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Throwing some curves into furniture makingPatti Tronolone...


Throwing some curves into furniture making

Patti Tronolone likes to shake things up a little in terms of what we look at. The materials she uses are cherry, bird's-eye maple, walnut and curly maple, which don't sound very iconoclastic, and her construction techniques are conservative. But her custom-made chairs, tables and sideboards aren't quite like any furniture you've ever seen. It's art deco, but with more curves; European-influenced, but uniquely her own.

A graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art in furniture making and design, Ms. Tronolone managed a furniture restoration company before she started her own business, Design Woodworks, in 1987. "There I had the opportunity to see what methods of building last," she says. That's why she uses traditional methods of furniture construction such as dovetail joints for her strikingly unusual pieces.

She'll be exhibiting her work today through Wednesday in New York City at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, but you can see it in her Baltimore studio at 1511 Guilford Ave. Call (410) 685-3686 for an appointment.

Azaleas are at their peak right now. They're so beautiful homeowners may be inspired to plant their own or do a little maintenance work on the ones they have. Here are some tips:

Azaleas are hardy and versatile. They do well in sun or shade, although you'll get more blooms with more light. They like well-drained soil and need to be fed with an acid fertilizer like Hollytone right after they bloom in spring and again, lightly, in the fall.

Jack McWilliams of Maxalea Nurseries recommends surrounding new plants with composted leaves or pine bark and watering them well, particularly the first year, to get their roots established. Azaleas are "surface rooted," which means they can get dry quickly. All plants should be watered through dry spells this summer, because that's when they'll be making their buds for next year.

What will you find when you go shopping for new plants? Maxalea has 30 varieties, "just a drop in the bucket of what's available out there," says Mr. McWilliams. Most popular right now is the Robin Hill series, with large flowers and vivid colors such as salmon and unusual pinks.

For the past several years, the casual, natural look of sisal and other plant-fiber rugs has been promoted by interior design magazines and decorator show houses. (You'll see several of them, for instance, in this year's Symphony Show House.) As a result, customers are clamoring for them, according to Jo Coveny, decorator for the Kellogg Collection. Nationally, designers like Mark Hampton use these natural fiber rugs as an )) outgrowth of the English country look, with area rugs over them. They're adaptable to both traditional and contemporary settings.

Sisal used to be a "starter" rug because in its simplest form it's so inexpensive. At Pier 1 Imports, for instance, you can get a 6-by-9 for $40. It's low-maintenance and lightweight, so it can be moved easily. The disadvantages are that the shape isn't stable if there's no backing, it mildews easily if not water-sealed, and because the material is so porous, it can stain easily.

The newest rugs have vinyl or rubber backing, are sometimes combined with wool for the flat-weave look but increased ease of cleaning, and come in colors or with stencils. At the Kellogg Collection, a stylish 6-by-9 with these advantages can cost closer to $400 than $40, which still makes it a good buy in carpeting.

Let's say you're stuck trying to find the right furniture for your sun porch and could use a little help. You could call (800) 775-ASID, the American Society of Interior Designers' new national referral service. The service coordinators match your specific needs and budget with three or four designers in your area, provide you with their names and have one of them call you within a day or two. (The other names give you some options in case you and the designer who calls don't click.)

Of course, ASID hopes you'll hire a designer, but there's no obligation: They'll be glad to answer questions over the phone. You can also buy a video, "Interiors by Design," through the service for $9.95. The price of the video is refunded if you hire a designer.

You won't, by the way, necessarily speak to someone at the 800 number. When I called, I got an answering machine asking me for my name, address and phone number, and asking me to indicate whether I wanted literature on interior design or to talk to a designer in my area.

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