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PSHA Showhouse Front

Behind the Scenes at the 42nd Annual
Pasadena Showcase House of Design

We go to the 42nd Annual Pasadena Showcase House of Design.
Take the tour, talk to the designers, and bring back: the before & after pictures, an interview with our featured designer, Carolyn E. Oliver, the house history, and plenty of photos and descriptions of all the rooms.

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C.E. Oliver







The Pasadena Showcase House of Design is one of the oldest and continuously running home and garden events in the United States.

For the 42nd Annual Showcase, twenty-three interior designers and seven exterior designers display their masterful talent and creativity in an elegant Monterey Colonial estate set on two beautifully landscaped acres.

Kitchen TerraceThrough the grand doors of this 1928 mansion is a display of artistic sets vividly colored, lavishly textured, and insanely detailed. Futuristic electronics and antiques are juxtaposed and elaborate textiles blend with grandiose furnishings, layered throughout all surfaces of the space.

This is a design enthusiast ’s heaven. Extreme imagination is showcased here by well known designers seeking to provoke and entice. The premise of the Showcase is certainly philanthropic, but it is also a high profile calling card for designers to present their signature style to a discerning audience and the media.

The core design story here is how the designers have revitalized the blended architectural styles, Colonial and Mediterranean, with today’s technology. There is a central theme constant throughout the house. Blending old with new is not easy to maintain as a design thread, but these designers have woven function, style, and technology together seamlessly. The overall effect is not contrived but right on the mark–the hallmark of collectively understanding and applying design.

To walk through this house, knowing of its era, understanding its architectural influences, appreciating the before-and-after transformations, provides an excellent 3-D adventure back in time, and then back again to the future. This kind of design experience needs to be witnessed in the first person to apprecieate the “seeing through the mind’s eye” ride.




Featured Designer


Carolyn Oliver

We visited the Pasadena Showcase House of Design three days before it was open to the public. Usually at this phase designers are at a frenetic pace, putting the final shine on their spaces, preparing for the tens of thousands of visitors to see their designs. These designers were busy but not crazy with activity. Everyone appeared to be on schedule and ready for the opening. We even had the opportunity to visit with a designer who had the enormous commission of presenting the Kitchen, Butler’s Panty, and Family Room—Carolyn E. Oliver.

Oliver's storeCarolyn E. Oliver has been an interior designer for more than a decade, and she has been around art and design her whole life. From art lessons in grade school to university life in Florence, Italy; a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology; then serving as Director for Boston University’s College of Communication—all before owning an antique store and practicing as a designer. Carolyn is deeply rooted in design, art, and education. And, she is also approachable, funny, and giving of her time. For any of us who think designers are often not approachable, egotistic, and aloof: meet Carolyn Oliver to dispel that notion.

She had an exceptionally challenging space to re-create for the Showcase. Not only is the space the largest in the show, it was the most expensive to overhaul as well. The space had to be demolitioned three separate times. Heat had to be added to the family room under the flooring, updated electrical and plumbing were added, custom cabinetry built in and new appliances installed throughout. Then the details like the plank carrara marble floor and wall tiling, hand stenciling in patterns and stripes were applied, and antique glass hardware pulls were added. She even custom designed the furniture in the Family Room. That is dedication and precision.


Family & Living Rooms
Family after Dining new 2
Photo by Peter Christensen Valli

Oliver’s design philosophy is about being “true to the architecture of the residence”. And for the 2006 Pasadena Showcase she found her design inspiration from a Bostonian, named Thomas Oliver Larkin to whom the Monterey Colonial oliversarchitectural style is attributed. That Yankee influence on adobe style homes juxtapositions traditional colonial furnishings with less restricted, formal spaces. The theme is the masterful link connecting the spaces, juxtaposing antiques with stainless Thermador appliances. The palette is decidedly California with its warm grays and yellow hues. The antique artwork kitchen chairs and decorative accessories echo the colonial spirit, and is even brought through for the built-in Sheraton style cabinetry of the refrigerator. Form, function, and style all working together harmoniously, even in the built-in HD plasma television which is hidden by a scrolling parchment-like shade picture of a ship. The fabrics are gentle, the floor coverings subtle, and the upholstery is comforting. This is a space to cuddle up in, warm and inviting.


