Brooklyn Heights gets its first-ever designer showhouse this month
The Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) will publicly debut the borough’s first-ever Designer Showhouse on Sept. 29 in a historic 150-year-old townhouse on Livingston Street, replacing its long-standing annual house tour fundraising initiative.
After 31 seasons of relying on house tours as their primary fundraising vehicle, BHA Executive Director Peter Bray says two things became clearly evident — “The universe of homes to draw upon was being exhausted because in such a compact community with a half a dozen homes featured each year, our options were running out and we couldn’t keep going back to the well. Also, it’s a different world now and people are more private about their investments, so it was time for a change.”
The seed for that change was initially planted back in 2015 during a conversation between former BHA Executive Director Judy Stanton and Ellen Hamilton of Hamilton Design Associates that examined the possibility of replacing the house tours with a Showhouse. That was the beginning of a 24-month undertaking that will soon culminate in the borough’s first and only Designer Showhouse located at 32 Livingston St. between Clinton and Court streets.
Hamilton now a Showhouse co-chair, was able to bring her acclaimed interior design influence to the project by drawing upon resources from both the growing and established design community and partnering with a variety of vendors and decorators. Hamilton also recruited industry colleague Tony Manning of Mitchell Manning Consultants to be the Showhouse Producer. Manning who has worked on more than 50 Designer Showhouses was responsible for the overall coordination of the designers, handling the publicity and marketing and managing the ins and outs of the Showhouse.
Showhouse Co-Chair Erika Belsey Worth, who ran the BHA house tours for three years alongside Judy Stanton, joins Hamilton. Belsey whose boutique firm Belsey & Mehla Architects specializes in renovations took on the responsibility of overseeing the transformation of the sprawling 6,700-square-foot home that included gutting and installing three new bathrooms and a kitchen.
Celebrated interior designer and television personality Thom Filicia, whose A-List clients include Jennifer Lopez, Tina Fey, Rosewood Hotels and Resorts and the W Hotels, is the inaugural honorary design co-chair.
During the early stages of the project, local real estate brokers in the community were tasked with identifying owners with a potential interest in showcasing their homes. The length of time involved in the project was one of the biggest hurdles. “The first time is always the most challenging in terms of finding a suitable location where it’s a win-win situation but after the first time, the rodeo starts to look familiar,” says Showhouse Producer Tony Manning, standing in front of the house and smiling as he watches workmen going up and down the stairs bringing in the last bits of furnishings to complete the job.
When it came to finding the right house, Besley-Worth says, “No one knew what to expect but we were open-minded. We saw a lot, I mean, a lot of houses. We could not have asked for a better house than this one,” she says standing in the entryway of the 1867 brownstone owned by Karin and Saul Cooper. “It’s as pristine as possible, completely flawless. It’s in the original condition, the wood floors, mahogany doors, the moldings, everything,” she says proudly.
According to Peter Bray, Showhouses have been a proven concept in other markets, citing the Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse in Manhattan as drawing a very significant number of people through its doors and raising a considerable amount of critical funding annually.
Bray hopes the BHA Designer Showhouse will do the same and that funds raised through ticket sales will help replenish the BHA’s financial assets and promote their financial sustainability so they can continue to function at a high level in the future for the community.
Bray says while the house will draw local residents, the accessible location of the Showhouse will also attract tri-state area design enthusiasts. He says they’ve even seen early international interest from Spain as well as a group from Japan.
As the finishing touches are being put into place by dozens of people coming in and out of the brownstone, Ellen Hamilton surveys the house from the curb smiling and says “It’s like making bouillabaisse. We took a variety of wonderful ingredients, put them together and created something really great.”
The Showhouse opens with a preview party on Sept. 27 and will open to the public from Sept. 29 through Nov. 5, Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will be closed on Mondays.
Admission to the general public is $40 per person and $35 per person for BHA members. For more information and to purchase tickets visit https://thebha.org/events/event/brooklyn-heights-designer-showhouse/.