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Rich looks for less than you might expect

Marni

In pursuit of my mantra "Look rich, be cheap," I go on every design-house tour I can.

You know those fundraising events where a bunch of designers consume a lot of caffeine, then converge on a house like a S.W.A.T. team. Each takes a room and turns it into a personal showcase. They say they "collaborate" to "merge seamlessly" with the other designers' rooms. But, given the egos involved, you know it's a total shoot out.

And that's okay, because they do it all for a cause — and for a few new clients.

Some folks leave these eye-popping home-tours feeling inadequate and wanting, which is just such a waste of good emotion. Not me. I go with my cell-phone camera on stealth mode and leave with budget-friendly ideas I can make mine – and yours.

Last week I visited a design house to benefit Hope & Help, an HIV/AIDS outreach program in Orlando. Five designers took on the 3,400-square-foot penthouse, which hovered like a glittery oasis on the 35th floor of a high rise, high-style condominium complex. The 3-bedroom, 3½-bath residence had 270-degree lake and city views.

I came late, after the crowd, and had the place to myself, except for one designer and the realtor, offering the place for $2.5 million. "That includes the furniture," he added. For that price, I thought it should include servants and a floor safe full of diamonds.

Let's do the math: That's $735 a square foot. No yard.

I must have reacted, because he said, "We've had some interest. A Saudi Prince is looking at it seriously."

Extravagance aside, the tour delivered all I ever want from a home tour — a visual reminder of good design rules in play and at least one idea that's a lot cheaper than it looks.

Among the design rule reminders were these:

•If you have a view, don't block it, frame it. The designers each capitalized on, rather than upstaged, the spectacular views.

•Light fixtures are a room's jewelry. Here, they hung from the 11-foot ceilings like exquisite pendants. A mobile of colored glass cubes floated over the dining table; a strip of blazing Swarovski crystals lit the master bath; a blown-glass, tortoise-shell-colored teardrop illuminated the man's dressing area.

*•Walls look best with texture. In the master bath, I passed my hand over the yummy, iridescent taupe patent-leather wallcovering, which was stitched in a quilted diamond pattern.

•High-tech stuff shouldn't look techy. At the foot of the bed in the master, a handsome, thickly framed, floor-to-ceiling mirror leaned against a wall, which camouflaged the television screen floating inside it.

•Dynamic interiors use value well. The interplay of dark and light colors, when balanced, creates a yin and yang in a space. Here, dark walnut floors played off light crema marfil marble tile work, and charcoal stone aggregate counters grounded icy, dove gray cabinets.

But the best takeaway — the moment I came for — was this: a mosaic of wood that covered a half wall over the bar, and also clad a column in the guest room. Interior designer Julie Koran, of Winter Park, designed both spaces.

Although she could have told me that a famous wood artist from Bali had flown in and hand assembled the woodwork, and I would have believed her, Koran said she did it herself.

The result was warm, textural, artistic, unique, more interesting than paneling, and — here's the best part — practically free. You just need a saw, wood scraps, glue, pin nails and a little time. She told me how she did it, and, boy, was I paying attention.

•Gather wood scraps. Go to the workshops of carpenters, cabinet makers and flooring suppliers. Sift through the scrap piles for pieces of finished wood in varied sizes.

•Look for variety. Keep your eyes open for exotic woods such as wenge, zebrawood, teak and bloodwood, as well as more common maple, poplar, cherry, ash and walnut.

•Cut pieces so all corners are 90 degrees. Create squares and rectangles of different sizes.

•Measure the surface. On the floor of your workspace, tape out the dimensions of the surface you want to cover.

•Create a mosaic. Lay the pieces inside the taped borders until you've built a tight-fitting puzzle. Move pieces of your collage around until you like the composition, looking for balance and a blend of shape and color.

•Hang it up. Starting in one corner and working out, attach pieces to the wall with hot glue, then secure with pin nails.

•Do it again. To give a home continuity, Koran likes to see design elements such as this repeated. The treatment can work as a backsplash, headboard, accent wall or to define a niche.

Then, stand back and enjoy a look fit for a Saudi prince.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press).

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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