When she learned Dunedin Youth Guild's 41st annual Holiday Tour of Homes was dubbed "The Deer-est of Seasons," Ronda Carney wanted to have plenty of caribou nibbling on her lawn and grazing on her berry-filled garlands.
She found one pair of kitschy looking reindeer made of woven willow at a garage sale for $20. With a coat of brown paint and a couple of gold bows, Carney, the owner of Sensible Chic Interiors, achieved her upmarket look.
"That's what I'm all about," the design consultant said. "Decorating on a budget."
Her Palm Harbor home, with its clean, sophisticated Pottery Barn style, belies the fact that she and her husband, Richard, have actually furnished it with finds from thrift stores and the Rooms To Go Outlet.
"Most of the things in here have been refinished, refurbished or recovered," she said.
The Carneys' home is a must-see on the self-guided tour, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the tour, with proceeds benefiting the guild's youth programs and scholarships. Last year, the guild awarded more than $14,000 to college-bound seniors.
Six homes are featured and cover the gamut from a Victorian manor on St. Joseph Sound to an ultra-contemporary townhome near downtown Dunedin. Volunteer docents will be on hand at each stop to share insights and information.
With five of the homes in Dunedin, the drive time has been cut substantially.
"Last year's drive time was an hour-and-a-half," said Diana Blethen, event chairwoman. "This year, it's less than 30 minutes."
Of course, that doesn't take in the time visitors will spend "oohing and ahhing."
Like when they see the jaw-dropping décor inside the 1896 home of Ed Halleran and Steve Sika. The pink frame house — about 6,000 square feet of Victorian splendor — was photographed for a feature in a 2004 Better Homes and Gardens decorating book.
It's a tribute to a bygone era when walls were hand-painted with murals, hardwood floors were the norm, and chandeliers dripped with crystals.
Ornate antique furniture fills each room. And tour-goers will see, and perhaps hear, music from a wind-up Edison phonograph and a Symphonion, a German music box, circa 1880, that operates with tin discs.
There are a dozen Christmas trees throughout the house, many covered with collectible ornaments by Jay Strongwater, Christopher Radko and Louis Nichol. A tree in the first floor gym features stunning black, white and red ornamentation. It will be raffled during the event with proceeds going to the guild.
Climb the sweeping staircase and be greeted by a 5-foot Radko nutcracker.
Then make your way to the third story for a rotating upside-down Christmas tree laden with Wizard of Oz ornaments.
"We wanted it to look like a spinning tornado, said Halleran, 50.
The townhome of Debra Weible and George Schaefer offers quite a contrast with its modern lines, sleek lighting and organic colors of oatmeal, mango and pear. The walls are adorned with her cheerful, original watercolors; built-in cabinetry showcases his unique wooden bowls turned on a lathe.
Be sure to take note of the brand new cherry kitchen, her art studio, his man cave, and the futuristic upstairs bathroom.
Collectibles and a traditional Christmas look define the home of Mary Ellen Spurlock, who has amassed Christmas ornaments and figurines from all over the world. Visitors will be greeted by a framed picture of St. Nick as well as more than 100 other versions of the jolly old guy.
Be sure to look up at the ceiling fans; each is hand-painted to match the room's décor.
Collections include porcelains by Italian artist Antonio Borsato and wooden figurines carved by Anri artists.
"I love the true meaning of Christmas," said Spurlock, 71. "I've got my decorating done and I'll make my cookies while I listen to the radio and hear songs about the baby Jesus."