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Designer to bring palette of ideas

"Little luxuries are symbols of how you value your life," says Alexandra Stoddard, designer, self-styled lifestyle philosopher and author of 19 books. Stoddard is scheduled to be in St. Petersburg and Clearwater today to talk about ideas on "creating the perfect Florida lifestyle, from outdoor parties to formal affairs, using a variety of simple techniques."

Stoddard's The Decoration of Houses is the 1997 version of the landmark book of non-fiction written by Victorian novelist Edith Wharton and architect Ogden Codman Jr. 100 years earlier. No coffee table trophy, Stoddard's book has only illustrations, no photographs. It is, in essence, a textbook that takes readers from budgets through types of sofas to the "Zen of maintenance." Its main decorative element is endpapers, stripes of rainbow colors, about which Stoddard writes: "I hope these pages inspire you to begin your own voyage into the world of colors, fresh colors."

During her almost 40-year career as a designer, Stoddard, she says, has never forgotten Wharton's influence. The Wharton-Codman work became the cornerstone of the previously non-existent interior design profession.

Although Stoddard says she adheres to Wharton's principles, she has augmented them with contemporary ideas in her book, which she wrote "for every person I will never be able to decorate for."

Though she is one of the country's leading authorities on decorating, Stoddard says she cleans her own house, paints her own rooms and believes there is power in knowing you can install your own crown moldings. A interior designer with some 1,000 homes to her credit, she says she still believes that the best person to influence the decorating of a dwelling is the person who lives there.

Stoddard is known for skill in color. "I got my color sense from my mother's flower garden. My mission is to bring nature's bounty inside," she says. "Color is what gives us our energy. I truly don't know anyone full of energy who lives in a place with no color."

Other hints for domestic bliss: Every room should have a touch of yellow. Don't sleep with tax files under the bed; it makes for bad vibes. A good mattress is better than a great headboard. Never carpet the bathroom. Choose paints carefully: "A good color and a bad color cost the same, but a good color can make you unseemly happy."

"You have to love your home," she says. "That means make it beautiful, light and never beige." She despises brown unless it is associated with the soil, antiques or Godiva chocolates. And she believes in feng shui, the ancient Oriental art of placement to have your home fit your emotional and physical needs.

Above all, she advocates living well: "A silver key ring may be one of Tiffany's most budget-minded treasures, but you will appreciate its elegance every time you unlock your back door."

Gowns with a mission

The dresses of Princess Diana, which drew capacity crowds to St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts in early March and raised more than $30,000 for the museum's educational programs, are on the move again. The dresses, owned by Tampa business executive Maureen Rorech, were at the governor's mansion in Frankfort, Ky., for the annual Lexington Ball last month. Proceeds from the event benefit the University of Kentucky's Markey Cancer Center. "It's one of the most beautiful settings I can imagine," Rorech said of the mansion.

She took the exhibit to Kentucky at her own expense because the cancer center is "in line with the purpose of the exhibit," which will raise money for charitable causes the princess supported.

Parading past a band of bagpipers, guests ascended the stairs of the governor's mansion and were greeted by Gov. Paul Patton and his wife, Judi.

Country music star and Kentucky native John Michael Montgomery, who performed for the gala, said of the princess' gowns: "It makes you wish she was still around to wear them."

Among the guests who paid $1,000 to attend were honorary co-chairman and former University of Kentucky head coach Rick Pitino and his wife, Joanne. Pitino, coach of the Boston Celtics, was in the Tampa Bay areaearlier this year. An outstanding motivational speaker, Pitino came to the area for a benefit talk sponsored by the Junior League of Clearwater-Dunedin. When he saw how the league was going to use the money raised, he waived his lecture fee.

The Kentucky gala was the last stop for the dresses before Rorech kicks off an international tour that begins in Washington, D.C., in June.