From the elegant indoor pool area at Chateau Peyrenc de Mora,site of this year’s National Symphony Orchestra Decorators’ Show House, a narrow hallway leads to a powder room.
“If you have the door open you’re looking at a toilet,” said Amy Passek. “We thought we’d give them something better to look at.”
Passek chaired a team of nine Montgomery College students—including four Potomac residents—who designed a room that is featured in this year’s show house on River Road. The team removed the toilet and sink from the powder room and transformed the space into a colorful and lighthearted wine room, a design in keeping with the French theme of this year’s show house.
Passek gives credit to Lisa Tilley, one of the Potomac residents who worked on the project for the wine room idea. "It was a very inconvenient place for a powder room," Tilley said, and it was near the dining room and butler’s pantry. So, "Why not make it a wine room?” Passek said.
The other Potomac residents who worked on the wine room design were Rohn Brown Narges Mohammadi and Ieva Sidaraite.
The room centers around a mural depicting a vineyard and a partial image of Chateau Peyrenc de Moras, and features a wrought iron window grate (made by Sidaraite), suspended copper wine racks and Matisse-inspired fabric draperies.
"The wine cave … gives the idea that you are in a dark, secretive kind of atmosphere,” said Brown. “We wanted to do something a little more whimsical and I think we did that." Passek said that the students have more of an opportunity to toy with unconventional designs than the professional designers who contribute to the show house, whose goal is largely to generate more business.
“Our space is a lot more whimsical,” than the designers” she said, “and I guess carefree and a little edgy. … The goal was to be creative as possible.”
THE STUDENTS true creative inspiration was much deeper and more emotional than having the chance to shine among highly regarded designers, though. The day that the team first met at the show house to discuss their plans they learned that interior design Professor Bhramara Heid had died of cancer the previous night. Heid had overseen the student show house teams for several years and many students cited her as the figure that inspired them to pursue design, often as a change of careers.
"She is the person who really piqued my interest to look into maybe making a career out of interior design," Brown said. "She encouraged me a great deal She was always supportive of the students."
“She was youthful and vibrant and she truly inspired all of her students in all of her classes,” said Jill Irey, a longtime member of the design faculty, who took over coordinating the show house project during Heid’s illness. “She loved violet and lavender and purples so that tied in with the wine theme.”
The design team dedicated their room in Heid’s memory. The proceeds from design items sold from the students’ room will go to a scholarship being started in Heid’s memory.
WHEN PROFESSOR IREY started teaching at Montgomery College in the 1980s she was asked to participate in a show house. She asked the organizers to consider letting a student team enter and eventually got reluctant approval. The result generated a lot of positive attention. “People were so excited about what students with no funds could do to transform a space,” Irey said.
Since then, the school has regularly had teams participate in various show houses. But the effort always meets some resistance, Irey said. “We pretty much always have to convince people that [entering a student team] is going to work.”
The reluctance towards student teams doesn’t end there. Designers participating in show houses visit the empty home and “bid” on spaces they’d like to decorate. The students usually bid for at least three different spaces they could imagine working with but what they get is “almost always either the worst room in the house or the tiniest room in the house,” according to Irey. “One year it was the mop closet. On the left side was a mop sink, one of those big sinks, and on the right was all the buckets.”
That year the team made a small computer room they called “chitchat.com” and it was the hit of the show. Students say that the challenge of working with a less desirable space can be part of the fun. They also get to meet some of the area’s best designers and sometimes the meetings result in internships or other benefits for the students.
But ultimately the students see the project as an end in itself. “In class we never have the opportunity to see things come to fruition,” Passek said, and actually seeing their work in a real-world setting is satisfying.
Many of the students in the program are adults making career changes, changes they say were inspired both by Professor Heid and by their experience working on the show house. "My background is finance," said Tilley. "This is a lot more fun than finance … it’s a lot more rewarding."