old kitchen


new kitchen

Kitchen and Butler's Panty

Butler's pantry   Butler's Pantry
Photo by Peter Christensen Valli


Butler’s Pantry, Family Room & Kitchen by Oliver’s – A Design Studio
Carolyn E. Oliver





The 2006 Pasadena Showcase House History

Showcase front angle

2006 Pasadena Showcase
House of Design

Architect: Regnald D. Johnson, 1928


The 2006 Pasadena Showcase House of Design, an elegant Monterey Colonial designed by acclaimed California architect Reginald D. Johnson, was completed in 1928.  The estate sits on a little over two acres, which was at one time owned by Henry Huntington and later purchased by the couple that commissioned the building of the home, Stanton W. Forsman and Alice Pillsbury Forsman.

The Pasadena City Assessor first visited the property on November 30, 1928 and estimated the square footage at 12,500.  The two-story house had twenty-eight rooms including eleven bedrooms and eight bathrooms, as well as two basement areas.  The construction cost was a considerable $70,000.  By comparison, in 1928 the average house was built for $10,000.  The estate was featured in Architectural Digest in 1931.


Santa Barbara Biltmore HotelReginald D. Johnson received his architecture degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1910 and returned to Pasadena where he had spent part of his childhood.  Johnson became known for designing Italian Villa/American Colonial combinations. His design impact fueled the popularity of Mediterranean homes in Southern California as early as 1915.  Johnson came to prefer the Monterey Colonial style in his later years, regarding the collaboration of Mexican and American heritages as the most indigenous style for California.  He designed extensively in Pasadena and Santa Barbara, including the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Pasadena (his father was the Bishop of the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese beginning in 1894), and the Santa Barbara Biltmore Hotel.

Mr. and Mrs. Forsman were friends of the architect when they commissioned him to build their Monterey Colonial residence.  Reminiscent of early California, the house was to have thick walls simulating adobe, overhanging balconies to protect the walls from the elements, and authentic working shutters. 

Hale Solar Observatory
Adjacent to the northwest corner of the property is the Hale Solar Observatory, built in 1924-25 for George E. Hale, Director Emeritus of Mt. Wilson.  Hale, a friend of Henry Huntington, purchased the first parcel in this tract from Mr. Huntington.  The Solar Observatory and Lab is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was also designed by Reginald Johnson.



Stanton W. Forsman, born in 1880 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, graduated from Harvard University with a degree in mining engineering in 1901.  While working in a mine near Colorado Springs, Alice Pillsbury, (daughter of Fred C. Pillsbury, one of the Pillsbury Company founders in Minneapolis) happened to be staying at the Broadmoor Hotel nearby.  When Alice saw Stanton ride his horse into town, family folklore says it was love at first sight.  They soon married and moved to California in 1913 where Mr. Forsman established the state’s first cardboard manufacturing plant that revolutionized produce shipping.  They had four children, and when their youngest was five, they built the current Showcase House.

Mr. and Mrs. Forsman lived in the residence with their children and an estimated staff of nine including a cook, downstairs maid, upstairs maid, governess, gardener, laundress, seamstress, and chauffeur.  Mr. and Mrs. Forsman were prominent in social and civic affairs and entertained frequently and lavishly. The home was the site of daughter Harriet’s wedding as well as Mr. Forsman’s funeral.

Following Mr. Forsman’s death in 1939, John S. Griffith, Sr., land developer and financier, and his wife Helen traded their home on Columbia Street in Pasadena to Mrs. Forsman and her children.  In 1941, the Griffiths moved into the Showcase House.  They and their two children lived here for 31 years, adding an elevator, a swimming pool, and a second four-car garage.  Mrs. Griffith planted the rose garden and treasured the magnificent 450-year old deciduous oak trees that grace the two plus acres of grounds.


