Pulling off a Symphony Designer Showhouse is complex task, one involving hundreds of interior designers, other businesses, donors and volunteers as well as homeowners themselves.

But a surprise twist made this year's Charleston 42nd annual project gnarlier than most: A few months before the house was to open, a second-floor toilet overflowed for about 24 hours.

The resulting damage to the walls, ceilings and floors in back of the house at 16 Rutledge Ave. was startling. Parts of the kitchen ceiling had fallen onto the floor, which was cupping. Paint and plaster had rippled and bulged.

"It didn't make me nauseous, but I didn't know what to do," recalled Lisa Block, event chairwoman. "What do you do when there's water pouring out of the ceiling? Then I thought about it, and realized it could be worse."

"We just took a deep breath."

'Definitely flow'

The 2019 Symphony Designer Showhouse that opened its doors publicly Wednesday not only shows no signs of the flood drama (thanks in large part to ServiceMaster and dedicated contractors), but its overall ambiance also doesn't look like there were so many cooks in the kitchen.

This year's canvas is a three-story Queen Anne Victorian built by Charleston Mayor Wilson Harvey, who later became governor. He lived next door, but only three other families have owned the house since.

Carol Cronk, the event's co-chair, said even though the house once was divided into as many as four apartments, "it has a lot of original feel to it." 

Its most dramatic transformations occurred in the same spots that most often change in other historic homes, specifically the kitchen and bathrooms.

The makeover begins with the league choosing a list of willing designers and then divvying up the spaces among them. They gather for a sort of brainstorming session about four months out, but then essentially are turned loose (though a review committee and the homeowners still have some say).

Designer Audrey Wood, who did the foyer and most of the hallway spaces, tried to create a space that included a collection of things from different travels. And her gray mist wall color, which looks like an off-white, helps her spaces blend into the many other neighboring rooms done by different designers.

"There's definitely flow this year," Wood said. "I see a lot more flow this year than in years past."

Designer T Phillips did the kitchen, a project complicated by its proximity to the leaky toilet. He said he used tin ceiling, a cambria-covered island and mirrored panels to try to create "a jewel box."

Adjoining that space is the SCORE pop-up shop, arranged by Karen Thompson and Jodie-Beth Galos, that sells items consigned by 28 vendors, including Mungo Linens, dried mushrooms from Mepkin Abbey, jewelry, hats and other items difficult to find somewhere else. Like the designers, they tried to make the space fresh and new.

"You're not going to walk in here and have a jarring ladies auxiliary moment," Galos said.

'Cacophony of craziness'

Upstairs, designer Terry Stephenson of Juxtaposition Home & Garden worked on two small interior spaces and the piazza portion closest to the street.

She owns a French antique business and was inspired by a Monet house and garden theme, and she agreed this year's house seems to have come together nicely.

"We're all in it together for a common goal," she said. "It's ups and downs and roller coaster rides, and then on the final day, it comes together and everybody's happy."

Designer Heidi Huddleston agreed and said the flexibility of the homeowners Wendy and Allen Gibson helped make this year's particularly successful.

"In theory, it could be a cacophony of craziness," she said. "The challenges are there's a lot of people working and everybody wants to be last, and that's not possible."

The design work was not confined to the inside. Linda Greenberg, who owns her own landscape and design company, worked on the plantings that frame the house's facade and entry stair as well as the side and rear yards.

"You have to make the exterior feel like it's part of the home," she said. "You want something that beckons you outdoors."

Last year's Charleston Symphony Designer Showhouse netted about $97,000, the largest single chunk of the symphony league's $243,000 annual fundraising. That, in turn, helps cover about 10 percent of the Charleston Symphony's annual operating costs.

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.

Robert Behre works as an editor and reporter. He focuses on the historical landscape, including architecture, archaeology and whatever piques his interest on a particular day.

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