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Showhouse Rooms with Neutral Palettes

Showhouse interiors are a study in contrasts

Written by Krissa Rossbund

Good interior design is not all black and white. Its breadth can range anywhere from minimalist to exuberant, from neutral to vibrant, and from textural to sleek. The rooms featured here stimulate with contrast, juxtaposing dark and light in various and sophisticated ways. Treat yourself to spaces where modernity intersects with tradition, pizzazz pairs with geometry, and quiet palettes whisper elegance. The results are stunning: that’s black and white.

Laura Day, Little Rock Symphony Showhouse
Little Rock, Arkansas

Architectural details take charge in this elaborate Little Rock Symphony Designer Showhouse living room. Its high ceiling and elaborate moldings prompted Laura Day, interior designer and Trading Spaces personality, to create an elegantly monochromatic space that has just the right touches of femininity.


Inspired by vintage designs, Day finished sleek custom consoles and mirrors in glossy white to flank each side of the fireplace.

"This room was grand, with a heavy fireplace and travertine marble floors," says Day. "My goal was to tone it down, keeping the grand qualities but making them fresher."

She tackled the space by settling on an almost colorless palette, covering walls in a trellis-patterned beige-and-white paper to draw components of the room together. But the real bang was the ceiling, which she painted charcoal gray. Not only does the dark surface make the ceiling appear to be lower, it also serves as a dramatic backdrop for a sculptural Italian light fixture made of epoxy and fiberglass.


A billowy, ivory-colored sheepskin rug grounds the furinture arrangement. Its softness is contrasted against the sharp angles of a high-gloss Lucite cocktail table.

A white-on-white scheme blurs the line between traditional and modern. A white leather sofa with a tufted back mimics the pattern of the wallpaper. Side tables, each with a black inset, coordinate with a pair of black X-based benches in front of the fireplace as well as with black 1940s French wire chairs.


To create interest in a white scheme, Trading Spaces diva and Little Rock native Laura Day introduced a variety of contrasting textures.

Photography: Nancy Nolan
Produced by Diane Carroll

Judy Gordon and Lani Myron, Lake Forest Showcase House
Lake Forest, Illinois

Artwork is often used to spark inspiration for striking room palettes. On fine oils and charcoals, the artists’ signatures may be recognizable only to art connoisseurs, but the names signed on the original photos in this room in the Lake Forest Showcase House are well-known—Bogart, Bergman, Gable, and Garbo.


This gentleman's room commands attention with its two-tone palette and tailored canopy that envelops the beds.

"This collection of original Paramount Studio portraits was borrowed from a client whose aunt worked for the movie house years ago," says Judy Gordon of the vintage photographs inthe gentleman's bedroom that she and Lani Myron created.


No-fuss bolster pillows in a mod fabric and Greek key borders on bedspread and hangings keep the bed linens simple. A starburst mirror adds glitz and glamour.

As a nod to the silver screen's early days, the design team never wavered from the two-color scheme. Black-and-white striped fabric embraces a pair of black twin beds in a masculine version of a canopy. Edged in the same Greek key trim that is used on the bed linens and draperies, the canopy is attached to the ceiling by crown molding, camouflaging the original, un-even molding. At the foot of each bed, a zebra-pattern storage ottoman adds another dimension of masculinity.


A total of 50 black-and-white photographs of early-Hollywood stars hang around the room in tight grids.

Photography: Casey Sills
Produced by Sally Mauer and Hilary Rose

Michael Roberson, National Symphony Orchestra Showhouse
Washington, D.C.

Windows serve as the bridge linking interiors to exteriors and emphasize a compelling view. In this dining room at the National Symphony Orchestra Showhouse, designer Michael Roberson uses a large landscape painting in lieu of a view. An added benefit: It also shifts the focus away from a pair of jarringly asymmetrical French doors.


The modern walnut Parsons table, a trio of sleek steel pendant lights, and a pared-down tablescape are blended with grand wing chairs. "Balancing old things with new things gives a room great energy," says designer Michael Roberson.

"The painting is so strong that it becomes the view—so you don't notice that anything is off architecturally," she says, adding, "and the sepia tones keep the room soft and comfortable."

Comfortable indeed. Guests invited to this elegant room aren’t confined to ordinary wood-framed chairs with cushioned seats. Instead, sumptuous woodsy-green velvet-covered armchairs encourage conversations long into the night. Not to distract from the shapely chairs and landscape, walls in warm café au lait recede quietly into the background and are emphasized with subtly contrasting white trim and moldings. The interior of a built-in corner cabinet is painted the same color as the velvet chairs, and offsets a collection of Venetian glass vases.


Classic moldings set a traditional architectural tone, but the artwork has contemporary flair.

"Dining rooms are full of theater, with the table as the stage and the guests as the audience," says Roberson. "With a palette that is simple, elegant, and flattering, the table is ready for anything from a seven-course meal to chili."

Photography: Gordon Beall
Produced by Eileen Deymier