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RANCH DRESSINGS

An old standby brightens up with interesting colors, metallic accents, crown molding, greenery and contemporary furniture.

Everybody who lives in a 1980s ranch house with low ceilings and rooms that aren't as light and airy as you'd like, please raise your hand.

Thought so. You will be pleased to know that the designer show house that opens this morning is full of ideas to freshen up, brighten and modernize the sort of houses that lots of real people live in. (See the box and map on Page 5D for details.)

At 4,500 square feet, the house on McCauley Road, built in 1981, is "an overgrown version of the house most of us lived in, or still do," said designer Tina Webb. "I hope people will see ways of updating a house like that and bringing it into the next millennium."

As they put the finishing touches on their rooms a few days ago, designers recalled what the house looked like until recently. Eight-foot flat ceilings. Cold white walls, white tile floors, boxy white rooms with little architectural detail. Poor interior lighting. Too many dated mirrored surfaces. The beautiful mature trees outside that provide welcome shade also make the house dark.

Now the awkward adolescent has grown up. The house is full of warm colors of taupe, ivory and khaki with accents of silver, gold and bronze; colorful rugs in unusual textures; crown molding and other architectural detailing; and furniture that is contemporary but comfortable.

There are many references to the popular Caribbean/West Indies/Far East styles, starting on the front porch, where 92-year-old designer Pauline Obrentz placed a wood settee and chairs and a marble-top table to invoke the verandas of the British West Indies. And throughout there are plenty of whimsical and downright funky touches to retain a sense of humor.

A contemporary home is a departure for the designers, members of the Florida North chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. Recent show houses have been grand houses in the Mediterranean Revival style, often in the Old Northeast or Snell Isle neighborhoods of St. Petersburg.

"It's not the same-old same-old," coordinator Gloria N. Ellinwood said. A different kind of house gives designers an opportunity to show that they can do something other than traditional design, she said. Organizers hope the midcounty location will attract visitors from the beaches, Pasco County and Tampa.

"A lot of people really like contemporary furniture, but it can be so stark," said Linda Noble Welch of Deranian-Noble Design Group. The warm ivory paint in the dining room she created with Mardi Deranian blends with a soft Chinese needlepoint rug in tones of taupe, wheat, rust and purple and the V-shaped pennants of a harlequin valance at the window. The chrome-trimmed contemporary chairs are softened with upholstery in a traditional fabric.

Although designers did not coordinate with each other, the colors and styles work together well in this house with its wide-open floor plan. The dining room colors blend into the khaki and plum in the formal sunken living room (another 1980s touch), by Michael Muller of Michael Thomas Interiors, where silver-leaf accents in mirror and artwork brighten the room. In the foyer, open directly to the living room, a crystal basket chandelier hangs above a black marble table topped by a huge floral arrangement. Designer Lee Reese of the Architectural Design Center picked up the metallic theme with bronze accessories.

Metallic tones of silver, bronze and gold are at work in the master bedroom. "It was a very cold, big, open room," said designer Susan Solomon, who designed the room with Debbie Snyder of Norwalk, the Furniture Idea. "I wanted to warm it up," which she did with walls faux-finished by Monica Hamilton in taupe dusted with bronze and gold in a suede look. She added a hand-woven Tibetan rug in shades of rich gold, warm taupe, dark red and blue. She mixed materials: the bed frame and bedside tables are different metals; one table is topped with marble, another with glass. Instead of ceiling spotlights, she substituted small halogen bulbs "that give a cleaner light but don't overpower."

Why the move toward metallics? "It gives dimension, a sense of sheen and sparkle," said Suzan Decker Ross, of Decker Ross Interiors, who did the family room in shades of aubergine with silver and gold touches. These softer metallics create warmth without the cold industrial shine of steel or aluminum.

The family room offers more ideas for those who wish their rooms were more vertical than horizontal: tall floor lamps, vertical artwork (the four paintings here are by local artist T.W. Curtis), tall plants, staggered wall sconces, pottery placed at several levels.

A tiny office by Karen Brown and Christine Keene uses fabric draped on the ceiling and faux-finished leather-look panels on the walls, framed in molding, to emphasize vertical lines and draw the eye upward.

A "tropical repose" bedroom by Deborah Devine and Shari Cuevas of Home Depot in Clearwater draws on the metallic theme with "seven different colors of Ralph Lauren paint, done with rags and sponges," Devine said: metallic gold and silver, dark green, two shades of lighter green and two of khaki. "This was a very, very dark room, the house is so low, and without the lights on it's pitch black. But with good lighting, anything will work." The designers used tall lamps atop a gentleman's chest, bedside lighting, and uplighting in the corners among the plants to brighten the room, Cuevas explained.

The kitchen is huge and bright, with lime green walls, back splashes with hand-painted tiles, and the existing granite counter tops. The owners, preparing to sell the house, had painted the room white ("White, white, white, white, white!" designer Tina Webb recalled), which didn't really brighten the room. More tips here for those with similar homes: The tropical green walls and new under-cabinet lighting and downlighting solve the light-and-bright problem. So did new light tile floors, recently installed by the owners to replace the original dark tiles. The kitchen has two big Kitchen Aid ranges; they and other appliances will be raffled off during the show house.

