The Luxury Home: Our Design Roller Coaster

By Ilene Denton January 1, 2013

Having your house redone as a Designer Showcase is scary, tumultuous—and thrilling.


Ever jump when you hear yourself say something and think, "Who just said that?" That's what happened when my husband, David, and I dashed through the Jewels on the Bay Showhouse at the Powel Crosley Estate on a bitter-cold Sunday morning in February 2011.

"We're looking for a house from the 1920s for next year because that's what the public wants to see," Margaret Cook of Cook's Custom Cabinetry and Design Studio, a longtime Showhouse coordinator, told us after I praised the interior designers' efforts. Then a voice that sounded just like mine startled me—and David—by piping up, "We have a 1920s house…"

Thus began our exciting, daunting, frustrating, frightening and ultimately exhilarating adventure in Designer Showhouseland. Yes, that's right. Three thousand people trooped through our Bay Point Park bungalow—as well as our neighbors Fred and Linda Robinson's '50s-era ranch home—for a month last winter, all for the benefit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and Manatee counties.

They opened our kitchen cabinets, plopped down on our newly reupholstered settee, snapped shots of our garden, and commented—mostly positively, I'm happy to report—about the transformations wrought by the 16 interior designers, each of whom took a room and made like Cinderella's fairy godmother, creating elegance and order where once reigned a hodge-podge of furnishings. (And like Cinderella, too, our house turned back into a pumpkin at midnight—I mean when the Showhouse ended in late February, and our old possessions, along with a few new gems we purchased from the Showhouse furnishings, came out of storage and returned to their accustomed places.)

About our house: It's not the typical square-box bungalow, but rather a long, one-and-a-half story built in 1926 in the California Green & Green style, with 10-foot ceilings, original three-pane windows and yellow pine floors. It's not a grand house, but it's a great one, creaky floors and all, and the minute I saw it 21 years ago, I lost my heart. Having written about architecture and design for Sarasota Magazine for many years, I always wondered what it could look like in the hands of professional designers.

Every man who heard about our Showhouse adventure looked at us in horror, and every woman asked, "Do you get to keep everything?" So let's get one thing out in the open: Yes, we kept (and paid for) all the structural improvements and some of the furnishings. But we were fortunate to be able to purchase them at a discount, realizing hefty savings on top-of-the-line furnishings and construction materials. Some light fixtures, the upstairs bathroom vanity, window treatments and almost all the interior painting were donated, and for that we are extremely grateful. (The paint itself, too—thanks, Sherwin Williams.) Tre Michel and David Steiner of State of the Arts Gallery reframed our two biggest Syd Solomon paintings at no cost, and even though I was nervous about replacing the frames that Syd himself had made, the results were spectacular.

We knew going in that we'd be returning a couple of the rooms to their pre-Showhouse look. Why invest in new furniture for a guest bedroom that's used twice a year? But in most of the rooms, we leaped in. Those talented pros pushed me outside my comfort zone ("What do you mean, you're going to paint that ceiling blue?!"), and shook my preconceived notions. ("I chose a mirror for the dining room wall, and you're going to hate it," Joyce Hart told me. Even though I would never in a million years have picked out the big and boldly framed rectangular mirror myself, I ended up not being able to part with it.) Decisions I would have agonized over for days—the perfect shade of gray, the placement of an armchair—were made with instantaneous authority, while I was still fanning out the paint chips and pondering each one.

A big reason for participating in the Showhouse was to redo our much outdated master bath. Turns out that our laundry room was gutted, too, and redone, while our upstairs bath got a 21st-century redo with octagonal wall tiles that echo the 1920s originals on the floor. Each designer assigned to these rooms worked with us closely for months so there'd be no surprises. It's one thing to repaint a wall, another altogether to change out new cabinets and tile floors.

I'm nuts about the results—my Carrera-marble master bath with the old-fashioned soaking tub is a thing of beauty—but remodeling isn't fun. Demolition was on Sept. 23 and they were scrambling to finish details the week the Showhouse opened in late January. Suffice it to say that we staged a massive garage sale to move 20 years of accumulated clutter before the process began; and once it was under way, we showered at the Y for a month. And I do remember actually hearing myself tell someone who was suggesting some major design move, "We are not made of money." (Cringe.)

As the Showhouse opening neared, they kicked us out on Jan. 2 out to finish up their work. For the first two weeks, we stayed with family on Lido, then spent six weeks with a Good Samaritan neighbor.

Everybody asks me if I'd do it again. I ponder the question as I look around my blissfully peaceful master bedroom sitting area, wiggling down into a 30-year-old armchair reupholstered in bold orange, its back cushion wrapped in natural linen with a classic geometric pattern in inky, blue-black velvet—so daring when the designer first suggested it that I nearly hyperventilated, and now so perfectly suited to the space that I can't imagine it any other way.

"It's like jumping on a roller coaster," I tell them. "You plunge up and down and take all kinds of twisty turns, and scream a lot, and your hair stands up every which way. And when you get off you think, 'That was fun.'"

The 2013 Jewels on the Bay Showhouse is Jan. 19-Feb. 17 and features two St. Armands residences at 361 and 439 S. Boulevard of Presidents. Admission is $20. For details, visit

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