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Virtual Showhouses: Temporary Pivot or Pioneer into a New Future?

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Plato first said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

COVID‒19 continues to affect the interior design industry’s 2020 social calendar, and to drive creative solutions in response. Watching the majority of spring events be outright cancelled or postponed indefinitely, the organizers of staple gatherings planned for summer and fall have had to adjust their plans to accommodate this unprecedented scenario. A new concept has emerged from spring’s fervent brainstorming: the virtual show house. With a number of previously planned events transitioning to a digital presentation, some new players have seized the opportunity to step into the scene with a virtual show house of their own.


Here, we break down the details of these virtual solutions, and how they are not only re-configuring the 2020 calendar, but potentially reshaping the entire concept of the show house.


Which Show Houses are Virtual?

These are the major interior design show houses that have transitioned to virtual events, at least for this year.

  • The San Francisco Decorator Showcase, one of the year’s most anticipated events has invested in a robust virtual experience. This year’s event features over 20 interior and landscape designers and will offer an interactive 3D self‒guided tour as well as video tours. The virtual event will be available beginning on August 29, 2020 and, if possible based on conditions, in-person tours will also be available from August 29–September 27, 2020.
  • Maison&Objet, the keystone of Fall’s Paris Design Week, will instead host an online event that will include Digital Showrooms and Digital Talks. Participating brands will provide “staged snapshots” and panel discussions with internationally renowned designers and industry experts will take place online from September 4–18.
  • New York’s Shoppe Object, the semiannual home and gift show featuring a curated selection of designers, has quickly turned around to become a multi‒faceted, e‒commerce-enabled experience. The site will be available permanently beginning on August 24. From August 24–27, the site will feature live, virtual events with “dynamic editorial content and interactive, real-time engagement.”
  • The Atlanta Design Festival will be exclusively virtual this year, taking place from September 12–30. The Festival hosts talks and interactive audience discussions with a range of young and established designers and a wide range of experts with influence over the direction of the design community.
  • Wisconsin Breast Cancer Show House is part of the WBCS, Inc., a charitable organization which supports early-stage breast cancer research and prostate cancer research at the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Center. This show house follows the model where one interior designer or firm is assigned to each room of a house. Details for the virtual 2020 edition have yet to be announced.
  • The International Design Conference (IDC) will host a 24 hour live streamed event from 12pm EST on September 17 to 12pm EST on September 18th that will include six keynote presentations, 18 mainstage presentations, and 20+ breakout sessions, workshops, and choreographed social interactions.
  • The technology‒centric CEDIA Expo 2020 will also be virtual, taking place from September 15–7, where participants can hear talks from industry innovators and product developers, as well as experience the launches of new technology enabled design products.

There are also some intriguing new virtual offerings that have emerged, as well. Here’s a breakdown of these first-ever online events.


  • 1stDibs (the parent company of Design Manager) lead the way with its first‒ever show house event as a virtual experience where designers used art pieces and antiques of the most prestigious provenance – all available for sale on the platform – to re-imagine historical spaces of their choosing.
  • Decorist, an e‒design platform, has also launched their first show house as a virtual experience with an e‒commerce tie‒in; however, their designers staged an actual home with affordable pieces available on Decorist’s partners’ platforms.
  • Architectural Digest has teased an exciting new event, a digital showcase currently planned for fall. While the details have yet to be announced, they have described it as “a virtual show house with contributions from top‒tier design talent will feature shoppable 360‒degree rooms, designer‒ and editor‒led virtual tours, and a multi‒day schedule of events.”

Advantages vs. Disadvantages of the Virtual Concept

Virtual Showhouses Temporary Pivot or Pioneer into a New Future-1The most obvious benefit of moving an event online is that it protects public health. But there are other intriguing benefits afforded by the digital concept, too. The 1stDibs virtual show house highlights the endless possibilities and creative journey of a project that does not have to exist in reality, since it is only experienced online. The participating designers chose a historical space, and got to create new experiences in opulent settings they would otherwise only dream of. For example, SheltonMindel redesigned the Palais des Études Courtyard at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux‒Arts in Paris. Each element SheltonMindel incorporated into their redesign had a metaphorical significance, and their drawing and collage techniques are an important part of their presentation. The 1stDibs virtual show house event is truly a pioneer, being the only one to fully embrace the opportunity of an imaginary realm.


The other stand‒out advantage of an online event is the easy integration of e‒commerce. With “shop‒the‒look” finally becoming a mainstream function facilitated by the largest and most industry relevant social media platforms, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, consumers will become more comfortable with shopping for high-end, high-priced decor online. While the traditional show house is more about the experience and the in‒person networking, virtual show houses get more to the point of selling design.


This advantage can, of course, be viewed as a disadvantage. Virtual show houses remove one of the important functions of the traditional events: The opportunity for designers to share the physical experience of their work with a wider audience than just a singular client, and the chance to meet and form authentic bonds with colleagues and other people adjacent to the inter design industry. These show house parties and other in‒person events that drive the culture around the show house.  So this issue calls into question how virtual show houses will differentiate themselves in what will likely become a diluted market.


Are Virtual Show House Events Permanent?

Will virtual show houses eventually overtake the traditional, in‒person format? This remains to be seen. While society has a temporal need to bring events online, once that need dissipates, the design community will surely wish to recapture the advantages of an in‒person event. Nothing can replace physical connection with art and face‒to‒face interaction with other people. However, virtual events that are able to maximize the opportunities brought by the unlimited possibilities of an imaginary realm, like the 1stDibs show house, will likely thrive in any environment. Perhaps a hybrid of virtual and traditional, where a show house provides an artistic, e‒commerce integrated offering alongside an in‒person experience, will become the new norm.


While it’s impossible to predict what the future brings in this unprecedented scenario, the Design Manager team will be covering these fast evolving changes to the show house model, a long‒standing staple of the interior design industry.


Check back here and follow us on Instagram for regular updates to everything you need to know about interior design news, business advice, and insights into what the future brings for the world of interior design.


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Margot LaScala
Margot LaScala
Margot is a writer and interior designer based in the NYC area. She is passionate about keeping up with the latest architecture and design news to not only stay informed, but inspired.

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