A Gothic Revival-style building has stood above the houses on Seymour Street, near the Larkin District, for more than a century, appearing both imposing and mysterious.
The vacant building’s unadorned, bare-bones interior falls short of its august Medina sandstone exterior. But that’s all about to change.
The doors to the 1892 St. Patrick’s Friary House will open to the public for the first time over the next two weekends. The building is this year’s 2023 Decorators’ Show House, a biennial event sponsored by the Junior League of Buffalo and The Buffalo News.
More than 40 local decorators, designers and landscapers will soon get to work transforming the 20,070-square-foot building’s 35 spaces and grounds. Before that happens, a sneak peek will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on March 4, 5, 11 and 12.
Unlike the last Decorators’ Show House, the ornate Grace Millard Knox House, the no-frills interior and lack of rigid room design requirements should make this year’s entry more challenging than usual, said Cindi McEachon, chair of the Decorators’ Show House.
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“The excitement is that it’s a blank slate, and the decorators can really be creative,” McEachon said.
“That house was pristine, and this needs a lot of Junior League love, and we’re going to do that and really transform this house,” co-chair Stephanie Wilkinson said.
The friary “was once part of a typical campus – you had the church, the rectory or friary, the convent and probably a school somewhere near here,” McEachon said.
The church was demolished in 1982. The convent was moved. And the last three friars left in 2017. Twenty lived there more than a century ago.
The building was purchased in 2017 by Kathleen Regan and Dr. Peter Reden for $500,000 shortly after the friars moved out, and it has sat idle until now.
Flaked ceilings, torn linoleum, drab carpeting and a plain kitchen serve to heighten the anticipation of the big changes to come in June, when the public will be invited back for three weeks, from June 2 to June 24, to see the transformation.
“The tin ceilings are about the most interesting element in the house, but it’s going to look fabulous when we’re done,” said Karen Bialkowski of Interiors of WNY, one of the show’s designers.
What she called the “very unusual house” has pushed her to think creatively.
“Because it reminds me very much of a dormitory, it has been extremely challenging, especially with the scale of the hallways and the rooms being so minimalist,” Bialkowski said.
She has chosen to create a bridal suite in one room and is working with a team from the Interior Design Association of WNY to create an interior designer’s work studio.
Heather Starr Donohue, owner of Trinity Design, is decorating two rooms on the third floor.
“I was inspired because it was Gothic, and we have never designed a home like this before,” Donohue said. She plans to go with a “Gothic-modern feel that’s a little more current with dark, moody colors.”
Brittany Campaign, a designer working with Trinity Design, will present a farmhouse bedroom design, Donohue said.
MP Caroll Hardwood, the Decorators’ Show House’s presenting sponsor, will put down hardwood flooring the owner plans to retain. The existing flooring was too damaged to be restored, owner Mike Caroll said.
“Unfortunately, the house has been bastardized over the years. But I think at the end of the day we’re going to have a really magnificent house to walk through,” Caroll said.
Outside, a beer garden will be among the landscaping projects, including the repaired and painted Gothic metal fence.
“When the public comes through, they’re in awe by the transformation,” Wilkinson said. “Then they get inspired to do things in their house, and to collaborate with these decorators.”
Depending on the owner’s wishes, the decor could remain in some rooms, with the decor in other rooms packed up and taken away when the Decorators’ Show House ends.
Some of the other concepts this year include a wellness room with plants and crystals, a rock ‘n’ roll-themed lounge with old vinyl records and rock decor, and a classic car-themed space with a pool table.
The Decorators’ Show House typically draws large numbers of people paying to seeing the end result, enabling the Junior League to boost the coffers of a nonprofit recipient.
Last year it was the Providence Farm Collective, which used the $315,000 it received toward the purchase of farmland in Orchard Park for use by immigrants and refugees. The $4.4 million raised through the years through this major community fundraiser has supported cultural and human service organizations. Other recent recipients include the Massachusetts Avenue Project, Westminster Economic Development Initiative, Torn Space Theatre and Gerard Place.
McEachon said neighborhood meetings will be held after the sneak peek to inform people about the Decorators’ Show House and what to expect during the three-week run.
Sneak peek tickets cost $10 and are available to purchase at the door or online. Show House tickets are $30 until June 2, and $35 afterward. For more information on tickets as well as private tours, special days to meet the decorators and the artists whose work is on display, go to buffalo.jl.org/show-house.
The building at 102 Seymour St., with three flights of stairs, is not wheelchair-accessible. No infants or children under 10 will be permitted. Free parking will be available nearby.
Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, the waterfront, culture and more. He’s also a former arts editor at The News.