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Stained Glass Dragons And Hand-Painted Tigers: Pasadena’s Much-Missed Showcase House Tradition Is Finally Back

A white sofa with decorative pillows on top placed in front of a long kitchen island.
The designer of the mid-century cabaña was vexed by shipping delays, damage and no-shows, as well as inflation's budget bite. But Maria Videla-Juniel admits she prefers these second-choice teak bar stools to her original selection. "Probably 40% of what we have here has been reselected."
(Susanne Whatley
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LAist)
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Showcase houses are amazing things.

There’s one in the Pasadena area that’s been happening every year – at least usually every year (more on that in a moment), for more than half a century.

It’s a spring tradition, in which a homeowner offers up their house for a top-to-bottom makeover that will turn an old, occasionally neglected Pasadena-area mansion into a stylish thing of beauty.

Many of the construction workers, craftspeople, interior and landscape designers involved donate their time and materials.

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In turn, the Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts sells tour tickets for a four-week run to raise money for various arts and music programs, including a “music mobile” for San Gabriel Valley schools, an instrumental competition for students, arts grants, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Over the years the organization has raised more than $24 million, according to its president.

Due to the pandemic, it’s the first time in two years that a showcase house has been created that can be toured by the public. The 2022 House of Design, which opened this past Sunday, is a 1905 Tudor-style mansion in South Pasadena. (The Pasadena Showcase House is a KPCC/LAist sponsor.)

A waterfall, pond and seating area shaded an estate's coastal live oaks.
A waterfall, pond and seating area designed by California Waterscapes is shaded by one of the estate's coastal live oaks. The 1905 mansion's foundation and walls are poured concrete, a material with which its original owner, an engineer who built bridges and railroads, was no doubt comfortable.
(Susanne Whatley
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LAist)

Oaklawn Manor is a sturdy thing made of poured concrete with brick and timber accents, architect unknown. The home is old English but the grounds are Southern Californian with coast live oaks, a pool and an incongruous mid-century modern cabaña whose interior designer's experience serves as a cautionary tale for anyone considering a remodel.

"Probably 40% of what we have here has been reselected," said Maria Videla-Juniel of The Art of Room Design. "Even though we tried to go with things that were in stock originally, they got pushed back, or they came damaged or they got lost in the mail. So this year was particularly challenging because the supply chain is so broken." Also, competition for labor is high and inflation chewed up the budget.

To best appreciate what the designers were up against this year, it’s helpful to have insight into the compressed timeline of creating a showcase house. First, someone (the name is kept secret) has to be persuaded to move out of their home (which must have two staircases to the second floor for traffic flow) and stay gone for months through the following spring.

By January, the home has been stripped of all the occupant's belongings. The empty shell might be in poor shape, with holes in floors or ceilings. Walls are torn out, rooms taken down to the studs. Carpenters, plumbers and electricians come in and refashion old spaces into new and promising canvases on which the designers work their imaginations and their craft.

They bring in workers and artists to transform their chosen spaces which can range in size and splendor from great rooms to back stairwells. They line up vendors to donate fixtures and window treatments and loan furnishings and art.

An artist putting the finishing touches on a Kimono Pavilion at the top of a rear staircase.
Shari Tipich puts finishing touches on her Kimono Pavilion at the top of the rear staircase. The artist has embellished many Showcase House walls and ceilings in recent years, usually with an Italian Rococo flair, but for 2022 she went with an Asian motif.
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Some houses, like this year's, feature original paintings on the walls and ceilings that will linger long after Showcase ends. Decorative artist Shari Tipich has turned Oaklawn Manor's drab upstairs rear hallway into a lush Asian-accented lounge which she's dubbed the "Kimono Pavilion".

Each wall and the ceiling feature her hand-painted designs ranging from tigers in a pond to sunburst-like flowers and jewel tone birds.

By March, a stream of appliances, countertops, sinks and bathtubs is flowing in, followed by furniture, the art and fresh flowers and, finally, the touring public.

It's a process that unfolded like clockwork for decades – until the pandemic hit.

St. George the dragon Slayer is depicted in this triptych at the top of the grand staircase
St. George the dragon Slayer is depicted in this triptych at the top of the grand staircase. Original to the house, the panels were removed and cleaned by experts at the Judson Studios. A theory that the stained-glass studio, family-run since 1897, produced this elaborate artwork cannot be confirmed, since early records were destroyed by fire.
(Susanne Whatley
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LAist)

The 2020 showcase house in Arcadia was in mid-transformation when the shutdown orders were issued.

When work resumed, it was under COVID-19 safety protocols. Progress was slow and the deadline blown. The completed home finally "opened" that fall for virtual tours. Last year, there was a garden party fundraiser instead of a multi-week house tour. But optimism and planning continued.

And part of that planning, of course, involves a dependable supply chain and available contractors but the stars frequently misaligned on those, too.

In the kitchen for example, Cozy Stylish Chic's Jeanne Chung was still waiting for her pizza oven to arrive just days before the crowds were to descend. In its niche, she had placed a life-sized cardboard depiction of its front panel.

Barstools at a wood-topped kitchen island with dinner and flatware siting on top.
Designer Jeanne Chung peeks through the doorway next to her refrigerator, whose left door awaits a replacement for a damaged panel. On the other side of the elegant wood-topped island, a cardboard cutout temporarily replaces her no-show pizza oven. Supply chain issues were among the challenges faced by 2022 Showcase participants.
(Susanne Whatley
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LAist)

"We had to keep the scope of the project contained," said Videla-Juniel of her six-week pool house makeover. "We weren't able to move walls or do some of the things we usually like to do to improve the space. All the contractors are super-busy, all the trades, so we were competing against everybody on a very short timeline."

Helping shepherd this transformation is Showcase President Marti Farley, She and the organization’s dozens of volunteers are clearly pleased to have visitors again for the four-week run along with the money they'll spend on home tour tickets and at the shopping booths and restaurant on the grounds.

“This is the first time we’ve been back in South Pasadena for forty years. So we’re so excited to welcome the world back to Showcase,” she enthused.

Farley is accustomed to external challenges, having overseen extensive Showcase landscaping during a past season in which Pasadena got 27 inches of rain. Small wonder her favorite feature of the home is its original stained-glass triptych at the top of the grand staircase. It depicts St. George slaying the dragon.

The 57th Pasadena Showcase House of Design continues through May 22nd. Timed-entry tickets can be purchased online at pasadenashowcase.org

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