For the past 45 years, the Tulsa Designer Showcase has unleashed a cadre of local interior designers and similar creative types upon some unsuspecting private domicile to let their decorative imaginations run rampant.
This year, however, the process was quite a bit different.
Instead of giving the more than 50 designers more or less of a blank canvas upon which to work their individualistic magic, the house for the 2019 Tulsa Designer Showcase is one of Tulsa’s true landmarks — Harwelden, the 13,000-square-foot, four-level, Collegiate Gothic-English Tudor mansion at 2210 S. Main St.
Built in 1923 as the home of Tulsa oil man Earl Harwell, his wife, Mary, and their family, the mansion served as the home of the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa from 1967 to 2012. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
The house was purchased in 2018 by Tulsa entrepreneur Teresa Knox, whose vision for Harwelden was to transform it into a luxury inn and event space, while preserving as much of the house’s original architecture and furnishings as possible.
“We did set a few ground rules to ensure the designs were consistent with the architecture and time period of the mansion’s origin,” Knox said in a previous interview with the Tulsa World. “We want the look to align with the aesthetics and vision of the mansion’s future while honoring the past. And it’s an opportunity to make a difference in Tulsa’s education.”
The Designer Showcase is one of the primary fundraising events for the Foundation for Tulsa Schools, which works to enlist community support and business assistance in providing education resources and opportunities for Tulsa Public Schools.
This year’s Designer Showcase will open to the public Thursday, May 2, through Sunday, May 19.
“It was definitely a paradigm shift for the designers,” said Sue Ann Blair, director of the Designer Showcase. “But once they understood what we were trying to do, they all really embraced the idea. Usually, their designs are on display only through the run of the showcase. In this case, there are a lot of things the designers have created for Harwelden that will become part of the house.”
The second story, which is home to several luxury suites named for trees and flowers that are part of the Harwelden landscape, will remain mostly unchanged once the Designer Showcase is over.
On the other hand, two of the main ground floor rooms — the Grand Salon on the ground floor, which has been designed by Gina Miller and Brenda Rice from GHD Interiors, and the dining room, which showcases the work of Jane Butts Interiors — will revert to more open spaces for events.
Many rooms will use original furniture from the house, some of which has been specially renovated, such as what used to be the house’s library, now called the Museum Room.
Chad Renfro, this year’s Design Chair, designed the look of the Museum Room, which features specially made wallpaper decorated with images of well-known Tulsa buildings from the 1920s, including the Villa Philbrook and the old Convention Hall.
“There is one anomaly, something that doesn’t belong in this time period,” he said. “In one of the images, you can see a B-26 bomber in the background, which wasn’t built until the 1940s.”
Brian Paschal, president and CEO of the Foundation for Tulsa Schools, said interest in this year’s Designer Showcase appears to be at an all-time high.
“Our ticket sales are up from last year, and we’ve had increased interest from corporate sponsors and patrons,” he said. “And we’re pretty sure that it’s because the house this year is Harwelden. This house has a great deal of meaning to Tulsans, and they’re very interested to see what’s inside.”