Doing good: Annual Design House showcases designers, raises funds

In the dining room, designer Sheilah Michaels (right) hangs a piece of Sarah Trundle’s (left) work. Photo: Robert Radifera In the dining room, designer Sheilah Michaels (right) hangs a piece of Sarah Trundle’s (left) work. Photo: Robert Radifera

What does it take to create a successful Design House? Three months, more than a dozen designers and landscape architects, myriad volunteers and vendors, and a public willing to purchase a ticket to venture inside. Oh, and a homeowner who’s willing to leave the house vacant for the duration.

The Design House is not your typical showplace. The home that’s chosen for the annual fundraiser for Charlottesville’s Shelter for Help in Emergency isn’t a palace with perfectly matched rooms sharing a cohesive feel. Instead, it’s a chance for 14 different designers to showcase their individual style within a common set of walls. The sky’s the limit for these stylists, who each start with a blank slate and finish with a room that’s a showpiece of their own making.

“They get to do things they’re not normally allowed to do,” says Sarah Ellis, the Design House coordinator. “Designers love to use colors that aren’t generally chosen. We’ve had chartreuse walls and lime-green furnishings,” she laughs. She says the designers also enjoy getting to work alongside their colleagues as each creates a room of their dreams.

The right conditions

A home selected to be the Design House must be in reasonable condition. This house is not a fixer-upper; it just gets “a freshening up,” Ellis says, where interior walls are washed (and any wallpaper removed), floors refinished and windows cleaned. The exterior gets a powerwashing and a basic landscaping cleanup.

Next, everything is removed before the designers’ trucks start rolling in, carrying everything from light fixtures to floor coverings and artwork to armchairs—all individually chosen by each designer to bring his or her own room to life.

Why would a homeowner participate with no control over the outcome? Ellis says beyond the philanthropic aspect, the owners are left with a home that’s cleaned and freshly painted. (Designers estimate that this year’s 7,000-square-foot house would cost roughly $20,000 to entirely repaint.) The owners can purchase anything they like from the finished rooms. And the designers agree to repaint each room in a neutral color in case the homeowner isn’t keen on some of the more unusual hues.

The exterior is a bit of a different story. If the home is new construction, the homeowners can pay for a permanent landscape design to be left intact after the event. Otherwise, Ellis says the landscapers use a basic event presentation, with shrubs and annuals that are temporarily planted and removed after the tours end, at which point “the trucks start rolling back in and we get everything moved out.”

For all of that effort, Shelter for Help in Emergency raises roughly $75,000 for resources to house and support victims of domestic violence with anything they need, from childcare to counseling and advocacy.

“It’s a wonderful way of spreading the word about the shelter and the work we do. We feel peace on earth begins at home,” Ellis says. “We don’t all get to live in a $1 million house, but we all deserve to live in a place of peace and safety. The people we work with don’t take that for granted.”

The particulars

In addition to exploring the rooms, guests can enjoy seminars on home design, décor and entertaining, a bistro with light snacks, a boutique where they can purchase items for their own home projects and, new this year, an art gallery featuring works from 10 local artists.

The Design House 2016 tours are held May 7-22. Tickets are $20 for a single tour and $45 for unlimited visits. For more information, visit cvilledesign—Lynn Thorne


16 The number of designers involved in redecorating the house.

$8,000 The estimated worth of one of the designer’s work hours spent on the event, plus another $3,000-4,000 in paint, window treatments and other finishing touches, according to Sarah Ellis, Design House coordinator.

28 That’s how many volunteers are needed each day to run the event. For a 16-day event, that amounts to 448 volunteer shifts.

14 The number of rooms in this year’s Design House at Keswick Estates.

Posted In:     Abode,Magazines


Previous Post

DIY diva: At home with decorator Lesli DeVito

Next Post

Simply beautiful: Making the most of a modest Staunton home

Our comments system is designed to foster a lively debate of ideas, offer a forum for the exchange of ad hoc information, and solicit honest, respectful feedback about the work we do. We’re glad you’re participating. Here are a few simple rules to follow, which should be relatively straightforward.

1) Don’t call people names or accuse them of things you cannot support.
2) Don’t direct foul language, racial slurs, or offensive terms at other commenters or our staff.
3) Don’t use the discussion on our site for commercial (or shameless personal) promotion.

We reserve the right to remove posts and ban commenters who violate any of the rules listed above, or the spirit of the discussion. We’re trying to create a safe space for a wide range of people to express themselves, and we believe that goal can only be achieved through thoughtful, sensitive editorial control.

If you have questions or comments about our policies or about a specific post, please send an e-mail to

Leave a Reply

Notify of