For the first time in its 43-year history, the San Francisco Decorator Showcase, which benefits San Francisco University High School, is going virtual—at least in part. Designers are still taking over rooms—27 of them, to be exact, at the Mediterranean-style house at 22 22nd Avenue in the city’s West Clay Park neighborhood. But given the currently-in-flux COVID-19 crisis and the myriad regulations that govern group get-togethers these days, the showhouse’s organizers have added digital components that are anything but sides to the entrée of the home itself. 

In fact, while there are tentative plans to move forward with in-person tours from August 29–September 27, it’s likely that most of this year’s visitors will instead partake in walk-through video tours of the house and gardens, an interactive 3D self-guided tour, and online designer interviews than will actually visit the physical location. 

AD PRO discussed the challenges and highlights of designing for the digital age with a selection of organizers and designers: Thelma Garza, director of events, and Jenny Bittner Borden, director of showcase operations; designers Chad Dorsey, who designed a listening room and the bath; Gioi Tran of Applegate Tran Interiors, who created the family/living room; Philip Bewley and Austin Forbord of DZINE Gallery, who remade the stairwell and landing; Jennifer Wundrow and Heather Brock of Nest Design Co., who transformed the laundry room; and Alain Peauroi of Terremoto, who took on the outdoor spaces. 

You’ve been organizing a showhouse during a pandemic! What has changed this year? 

Thelma Garza, director of events: “From my end, what has changed the most is dealing with the unknown—not having enough information at any one time about what will be happening in the future. We were well on our way to being ready for the 2020 showcase to open on time, but with postponement due to the virus, everything came to a standstill, including work in the house itself, work with our volunteer committee members. We needed to come up with an alternative to a live showcase in the event that we wouldn’t be able to open the house for in-person tours. This was critical because we still needed to raise money for student financial aid, and we had to find a way for our designers to be successful.”

Jenny Bittner Borden, director of showcase operations: “It was a lot of ‘We’ll have to wait and see, as we are following the CDC and WHO guidelines.’ As more businesses started to shut down and sheltering in place was in order, my team and I had to really put our thinking caps on and find a way to still make the showcase possible and hopefully a success for all.”

Designers, please walk us through the design of a digital showhouse. What’s different from working expressly on the in-person experience? What are some of the major considerations? 

Chad Dorsey: “Designing for a virtual tour is that much harder. The camera is a tighter angle and the views are more controlled. The viewer is seeing the room though someone else’s eye, but the content will be well edited and put together. It will almost be as if you are watching a movie where you are obsessed with the house and keep returning to the same scene over and over to see exactly how the space was designed…. We all know those movies! This is a big advantage; the viewer can pause and really look at the details and view again without crowds.”

Gioi Tran, Applegate Tran Interiors: “At first, this seemed like it would be a normal time of digging deep and flexing our creative muscles to develop the showcase concept; however, as we all know, this year has been anything but normal. It feels like everything has changed, but we know that the need for beauty, art, and creativity are more important now than ever. Throughout history the arts have always soothed anxiety by creating an escape from the reality and difficulties humans have lived through. These times are no different. We took all of this into consideration when our design evolved and came to fruition. From the beginning, our concept was to design a room that was organic and soothing with pops of excitement and color. It feels like the concept was spot on for the mood of this new world we live in—pushing us even more toward a juxtaposition of bold art and color with a calming beautiful environment to witness it in. Among the many changes that naturally occur in design—especially showcase houses—we’ve learned to adapt and change the way we create.”