SARASOTA — In these penny-pinching times, when lots of us aren't buying even a bouquet of supermarket flowers to brighten our homes, it's a pleasure to see a designer showhouse that offers a wide range of tips and tricks to freshen and brighten a house at modest cost.
The 14th annual "Jewels on the Bay" showhouse, which runs through Feb. 22, reuses many of the owners' existing furnishings, refreshing them by repainting, reupholstering or rethinking. The designers use fresh paint and new fixtures to rejuvenate other areas.
"Most of us don't think about the little things. We think about how expensive it's going to be" to redo a room or a home, says Gary Ficht, showhouse co-chairman and a designer with Pedlar's Village Interior Design. "It needn't be."
This year's house is a 7,000-square-foot, two-story home built in the 1950s and added onto several times. It's in a historic neighborhood near the water called Cherokee Park, on a 1-acre homesite dotted with fruit trees.
The homeowners are the parents of four daughters, ages 4 through 16, whose needs and wishes dictated many of the designers' decisions.
Ficht followed his own advice when he and fellow designer Susan Frick approached the living and music rooms, which occupy the center of the house. The furniture arrangement was a problem: a grand piano pushed into a corner, a lonely daybed in the middle, a cramped conversation area at one side. The walls, painted the same soft tan as the foyer, didn't define or brighten the space.
Ficht repainted the walls a fiery red (homeowner Lisa Meshad's favorite color) and rehung the gold-framed botanical prints the owners already had above their existing sofa, newly reupholstered. The designers used side chairs, tables and lamps the family already had and added two more chairs to create an expanded conversation area that seats seven. The grand piano now stands in the center of the room, leaving space for an intimate conversation area at the end of the room with that family-heirloom daybed, reupholstered in gold, green and red.
The dining room, which stretches the width of the house with views over the pool, is another good example of how to refresh what you've got. Mother-daughter designers Bonnie and Keffie Lancaster of Lancaster Humma White Studio refinished the owners' dark-wood chairs and sideboard with a distressed silver faux finish. (They'll do the dining table later; there just wasn't time before the showhouse opened.)
The room feels like the inside of a seashell, pearl white and silver and pale blue, with lots of shell accessories and details to lighten and soften it.
"We used all our resources to get things accomplished on a tight budget," Keffie said. The white cotton draperies that soften the room's lines and give it a private, exotic feeling are made from inexpensive fabric. The contemporary, funky accessories that dress the table came from their own inventory "or things I could steal out of my mom's house." The silver tabletop trees, formerly an unappealing yellow, got fresh sparkle from spray paint.
The kitchen cabinets were once painted a vivid South-of-France sunflower yellow to match the La Cornue range. Because the budget didn't allow for replacing the cabinets, designers Margaret Cook and David Shay of Cook's Design Studio had faux artist Monika Kelln of Deko Texture in Sarasota refinish them in a soft mix of cream and gold. "It lightened them, gave the cabinets more depth and made the room look larger," Cook said.
Kelln also refinished the granite-topped island, once the same bright yellow, and the ceiling beams to look like natural wood. She repainted some of the Mexican tile on the backsplash to tone it down. Now the room is calmer and brighter, and that gourmet's-dream range faces no competition as the focal point.
The room that's going to win lots of hearts is the laundry room. Besides the washer and dryer, there's a huge granite-topped table, 47 by 66 inches, that can be a children's craft table, a homework desk, a laundry folding table, a gift-wrapping area, a hobby space, a project area, a computer space. The table incorporates drawers and shelves with baskets for storage.
"I wanted to try to organize the girls," says Ana Nowlan of Cabinet Design Studio. In what she acknowledges is "an ideal world," she envisions that the girls will come home from school and drop their shoes, jackets, backpacks and sports gear in the four floor-to-ceiling cubbies at one end of the room, then pick up their clean clothes hanging in the four cubbies at the other end of the room and put them away in their rooms. There are bookshelves, closets and under-cabinet storage as well. "We wanted to create something comfortable for the girls."
The daughters' bedrooms reflect their ages and preferences. For Macy, 4, there's a room with wide, painted blue and white stripes and a pair of antique twin beds. Across the hall, sister Samara, 13, who passed those twin beds on to Macy, gets an adult double bed in a room with contemporary furniture and a pink and brown color scheme. Jenna, 11, gets a red and turquoise room with a bulletin-board wall created from magnetic paint. On the other side of the house, Brandi, 16, will occupy a room in shades of chocolate brown and merlot with a headboard made of framed squares of the fabrics that dress the bed and windows.
Typically, designers provide furniture and accessories for showhouses at their own expense. If the homeowners decline to purchase them, the designers remove them when the show ends. But about 80 percent of what's in this house will stay when the showhouse closes Feb. 22.
"I walk through here and I want to cry. I want it to stay exactly the same," says Meshad. "I tell the designers, don't take away anything!"
Judy Stark, former Times homes and garden editor, is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg.