Design — 11 March 2013
How to shop where the designers shop

By Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub

I walk into the Design Center of the Americas in Dania Beach and absorb the renovations as if it were my first visit. The bluish green terrazzo floor is in a wave pattern that sparkles like the sun reflecting on the ocean. Overhead panels echo the wave theme.

The design is appropriate for a destination where shoppers can find everything from a Barbara Barry Celestial Chest with swirls accented in gold leaf to a Maya Romanoff wallpaper of flexible glass beads attached to a wallpaper backing. Although I have been covering interior design for 25 years, I always find something new and innovative to explore and desire in designer showrooms.

Walking past several empty showrooms with paper on the windows, I hear the noisy sounds of renovation. Two workmen pushing a cart directed me to the new DCOTA offices in Building B. While waiting for Josh Fein, director of marketing, I flip through design magazines on the coffee table.

Fein knows his stuff, explaining that he was dragged through the building since he was a toddler by his mom, his grandfather and their decorator, Bill Stern.

This is the type person who knows the difference between Chippendale and Chinoiserie.

Fein blamed the vacancies on the economic downturn and an overly optimistic outlook of former owner, Marvin Danto, who built the “C” building during boom times. Empty spaces are being converted into high-end office space, and most of the designer showrooms are being consolidated into Building C. Others will be on the first two floors of Buildings A and B.

“We didn’t build C building,” Fein says. “We said it never should have been built. It was never 100 percent occupied.”

With 66 showrooms, DCOTA – which once had more than 150 design tenants in 775,000 square feet – is still the largest design center in the southern United States. It has kept some of its long term clients, such as Baker, Knapp & Tubbs, Judith Norman, E.G. Cody, J. Batchelor, Lee Jofa, Donghia and Duralee.

We started at Romo, a family run business that sells upholstery fabrics, wall coverings and trimmings. Although the fabric is stocked in the United Kingdom, I learn it can arrive in two days by FedEx.

Romo excels in creating coordinating stripes and patterns, a popular trend. I fall for Ortega, a new collection of contemporary prints that includes florals from ancient Indian textiles, a colorful geometric adapted from a Chilean rug, an ikat-inspired stripe and ornate fretwork from a Moroccan palace.

We stopped for lunch at Cay, the new 84-seat restaurant in Building B designed by Sam Robin of Miami. Fein points out that it also has a catering kitchen that can serve 500 guests for bar mitzvahs, weddings or charity events. The vibe is Florida Keys, with blue-and-white striped banquettes and white-washed tables in a dining area topped by a pergola. Yes, there are salads and sandwiches for a quick lunch, but they also serve filet mignon and plantain-crusted mahi-mahi on roasted squash and accented with habanero-grilled pineapple salsa.

At Donghia, a salesperson calls my attention to Manhattan, a massive gray wool sectional with two chaises. It was originally designed by Angelo Donghia for Ralph Lauren’s Fifth Avenue apartment in the 1970s at the request of his wife, Ricky, who wanted it deep enough to sit cross-legged.

Venetian mirrors have become trendy in the past few years, but most of them are too ornate for my taste. Donghia nails it with Duca, a rectangular Venetian mirror with a handmade-mirrored tile square border, introduced in 2001. It’s clean-lined and timeless.

The final DCOTA stop is at Ammon Hickson. Ned Hickson has been in the building since the 1980s. He was a co-owner of the now defunct Design West and opened this new showroom in 2005. The epitome of good taste, he shows me several interesting items – a glass cocktail table with a wood base by James Duncan of Miami, Christian Lacroix’s French black-and-white street scenes on wallpaper, and the Pandora floral fabric by Tricia Guild. But the coup de grâce are the cashmere fabrics from Loro Piana, an Italian company specializing in custom men’s suits and the must-have cashmere throw.

South Florida Design Park

I have been curious about the South Florida Design Park ever since I noticed it in nearby Hollywood, on the west side of I-95 between Sheridan Street and Stirling Road. The first tenant was Snaidero, followed by Stark and Scalamandre. The most recent additions are Jerry Pair and J Nelson. Judith Norman, which also has a DCOTA showroom, just leased 30,000 square feet.

“We were looking to move away from DCOTA,” Jill Sauer, showroom manager and point person for the tenants’ association, says as we sit in her office at Jerry Pair. “We had seen our daily traffic at DCOTA drop about 50 percent over the past couple of years. This is a central location. Palm Beach clients won’t go to Miami and Miami clients won’t go to Palm Beach. This is close to DCOTA so designers can do them both in one trip.”

Jerry Pair’s showroom seems bigger than its former DCOTA showroom because the ceilings are higher and the floor plan is open. Fabric samples are arranged on one side with wider aisles and better lighting. I find my eyes drawn to the Garrett four-poster bed with an upholstered headboard from Quintus and an Ironies cocktail table made out of capiz shells cut, polished and finished with lacquer.

Next door is J Nelson, an elegant showroom that has doubled its size from DCOTA’s 4,500 square feet to 9,200 square feet here. Although it is massive, the vignettes are beautifully presented to show off the textiles, trims, furniture, lighting, wall covering and floor covering.

Near the front door is the Nancy Corzine mirrored dressing table that conjures up 1930s Hollywood glamour. Quatrain, a cast bronze twin-light sconce with 22-kt. gold leaf, looks like it came right out of Downton Abbey. A trio of panels in Chinese style reminds me of how perfect they would look on a dining room wall.

Scalamandre, which has been at the park for two years, carries wallpaper, fabrics, hardware and trims. I wish I had the courage to do the bedroom in the Zebra print, which is shown in the showroom in red. Maybe the bathroom? The iconic pattern dates to late 1930s New York, where it was first seen at Gino’s restaurant on Lexington Avenue.

I recognize the showroom manager, Kay Lund, who used to be manager at Brunschwig & Fils in DCOTA before Kravet bought the company in a bankruptcy auction. She points out that the two-year-old showroom is shared with Robert Allen and Stephan Turner, who moved from DCOTA.

Stark, best known for carpeting, also carries fabric, wall covering and furniture. Looking through the brochures in the showroom, I discovered their hand-painted scenic panels that can be customized in height and colors. The sepia version of Procession Chinos, which features a Chinese table with a procession of people in the foreground, would be perfect in a dining room.


Jupiter showrooms

Steve McDowell, owner of the Designers Buying Group in Jupiter, was surprised to see me.

“I never advertise because I don’t want the public to think they can shop here,” he says. “Unlike others, we are not open to the public without a designer. We protect the designer.”

The 10,000-square-foot showroom is full of fabric samples in brands ranging from Romo to Scalamandre. It is the exclusive showroom in Palm Beach County for Duralee, Highland Court, Robert Allen and Beacon Hill fabrics. There are some pieces of furniture interspersed at the front entrance and in a few other places, but most of the furniture and lighting has to be selected from dozens of catalogs that line the walls.

McDowell shows me how designers can use a scanner to pick their fabrics rather than write the numbers on a pad as they do in most showrooms. I watch an employee download the scanned material into his computer. He can quickly find the fabric samples from 120,000 stored in small boxes on metal shelves.

Finding the Kravet showroom in the Jupiter Commerce Center was quite a treasure hunt. I drove past because the building had large signs for Simmons and Saray Interiors Group and The Perfect Place Home Décor. The small Kravet sign was above the door. I called for directions and Betty Patton, showroom manager, let me know it was right next door to Maurice’s Olde World Furnishings.

The showroom is beautiful with vignettes that showed Kravet and Lee Jofa furniture as well as fabric and wall coverings from Kravet, Lee Jofa and Brunschwig & Fils. I am drawn to Cole & Son’s Palm Jungle, forest green palms on white, and Rajapur, a white swirl design on shell colored background. Jonathan Adler’s colorful and graphic designs for Kravet catch my eye because they remind me of the 1970s.

I end my two days of showroom shopping with a big wish list and a dream. Now if I could only win the lottery.



Design Center of the Americas

Address: 1855 Griffin Road, Dania Beach,

Policy: The new restaurant, Cay, is open weekdays for lunch. Two sample sales open to the public are held per year. Next is March 15. Although DCOTA doesn’t advertise the fact, Josh Fein, marketing director, says no one is turned away.  Non-trade visitors are matched with a designer or DCOTA will help them buy limited items for designer cost plus an administrative fee.

Showrooms: There are 66 showrooms for kitchen and bath, indoor and outdoor furniture, fabrics, wall coverings, floor coverings and windows.

South Florida Design Park

Address: 29th & Pershing St., Hollywood,

Policy: Open to the design trade only. Non-trade needs to come with a designer or architect.

Showrooms: Eight showrooms feature kitchens, furniture, lighting, wall coverings and carpeting.


Address: 1090 Jupiter Park Drive, Suite 102, Jupiter Park Commerce Center, 561-354-6499,

Policy: Open to the design trade only. Non-trade needs to come with a designer or architect.

Showroom sources: Furniture, fabric, trim, carpeting and wall covering from Kravet, Lee Jofa, Brunschwig & Fils and Cole & Son.

Designers Buying Group

Address: 661 Maplewood Drive, Suite One, Jupiter, 561-575-9200,

Policy: Open to the design trade only. Non-trade needs to come with a designer or architect.

Showroom sources: Exclusive showroom in Palm Beach County for Duralee fabrics and furniture, Highland Court and Beacon Hill fabrics and Robert Allen fabrics and furniture. Also represents fabrics, trims and wall coverings from Fabricut, Hampton House, S. Harris, Scalamandre, Thibaut, Vervain and Walfab.



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