A Chat with Steven Stolman Author of 40 Years of Fabulous: The Kips Bay Decorator Show House

May 5, 2015

By Lynda Simonton

Whether you are a serious student— or a casual fan of interior design—Steven Stolman's recently released book 40 Years of Fabulous: The Kips Bay Decorator Show House (Gibbs Smith) is likely to become a fixture on your coffee table. The book chronicles the forty-plus year history of Kips Bay with insider insights, clever stories, and plenty of photographs. Stolman’s long history with the iconic showhouse makes him particularly well-suited to share the story of the event which has helped shape the history of American interior design. 

Steven Stolman

Lynda Simonton: You have been involved with the Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse both personally and professionally for many years. Can you explain your involvement and why you are so passionate about supporting the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club?
Steven Stolman: Early on in my career as a designer on Seventh Avenue, I was a member of the Kips Bay Junior Committee. Ultimately, I was named special events chairman, until I aged my way off the committee (ugh!)

So early on, I was made aware of the importance of programs like the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club in providing pathways to success for kids at risk.

LS: What was the biggest challenge of writing this book? Forty years of fabulous is hard to edit to just 280 pages!
SS: Gathering the materials necessary to build a comprehensive telling of this story was the biggest challenge. Designers are a lot of wonderful thing, but record keepers they are not. And surprisingly, the archives of our top interior design publications lent little, as they still are not 100% searchable.

40 years of fabulous

Gibbs Smith

LS: Showhouse rooms are often created for dramatic effect, yet many of the rooms have withstood the test of time and continue to be chic. Why do you think that is?

SS: The expense and energy required to design and build out a show house room demands a certain gravitas. Too, since show houses have been known to launch careers, designers take these things rather seriously and avoid anything too trite.

LS: What three rooms featured in your book had the most impact on starting trends or changing the direction of design?
SS: Richard Ridge and Roderick Denault’s iridescent salon was the precursor to the whole “bling” thing. Both of Bunny Williams’ exquisite rooms laid the groundwork for true multi-functionalism.

bunny williams

Interior design by Bunny Williams, Photograph courtesy of Gibbs Smith 

LS: When writing this book, what struck you as the most significant changes in producing a showhouse in the past forty years?
SS: The widening of the pool of designers invited to participate. Gone are the days of the same designers doing the same show houses year after year. How wonderful that emerging talents are now welcomed, along with designers from cities other than where a particular show house is located.

LS: The 2015 showhouse launches on May 14. What is particularly exciting about this year’s house?
SS: The bones of this year’s house are particularly good. Everyone will want to bring their A game to the table.

Kips Bay Showhouse

The Arthur Sachs Mansion

Site of the 2015 Kips Bay Designer Showhouse

Image courtesy of Brown Harris Stevens

LS: Events featuring room vignettes seem to be gaining popularity for fundraisers. I even saw a “virtual showhouse” on the Decorist. Do you think the traditional full-house showhouse model can be maintained?
SS: I certainly hope so. Designer show houses are one of the last conventions of polite society that are truly charming and inspiring. I would hate to see them disappear into the virtual world.

On May 7 Steven Stolman will host a lively panel discussion with designers John Douglas Eason, Harry Heismann, and Charles Pavarini as part of Wakefield Design Centers To-the-Trade Only Market Day in Stamford, Connecticut. The group will discuss the merits and challenges of designing a showhouse room and share some stories about their experience.

A book signing will follow, so you can own your own copy of this highly acclaimed design compendium. 

This event is limited to design trade professionals. Please reserve your space by emailing [email protected] or call (203) 358-0818.