo News Decorators’ Show House, on view April 28 through May 20.

Although the Sneak Peak Weekend on February 24-25 is past, Spree captured a partial photographic preview of the to-be-transformed rooms in late December, as well as a summary of what’s planned by this year’s decorators.

The eleventh Decorator’s Show House is the Schoellkopf-Vom Berge Manor at 121 Chapin Parkway. It is a huge English manor-style residence built in 1912 by Esenwein & Johnson, protégés of famed Buffalo architect E. B. Green. “Only a few houses are magnificent enough for our purposes,” explains Show House Chair Patty O’Brien. “This house has a great history.”

Designer Karen Fick, shown with Chair Patty O’Brien (right) has exciting plans for this solarium, soon to become a family entertainment center.
It also has the requisite two staircases needed for traffic flow, enough rooms for the decorators (forty), and is located within the city of Buffalo, always a requirement. All the non-removable decorating (wall, window, floors, etc.) will remain for the owners, theirs to enjoy or change as they please, while furniture and other portable decorations will leave with the decorators after the viewing period is over. O’Brien stresses the enormous contribution of the decorators, who donate all their own materials and labor for the rooms they design. (She also cites longtime area firm Florence Cooper as really getting the ball rolling in the early days.)

This time, the owners are paying to have the kitchen and five of the bathrooms re-done—normally major kitchen and bath re-dos are not included—automatically making the Manor a meatier, more interesting project. By the time I got to the house, the fixtures, walls, and flooring shown in our photograph of the kitchen had all been ripped out. According to renovators Auburn and Watson, even the chimney separating the main kitchen from the breakfast area is being removed, leaving the team with nothing but bare concrete, bricks, and beams. Upon this clean slate, they’re installing what Wayne Watson describes as “a kitchen for a serious cook.” The plan is granite countertops, commercial appliances, and either a heated concrete or ceramic tile floor, but countering this sleek utilitarianism is the warm look of unfinished cherry cabinets and other homey touches. The kitchen is equipped with an old-fashioned dumbwaiter, used in the nineteenth century to send trays of food between floors, and that will be incorporated into the update. Watson is also constructing “an island, and a peninsula.”

While Auburn-Watson brings the kitchen into the twenty-first century, other decorators have set their sights on keeping the period feel of the Manor, adding touches typical of the English and French country manor traditions. Smith and Schulte are creating an Anglophile’s drawing room, painting the walls in Windham cream and Adams gold, accenting the carved wall moldings with gold leaf, and filling the space with mahogany occasional tables. Window treatments feature silk drapery, trimmings, and tassels, while the upholstery includes brocade, velvet, and chintz, in a typical English mix of patterns and textures.

Wayne Watson and Sally Gioia of Auburn Watson in the Show House kitchen, here seen in its pre-makeover state. The kitchen has since been gutted for a comprehensive renovation.
Drexel Heritage has similar luxurious plans for the formal dining room, modeled on the French country manor. Expect tapestries, lace, and velvet on the windows, wrought iron and cast stone accents, hickory oak casegoods, and wall moldings enclosing artist-rendered Old World tableaux. In a similar opulent vein, a lovely circular library near the entrance of the house is being filled with color, texture, and ornaments by Conley Interiors.

As for the most radical of the updated rooms, it may contain the look and feel of the nineteenth century—marble floors and fireplace, traditional leather armchairs, and Persian rugs—but there’s high-tech buzzing beneath the tranquil surface. The chairs are motorized. The coffee table conceals a subwoofer. A high definition, big-screen T.V. lurks above the fireplace. Designer Karen Fick envisions this room—a solarium in the old days—as the ultimate family room, available for card-playing, movie-watching, music-listening, even reading. Patty O’Brien admits that Fick’s was among the most popular of the proposals, combining as it does the beauty and classicism of the original architecture with twenty-first century uses. Fick names her proposal “Now, That’s Entertainment!”

There are twenty-some remaining decorators, all with equally engaging ideas for their designated rooms—and probably best to let their rooms speak for themselves when the time comes for viewing. There are also plans for the carriage house and various patios of both the mansion and carriage house, including a gift shop and tea room entitled Genevieve’s Boutique to be housed in the carriage house. (Genevieve Schoelkopff was the original owner of the Manor.)

This room will be decorated by Conley Interiors.
The Show House has become such a well-known and anticipated event in Buffalo that it’s hard to believe that this will only be the eleventh house. It started in 1980, when Buffalo News publisher Stanford Lipsey came to the Junior League with the idea of a Buffalo showhouse fundraising project. With the enthusiastic help of Western New York decorators, the first Show House in 1981 made twice the revenue expected. Since 1981, the Show Houses have made over one and half million dollars for such organizations as Hospice, Tifft, EPIC, and Theatre of Youth.

The Buffalo News provides essential printing support, publicity, and advertising space. “We are equal partners,” notes Patty O’Brien. “It’s wonderful working with them.”

The Junior League of Buffalo and The Buffalo News present the eleventh Decorator’s Show House at the Schoellkopf-Von Berge Manor, 121 Chapin Parkway, April 28 through May 20. There is a gala preview party on April 27. For tickets and other information, call 635-8795, or visit the web site at


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