The Pavonia Room and the Art of Design

Since 1977, the San Francisco Decorator Showcase has taken over some of the city’s most prestigious addresses and redesigned them to benefit the San Francisco University High School’s financial aid program. Celebrating its 35th anniversary, this year’s Decorator Showcase sets up residence at 2020 Jackson Street from April 28–May 28, 2012.

2020 Jackson

2020 Jackson Street, site of the 2012 San Francisco Decorator Showcase

Using Frederic Leighton’s iconic Aesthetic portrait Pavonia (1858–59) as a starting point, Geoffrey de Sousa, principal of Geoffrey De Sousa Interior Design and co-founder of De Sousa Hughes Design Showroom, will create an interior space he calls the Pavonia Room. A gentleman’s study informed by the Aesthetic Movement, this space is directly inspired by The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860–1900, currently on view at the Legion of Honor. We caught up with De Sousa at the special exhibition, where we talked about his inspiration.


Frederic Leighton, Pavonia, 1858–9, oil on canvas. Private Collection

One of the first pieces we encountered as we moved through the crowded gallery was John Everett Millais’s Esther. De Sousa was immediately drawn to the painting, explaining, “We’re using draperies of this exact color in the Pavonia Room.”


John Everett Millais. Esther, 1865. Oil on canvas. Private collection c/o Ms. Amy King, Millburn, NJ

When creating design schemes, De Sousa primarily commissions furniture to be made by local craftsman. For the Pavonia Room, however, De Sousa told us, “We’re using a 1930s wing chair with an elaborate outer fabric that contrasts with a simpler interior fabric choice.” The Aesthetic version of this technique can be seen in this stunning Lawrence Alma-Tadema armchair.


Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Chair, ca.1884-6, mahogany, with cedar and ebony veneer, carving and inlay of several woods, ivory and abalone shell © V&A Images

According to De Sousa, cultivating the craftsmanship and beauty that defined the Aesthetic style can be difficult from a business perspective. Creating beautiful objects from scratch increases a price tag and takes longer to produce, but using local artisans also mitigates shipping costs and undermines environmental impact, not to mention provides much needed support to skilled artists and craftsmen.

One such craftsman, John Pomp, will be creating blown-glass light fixtures for the Pavonia Room. Inspired by Harmony in Yellow and Gold, the epic cabinet created by Edward William Goodwin and James McNeill Whistler, Pomp’s lights will glow harmoniously through hand-blown golden glass.


Edward William Godwin and James McNeill Whistler. Harmony in Yellow and Gold: The Butterfly Cabinet, 1877–1878. Mahogany painted with oil, with yellow tiling, brass moldings, and glass. Made by William Watt, London. Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 46396

Drawing from The Cult of Beauty, De Sousa respectfully references history while thoughtfully updating it with clever and surprising juxtapositions. In true Aesthetic fashion, Geoffrey De Sousa will not only design the Pavonia Room, he will curate it.


De Sousa’s plans revealed

In two weeks, Geoffrey De Sousa himself will serve as our guest blogger, taking us into 2020 Jackson Street where the Pavonia Room will be transformed into his vision of Aestheticism in the 21st century.

Pavonia Room

De Sousa's sketch of the Pavonia Room

Are you a member of the Fine Arts Museums? Show your membership card to receive $5 off admission for one to the Decorator Showcase.

Not a museum member? Purchase a ticket to the Decorator Showcase and receive $4 off admission to The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860–1900 on view at the Legion of Honor through June 17!