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St. Petersburg showhouse does luxe with less

ST. PETERSBURG — Make no mistake, this is a lavish designer showhouse.

The house, at 116 Brightwaters Blvd. NE on Snell Isle, is a three-story Spanish Mediterranean style with four bedrooms and 4 1/2 baths in 7,868 square feet. There's a pool, home theater, huge kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances, balconies overlooking Coffee Pot Bayou, and decorative painting and faux finishing by talented local artists. Price tag for this new home: $3.8 million. The showhouse, an annual fundraiser for the Florida Orchestra Guild/St. Petersburg, opens at 11 a.m. today.

But the designers — like everyone else these days — know which way the economic winds are blowing. So look beyond the lavish and see the ways they've trimmed their budgets, saved money, done more with less and still come up with handsome rooms.

"It was tough this year getting people," lead designer Jean Losier of Robb & Stucky Interiors said. "Lots of designers just didn't have the inventory." Designers pay for everything you see in a room, or arrange for loans or donations of furniture, accessories and labor.

To save money, many of the designers worked with the existing wall color, a soft gold in most of the rooms, rather than repaint, and retained the lighting fixtures they found. "In this economy you don't need to redo an entire house with everything in it," said Lisa Schinaman of Ashley Furniture Home Store. "You don't need to spend your life savings."

Step into the formal dining room for a quick lesson in luxe for less. Designer Gabriela Celi of Gabriela Interiors kept the original wall color, a rich cream, but painted the ceiling a soft blue to carry out what she called "a Mediterranean Sea color palette." She reused the homeowner's round table and chairs. She covered the red-green-gold tweed seat covers with blue-and-white slip seats made from a half-yard remnant of designer fabric. She trimmed the existing chandelier with seashells to carry out her airy, beachy theme. Many of the silver accessories around the room are estate-sale finds. She reframed an existing set of seashell prints.

"It shows you can make things work and not break the bank," Celi said. "You enhance and embellish with whatever's there."

Next door, in the informal dining area, Schinaman kept both the paint color and an existing lighting fixture.

She chose a pub table "that's not typecast as a Mediterranean-style table" and would work with other design themes. It's the inexpensive accents — pictures, tabletop accessories, window treatments — that "add the pop and are the less expensive way to go when you want to redo it."

In a little jewel box of a formal sitting room, Kay Newsom and Diane Z. Whitney of Bella Southern Interiors were putting the finishing touches a few days ago on a black roll-arm camelback loveseat with red bullion fringe and a couple of chairs upholstered in onyx mixed with printed fabrics in paprika and Spanish red. "This is to give you ideas," Newsom said of the showhouse. "No one has an unlimited budget. But you can save money for your clients if you're good at it and make the best use of the money you do have."

Designers say it's sheer coincidence that many of them came up with the same color scheme of gold, red, brown and rust, as befits the home's Spanish style. In the family room, Shelly Walker-Parlato of Matter Brothers Furniture & Design painted the beamed ceiling terra-cotta. She had a drywall box built to disguise a too modern black granite fireplace surround, then had it faux-finished to give an Old World look that blends with the hand-finished, soft gold Italian plaster walls.

The master bedroom is designed as a masculine retreat. Taffeta draperies in rich claret, a dark wood plank ceiling, arm brown wood furnishings and red and gold silk bed coverings "aren't too frou-frou," said Marcee Guffey of Robb & Stucky Interiors, who designed the room with Losier.

The room that breaks the mold is the third-floor "Mediterranean lounge," accessible by a spiral staircase or an elevator. This little crow's nest was designed as "a respite, a getaway area," said David King of Doma Home Furnishings, who created the room with Michelle Jennings of MJ Designs. The walls are deep blue; the floor is covered in a silky-textured rug made of recycled plastic, nylon and polyester. The walls are hung with metal art commissioned for the space by Javier Dones and Jack Lebowitz. The nubby off-white chairs and glass coffee table are strictly modern. But the view from the adjacent balcony over Coffee Pot Bayou — where a pair of dolphins frolicked on a recent afternoon — is a classic.

Former Times homes and garden editor Judy Stark is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg.


Florida Orchestra Showhouse

What: "La Buena Vida," 35th annual designer showhouse sponsored by the Florida Orchestra Guild/St. Petersburg.

Where: 116 Brightwaters Blvd. NE, Snell Isle, St. Petersburg.

When: Today through March 29. Open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, noon to 4:30 p.m. Sundays.

Tickets: $20 at the door, cash or check.

What else: Fashion shows with refreshments from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday and March 19 and 26 ($30).

Information: (727) 710-4900 or

Luxury for little

Designers offer these tips to get the most for your dollars:

• Spend money on perennial plants that will last for years rather than annuals.

Mary-Beth Wagner of Advanced Art of Gardening provided the container plants throughout the house and the trailing vines and flowering plants that cascade from the balconies. Pick a permanent shrub that blooms much of the year, she suggests, or something green you can surround with inexpensive annuals. Save more by learning to do the preparation, installation and maintenance yourself.

• Shop estate sales and consignment shops for unique, rich-looking accessories at a fraction of what you'd pay new.

• Change accessories to give a room a fresh look at little cost.

• Slipcovers, reupholstering and new throw pillows freshen a room at modest price.

• Look for gently priced accessories. In the outdoor kitchen, bendable wire willow branches studded with LED lights look great by day or night and are a terrific conversation piece that would work just as well inside.

They're from Casa de Isla in Redington Beach, $24 to $39.

Judy Stark

St. Petersburg showhouse does luxe with less 03/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 6, 2009 3:30am]
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