In 1973, Clifford (Pete) and Carol Wilkins and their five children moved into the Showcase House.  The Wilkins also entertained frequently but once their children were grown felt the house to be too large and lonely.  The house has had a series of owners, with one adding a tennis court in the 1980s.

This home was presented in 1988 as the Pasadena Showcase House of Design. Its architectural design is a successful fusion of two architectural styles and stands in answer to a statement Johnson made in an article in California Southland magazine in 1921: “The intriguing question is whether we can fuse a new style to satisfy those seeking the home atmosphere and charm of the English and still retain the romance of the Mediterranean.” 


Tim Gregory, The Building Biographer



Featured Rooms


C&K Landscape Design
Exterior Room:
• Poolside Retreat

Jennifer Bevan Interiors

Interior Room:
• Master Bedroom

Carolyn Oliver
Oliver–A Design Studio

Interior Rooms:
• Butler Pantry
• Kitchen
• Family Room

Santana Interiors

Interior Rooms:
• His & Hers Master Baths

Henry Johnstone & Co.
Interior Rooms:
• Living Room

(See Exterior and Interior Descriptions Section for a complete list of rooms and designers.)


C&K Landscape Design

At the 2006 Pasadena Showcase House of Design this year, C&K Landscape Design graced the exterior poolside area with a beautiful and romantic "Poolside Retreat". C&K is a custom design/build firm, expert in all kinds of landscapes. They incorporate their special fondness for environmentally sensitive gardens, utilizing drought tolerant and California native material.

Poolside Before
Poolside After Poolside After
Poolside (before)
Poolside with Retreat (after)
Retreat (after)

The challenge here was to create a comfortable, usable retreat for relaxing and entertaining that integrated the garden, the pool area, and the home. C&K designed a new, inviting, outdoor patio and living room to provide both beauty and functionality in the garden adjacent to the pool area.

Upon entering the patio, a centerpiece captures your attention and invites guests to gather and sit in the comfortable furnishings beneath an open pergola. The cozy ambience is in harmony with the architecture of the house. Statuary and pottery accent the garden and patio with classic formality and symmetry. A new plant design expanded the garden surrounding the new patio, adding depth and dimension. Specialty and specimen plants, like the contorted Hazlenut and unique Honeywort landmark and dramatize the entry to the patio, while other plant placements soften the new patio and pergola. The introduction of thoughtfully selected colors and forms with unique plant material enhances views from within and from outside the new space. Throughout the new garden, wherever possible, drought tolerant California natives (or similar Mediterranean plants) will be employed. Subtle, low-voltage lighting l illuminates the patio, highlights the trees and reveals the elegant statuary for visual delight. The soft, romantic glow extends the enjoyment of this space into the evening.


Kitchen by Oliver’s – A Design Studio
Carolyn E. Oliver

old kitchen


new kitchen

Carolyn Oliver is the kitchen designer for this year’s Pasadena Showcase House of Design (and last year’s as well). She told me she had to do three demolitions of the kitchen area before she could even start the design application phase. She pulled out all of the existing kitchen cabinets, appliances, and plumbing. Then had custom cabinets made, and fitted, replumbed for upgraded appliances and better flow, added heat to the adjoining family room space, retiled the floor, and more. This is an enormous undertaking-and remarkable considering the short window of time. She not only pulled it off, but set a benchmark for kitchen design everywhere.


Master Bedroom by Jennifer Bevan Interiors

master bedroom

Many designers passed on this normally coveted space because the bones of the room were simply too difficult to work with. Jennifer Bevan bravely took on the space and recommend cutting in a new window on an exterior wall. By doing this, the room was not only more light filled but the proportion was enhanced.


His and Her Master Baths by Santana Interiors

new bath

Walls were moved, fixtures were replumbed, a closet was added, custom cabinetry added, and new tiling throughout applied. This is major renovation done with the snap of the finger timing, but artful and functional.

Living Room by Henry Johnstone & Co.

Dining Before
Living Room After







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