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Eclectic furnishings cheap, chic

A thrift store bargain hunter will show off her cache at an open house this weekend to benefit the stores and organizations she frequents.

As she glides from room to room, bargain hunter Rosemary Ippolito shows off her prized objects, each like an adopted child. She remembers the story of each, where she found it and how much she paid.

This weekend, Ippolito will share her home at the Heather, transformed into a showplace with decor found at local thrift stores.

"Believe it or not, all of these things are very inexpensive," said Ippolito, showing off her safari-themed family room. "It's all about knowing good finds when you see them."

For 50 cents, the public can tour Ippolito's house this weekend. Proceeds will be split between Goodwill Industries-Suncoast and the Salvation Army.

"Because I shop at Goodwill and Salvation Army a lot, I've made friends with the people who work there," Ippolito said. "They're so nice to work with, and I wanted to give something back."

A specialist in investment properties, Ippolito said she saw a chance to use her lifelong love for decorating in her business.

"I buy ugly duckling houses and fix them up," she said. "But decor is my passion. Real estate is just my income."

Throughout the 3,000-square-foot house, visitors will find rooms themed to various lifestyles. The formal living room, decorated in black and white and accented with mirrors is a stark contrast to the family room furnished in retro rattan furniture covered in animal print upholstery.

The four bedrooms and four baths are also wildly diverse in their themes.

One room serves as a small chapel with a ceramic Pieta and bust of the Virgin Mary. Next door is an exercise room with oversized mirrors and several exercise machines.

"I didn't pay more than $25 for any of these machines," Ippolito said with a grin. "That's the best part."

While her decorations are distinctive, the house has been kept in a neutral palate because it is for sale. The walls are white, and carpets are neutral.

"Someone could come in with any color: red, white, purple, green. It won't matter," Ippolito said.

Charla Cribb, vice president for marketing communications for Goodwill Industries-Suncoast, said Ippolito is representative of most thrift store clientele.

"We're thrilled about the people who like the great adventure of the treasure hunt," said Cribb, a longtime thrift shopper herself.

On a recent business trip, Cribb realized she had forgotten her jacket at home and went to a local Goodwill store to pick up a replacement in case the airplane was chilly. She came out with a satin designer jacket.

"That kind of thing happens all the time," she said. "That is the adventure."

A thrift store's target clientele is non-working women between 30 and 40 who love to shop, Cribb said.

"Some people think that only those without much money shop at our stores," she said. "Certainly we are affordable, but that isn't the case at all."

Money raised at Goodwill retail stores supports the cost of training people who are disabled or disadvantaged, Cribb said.

If you go

The home is at 8568 Heather Blvd. in the Heather Golf and Country Club Community off U.S. 19, 2 miles north of State Road 50. Tours are from noon until 4 p.m. today and Sunday and costs 50 cents per person. For information, call 596-4717.