Every three years since 1979, the Junior League of Hartford has taken a West Hartford home, moved its residents, removed its furniture, and left local home designers to wander in. Everyone is assigned a room and is allowed to put their aesthetic imprint on it.
Last year, the 100th anniversary of the Junior League was to be the Designer Show House’s 15th fundraiser. But COVID-19 set it back a year. The triennial design extravaganza, where the work of 18 interior designers from Connecticut and New York will be on display, will run June 4-26 at 51 Brookside Boulevard in West Hartford.
Edith “Edie” Whitman remembers each of the designer show homes. The retired owner of Edith Whitman Interiors of West Hartford participated in all of them. She swore the 2018 event would be her last. But she couldn’t resist the urge to dip her toe in again, at 85.
“I had to close my store when I fell ill. I was sick for two years. But I missed my shop,” Whitman said. “The things that I hadn’t sold, I had some at home. I saw this kitchen. It was beautiful. I imagined what I could do with it, and everything fell into place very easily.
She said she thought “black and color” when she saw the kitchen. “Granite contains black, and I wanted colors too,” she said. She laid two rugs with multicolored shapes on a black background. “I built the whole room around the rugs,” she said.
She brought her love of antiques, adding a small children’s desk and chairs. The family that owns the house has two young children. She filled the window seat with succulents, put antique copper vessels on the stove and antique dishes on the shelves.
“I wanted a cozy atmosphere, a place where the kids did their homework while the parents cooked,” she said.
Kate Smith of Kate Smith Interiors in Farmington got the breakfast nook. She was inspired by the rose garden in Elizabeth Park. “That’s what June is to me in Connecticut, when all the gardens suddenly come to life,” Smith said.
She covered the walls with floral wallpaper and accented the pink colors with a peachy pink lacquer table. The golden chandelier has candle cups in the shape of tulips.
Kelly Hernsdorf of Ethan Allen in Canton got the show. “There was great light and some interesting architectural elements,” Hernsdorf said. Like Whitman, she built the design around a single element. “My favorite palette is blue and white. I saw this sofa in a promotional photo,” she said. “It’s a classic Chesterfield with the unexpected blue leather.”
She painted the yellow walls a gray tint with touches of blue and laid a white patterned rug on the dark wooden floor. Bird-themed accents are scattered throughout the room. Tall, pierced-surface white ginger jars flank the fireplace.
Hernsdorf’s penchant for symmetry comes into play. Large-scale artwork of blue herons sits on either side of an elegant window desk. On the other side of the room, two half-moon chests flank the entrance, with two identical mirrors above them, reflecting the herons.
Jennifer Moreau of Moreau Designs in Granby, which specializes in biophilic design, redid the screened porch on the side of the house, which adjoins the Trout Brook babble. “The floor was concrete. I could have laid tiles, but I used large format stencils instead,” she said of the rust-colored pattern. “It has the feel of terracotta.”
Overlooking the porch is a wooden swing big enough to double as a bed. “You can sit here in the morning with a coffee or in the evening with a glass of wine or a book,” Moreau said. “I hope the owner wants to keep it, because it is installed in the ceiling.”
Once the house tours are over, the owners of the house, Jared and Marsha Jacobskind, can move in again. The couple bought the 1938 Tudor home, which has 4,000 square feet above ground and 1,000 below, in 2019 for $570,000. Marsha and their 1 and 3 year olds have been offsite since design work began, with all of their furniture and belongings stored in the attic. Jared, a dentist from Cromwell, used to live in the basement to stay close to work, but recently moved out as design work intensified.
“The kids and I are having what I call a nomadic adventure, staying with my parents and with my family in New Jersey. We’re also enjoying our in-laws’ lake house in the Hudson Valley. My husband meets us on weekends,” Marsha Jacobskind said.
The Jacobskinds’ return to a unified family life will be happy, but it will also be a moment of decision. In fact, hundreds of decisions. Will they decide to keep the items, many of which are quite expensive, put into the house by the designers? Or will they decide these items aren’t quite to their liking and have them returned to the stores they came from?
Some items — paint on the walls, wallpaper, etc. — will remain free unless the Jacobskinds don’t want it. Everything else, they have the first option to buy. A percentage of these sales will be donated to the Junior League.
The League’s philanthropies focus on empowering women, with sponsorship of Boys and Girls Clubs of Hartford, My Sister’s Place, Interval House and other organizations that help women and girls. The Show House tour admission fee also benefits these programs.
Molly Towne of West Hartford, co-chair, along with Whitney Sweeney, of the Junior League Show House Committee, said the Show House is the Junior League’s biggest fundraiser, with proceeds funding three years of programs.
Towne said COVID-19 wasn’t the only thing that changed Show House’s plans.
“We had a house but it fell through. Usually we use a house that is on the market or involved in an area, but the market has been so tricky lately. The houses sold so quickly. Nobody wanted to let us use their house if they could sell it,” she said.
The League eventually posted a notice on Facebook. Jacobskind saw it. His house met League requirements.
“We usually want it to be at least 3,000 square feet, a house with really good throughput, ideally two flights of stairs, one person can go up and one person can go down,” she said. “At the same time, we want the house to be relatable, nothing too big and grand. We want people to look at it and say, I could do it in my living room.
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Other designers working in the Show House, by invitation only and who have paid a fee to participate, are Camden Grace Interiors of Hartford, Dana Ferraro for Molly Patton Design in Fairfield, Fiona Leonard Interiors of Darien, Jaime Rangoon and Erick Espinoza of ‘Anthony Baratta in New York City, Jennifer Noyes of Creative Contour in Middletown, Kathryn Hunt Studios in West Hartford, McCory Interiors in Burlington, Melissa Porter of NEAT Method in West Hartford, Robin Jones Designs in Bloomfield, Shelley Curtis Dodd of Mews Designs in West Hartford, SKM Design LLC of West Hartford and Vanessa Brennan Interiors of New York.
The Designer Show House will be open on June 3 for an opening night from 6-9 p.m., featuring food, drinks, desserts, and designer meet-and-greets. Admission is $75. Then, it will be open from June 4 to 26 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Admission is $25 in advance, $40 at the door.
A brunch with New York interior designer Anthony Barrata will take place on June 4 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Admission is $50 and includes brunch, mimosas, a house tour, and a chat with Barrata. Barrata’s autographed books will retail for $40.
A “Script & Sip” calligraphy class, for $55, will be held June 9 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. A networking event with FLOW (Future Leaders of West Hartford) will be held June 16 from 5 p.m. 7 p.m. Admission is $30 and includes drinks and light snacks.
A gallery for good, with works by local artists, will be on display June 4-26 to raise more funds for SU projects.
For tickets, visit eventbrite.com/e/302345382177.
Susan Dunne can be contacted at [email protected].