The adjacent breakfast room is probably the brightest room in the house. "We had the advantage of the wonderful pool area: It's bright, it's sun-filled, it reflected the light on that side of the house," Webb said. She and designer Debra Kirkpatrick dressed the room in hand-painted and hand-printed tropical fabrics and added a whimsical chandelier with a monkey dressed like a pirate. This garden room is full of bromeliads and other plants, and that's another touch to look for throughout the house: the use of greenery to freshen and brighten.

On either side of the breakfast room are two outdoor spaces by Susan Taylor and Cheryl Reck of Taylor Designs. "This is where you come out to exhale," Taylor said of the poolside loggia, furnished with a double lounge chair covered in a taupe-and-green leaf print. "I wanted natural, nothing bright, nothing Miami Vice-y. It's calming and soothing." The same is true of the little lanai, furnished with a table and chairs and tea cart for outdoor dining. An herb garden "attracts beautiful butterflies," a tiny fountain gurgles, and "it's a wonderful place to relax and soothe your troubles away." The lanai overlooks the pool deck, where Beverly Eckhouse of Complimentary Design has set up a grouper-shaped barbecue grill and comfortable poolside seating.

Two rooms here crank up the fun-and-funky quotient. One is a bedroom by Tony Marsh designed as "the uncle's room," a refuge for a recently divorced man. "Men change their lives too when things happen," he said. The uncle may never move out of this bedroom, with silver-checked wallcovering that reflects the olive green of the bed linens, a matchstick blind at the window, a "display fireplace," a couple of curvy white chairs that look like sculpture, and two bubbling fish tanks.

The other is an enclosed porch that Gloria Ellinwood and Robert J. Trudeau designed as "Barbie's dream," a child's room. A life-size 1950s Barbie mannequin wears a formal gown with tiny lights under her tulle skirt. The walls are soft aubergine, a "Barbie color." The bed, nightstand and armoire, designed by Creative Arts in Pinellas Park, are topped with big swirls. A munchkin ballerina poses atop the bed and a munchkin boy in pirate garb stands ready for play, and the wall of closets has been masked behind a mural.

"It's a place to sit and dream," Ellinwood said, "to take you out of reality and bring you back to reality."

Just for fun ...

Try these fun and easy ideas used by designers at the show house:

+ On a dining table, put votive candles into small bowls filled with dried split peas, then scatter more dried peas across the tabletop. Or try red lentils or yellow peas or a mix. (Tina Webb and Debra Kirkpatrick.)

+ Lay palm fronds or other greenery in an X or semicircle on a tabletop as a "place mat" and set a charger or dinner plate on top. (Webb and Kirkpatrick.)

+ Long stretch of hallway to decorate? Bring on the kids. Let them dip their hands in paint and create a design of handprints across the wall. (At the show house, look for the handiwork of Garrett Brown, soon to turn 8 years old. This wall will be hung with pictures of dream houses drawn by youngsters who are members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, the show house beneficiaries.) (Karen Brown Interiors.)

+ Think beyond flowers. In the formal living room beside a grand piano stands an urn full of gorgeous green-and-purple exotics. That's ornamental kale, often used in grocery display cases or on buffet platters. It's a nutritional powerhouse, full of calcium, vitamin A, beta carotene and magnesium. (Michael Muller, Michael Thomas Interiors.)

+ In a bathroom, glue glass beads around the mirror to add some color and interest. (Aimee Vaillancourt, Interior Innovations.)

+ Can't pick the drawer pull you like? Make every one different. Note the colorful mix of resin pulls on a bathroom vanity. (Vaillancourt.)

In the family room at the show house, designers used tall floor lamps, vertical artwork (paintings by T.W. Curtis), tall plants and pottery at staggered heights. A Novasuede sectional and shag carpet add texture. Designers: Suzan Decker Ross, Patty Leslie and Janet Gail Thomas of Decker Ross Interiors.

A ballerina munchkin stands on a swirl-topped bed in the "Barbie's Dream" room, where a mural disguises the closet doors. Designers: Gloria N. Ellinwood and Robert J. Trudeau.

A swan's neck creates the faucet for the garden tub in the master suite. Designers: ASID student chapter at the International Academy of Merchandising and Design.

Designer Tony Marsh prepares to hang a picture in the back hall, where the handprints of Garrett Brown, almost 8 years old, make their mark. The hall will be a gallery for pictures of dream homes created by children from the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Suncoast.

Visiting the show house

What: Designer show house presented by local members of the American Society of Interior Designers. Beneficiaries: Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, and International Academy of Merchandising and Design ASID Scholarship Fund.

Where: The home of Alan and Lynne Leslie, 1760 McCauley Road, Clearwater. (Coachman Lake Estates, just west of U.S. 19 on the south side of Sunset Point Road.)

When: Through March 5. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. Open until 7 p.m. Thursdays, when designers will be present in their rooms. Closed Mondays. Tea room offers lights lunches from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tickets: $10 at the door. Group rates available.

Information: (727) 726-3333

What else: The house is for sale for $675,000. Contact: Sultana Frazis of Coldwell Banker Suncoast Realty, (727) 937-9170 or (727) 942-9464.

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