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Pasadena’s Interior Design Showcase Goes On, Despite Epic Rain During The Rush To Get Ready

Laveta Brigham

Hi, I’m Aaricka! If you’re enjoying this article, you’ll love my daily morning newsletter, How To LA. Every weekday, you’ll get fresh, community-driven stories that catch you up with our independent local news. A seemingly endless string of storms played havoc with preparations for the Pasadena Showcase House of Design, […]

A seemingly endless string of storms played havoc with preparations for the Pasadena Showcase House of Design, which opened this week.

Each year, volunteer designers transform a large house in a matter of months to raise money for music programs such as Disney Hall concerts for fourth-graders, instrumental competitions and grants to other nonprofits. For this year’s edition, real estate agent Matt McIntyre became the first man to serve as Benefit Chair in the organization’s 75-year history. He notes that among their many challenges was getting the massive grand Colonial-style mansion painted.

Supply chain delays and challenging weather

“[For] the cover shot on the program,” he recalls, “the shutters were painted the day that photo was taken, in the nick of time because it was the only day that week that it didn’t rain. So it has been quite a challenge to navigate all the storms, but we’ve made it through.”

While the rain slowed preparations at the house, the volunteer designers also contended with the same supply chain issues that have vexed home renovators nationwide. McIntyre advises people working on a kitchen or bathroom remodel to order their appliances and plumbing fixtures right away, because their arrival will be further out than they may expect.

About the estate and its ‘Indiana Jones’ type owner

The 1933 estate was designed by Marston & Maybury, one of Pasadena’s most celebrated architectural partnerships of the time.

The original owners were Ruth Stewart and her husband Arthur, a Union Oil executive. Designer Christopher Ward of Rosemary Home Design captures Ruth’s spirit in the artist’s retreat, which he calls a “wunderkammer,” or cabinet of curiosities.

“My research from newspaper archives shows that she was an artist,” says Ward.

“She loved nature, she loved science. She was sort of an Indiana Jones type of character who liked to learn throughout her life,” he says. “This room is a tribute to her [and] also telling the story of a part of Pasadena’s history and specifically about a woman who contributed a lot through the Women’s League and through her own life, whose story deserves to be told. And so I think a great part about interior design when you’re working with historic homes is the ability to articulate that to the public.”

A man with fair skin who appears to be in his 30s stands behind a wood dining room table, smiling. Behind him is a large wood bookcase with art objects, a lamp and plants.

The spirit of original resident Ruth Stewart is evoked in this art-and-curio-filled upstairs room designed by Christopher Ward. His centerpiece is a custom-made table in the design of a dragonfly, which he calls a “totem of free expression.”

(Susanne Whatley



In the center of one blue-walled room, surrounded by displays of California art, geodes, fossils and instruments is a custom-designed table in the design of a dragonfly, which Ward calls a “totem of free expression.” On the table sits a framed photo of a smiling Mrs. Stewart wearing garlands of leis, taken during a cruise to Hawaii.

“When she came back from her travels, she started throwing Tahitian themed parties here in the house,” says Ward. “Pasadena is so full of history, I just couldn’t help but focus on that and make that part of the story.”

A framed black and white photo of a young man and woman. They are both smiling. The woman is wearing a sun hat and a pile of lei necklaces. The man wears a suit and tie.

Original resident Ruth Stewart, who died in 1965, is shown in this photo wearing garlands of leis during an Hawaiian cruise. She and her oilman husband Arthur raised two daughters in the home.

(Susanne Whatley



A room designed by students

Toward the rear of the two-acre Stewart estate sits a guest house, whose bedroom is the showpiece for five interior design students. They include UCLA’s Michelle Halabaso and Academy of Art University in San Francisco’s Missa Kato. Halabaso heard about the opportunity through the Pasadena chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers and invited other students she’d met through events via email. As Kato notes, they were “essentially complete strangers.”

Two women who appear to be in their 20s, both with long black hair, stand smiling and looking at the camera. Behind them is a low bed dressed in white bedsheets, and a colorful painting hung above it.

Interior design students Michelle Halabaso (left) and Missa Kato joined three other students, “essentially strangers,” in tackling the guesthouse bedroom, most of which was furnished via Zoom.

(Susanne Whatley



“What was exciting is we could take our learning outside of the classroom,” says Halabaso. “Typically in school, assignments are very individual. You can pick whatever furniture you want. Here, we’re working with real world constraints, a student budget, not having vendor partner relationships and sometimes begging for someone to donate, or finding things that were beautiful but we couldn’t afford to put it in a room.”

Homeowner approval and the ubiquitous time constraint also challenged the students, as did having to meet on Zoom and rely solely on pictures on a computer screen to select what they liked. The result is a tranquil retreat bathed in neutral tones and accented by a mobile by artist Monica Wyatt, who uses found objects in her work. It is comprised of rusty nails in star patterns and paired mesh drain screens resembling tiny Saturns that cast delicate shadows on the white walls.

Several small sculptural objects are hung from a ceiling. They are spherical. Some have many stick-like pointers coming out from them, and others look like circles with smaller circles inside.

The guesthouse bedroom features a mobile by artist Monica Wyatt assembled from rusty nails and mesh shower drain covers.

(Susanne Whatley



Kato admits there were a lot of difficulties to work through, “but I think at the end of the day, we’re very pleased with how it came out. At the same time, we just have to keep reminding ourselves that this is our first project … figuring out what was possible and how can we make the best of it.”

A formal dining room with a large glass chandelier hanging over a table that seats eight people. The table is set with plates, utensils and glasses, and has a pink and red floral centerpiece. There are painted murals on the walls and a large window behind the table.

The dining room by Rachel Duarte Design Studio has painted nature scenes on the walls that are original to the house. They have been freshened up with paint that highlights the birds and obscures other, less appetizing woodland creatures such as squirrels.

(Susanne Whatley



How to go

The Pasadena Showcase House of Design is open for public tours through May 21. Visitors park at the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia and catch a shuttle to the home on a quiet Pasadena street bordering San Marino. Tickets are required for the house tour but not for the shops and restaurant.

The organization whose volunteers put on the annual event is the Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts. It has supported local music and arts programs since 1948, when it was founded as the Pasadena Junior Philharmonic Committee. Its support of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra continues to this day.

A formal living room with a white couch that has both white and leopard-skin patterned pillows. There are gold accents and mirrors throughout the room.

The living room by Tocco Finale mixes animal prints with classical art. The 11,000-square-foot mansion was built in 1933 for $13,000, which was quite a sum during the Great Depression. The land was a wedding gift from Arthur Stewart’s father.

(Susanne Whatley



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