Hartford Courant

A Design Showcase

Junior League's Show House In Hartford's West End A Medley Of Decorators' Inspirations

| The Hartford Courant

CHRISTA O'LEARY of Home in Harmony designed the peaceful library in the Junior League Show House with eco-friendly materials, but in a feminine French style, with pleasingly rounded furnishings, including this curvaceous settee. (MARK MIRKO / HARTFORD COURANT / April 27, 2009)

Here's an absolutely delicious recipe: Take a stately Georgian Revival home on a lovely street near Elizabeth Park in Hartford's West End. Stir in the talents of scores of interior designers, decorators, upholsterers, painters, retailers, artists, landscape designers, gardeners and volunteers. Whip into a tantalizing confection of distinctive flavors.

Best of all, the result helps alleviate hunger in Hartford.

That's the idea behind the Junior League Show House, which opens Saturday and runs through May 24. And it is a rare treat: The Junior League of Hartford produces a show house — the organization's largest fundraiser — only once every three years. This is the 11th for the volunteer and community service organization of 450 women, according to president Kathleen Schuster.

During an advance look at the show house earlier this week, co-chairwomen Jodie Liddy and Vanessa Thomas explain that the Junior League generally prefers to choose a house that is on the market, to hold down the costs of moving out the occupants and storing their belongings. Last fall, they were talking with Susie Hatch, a sustaining member of the Junior League who is a real estate agent with William Raveis, about possible properties, when they hit on just the right place: Susie and Ross Hatch's 6,700-square-foot house at 219 Kenyon St. was for sale.In a bit of kismet, it also turns out that the home once belonged to Betty and Robert C. Knox Jr., a family active in community service in Hartford. Betty served as the Junior League's president in the 1940s.

"We loved the flow," Thomas says, "and the rooms are a nice size but not too large." The house also was in excellent condition, Liddy says. "A lot of the houses we take over are in desperate need of help." These were important considerations, Liddy says, because it costs the decorators a great deal to produce each space for the show house.

Designers submit storyboards for three areas they would like to decorate, Liddy and Thomas explain, and the Junior League's interiors committee taps those who will do the honors.

A Mix Of Ingredients

What also makes the show house a rare treat is the mix of individual design approaches. Moving from room to room is a heady experience filled with surprises.

For example, the master bedroom by designer Sharon McCormick is in soothing shades of seaglass green, cream and rose, with silk draperies, silk pillows with crystal trim, a calming Farrow & Ball wallpaper, tufted chairs, an elaborate gilt mirror, a French Savonnerie rug and crystal chandeliers. The designer says she drew her inspiration from "Female Bather With Swan" a painting by Frederick Milton Grant, which she borrowed from the Cooley Gallery in Old Lyme. A swan is a traditional symbol of romance, McCormick says, and the room is indeed luxuriously romantic, right down to the elegant little rosettes she designed on the nickel radiator cover.

Meanwhile, down the hall is a small study or meditation room — in the completely different design aesthetic of Kathy Hayes, whose design company is The Inside Story — with terra cotta walls, a natural-edge desk, primitive acacia stools with butterfly joints, and an antique Japanese tansu, or shoe cabinet, in cypress that looks remarkably modern. The overall effect here is contemporary and organic.

A spectacular blue and cream 19th-century Chinese rug from J. Namnoun Oriental Rug Gallery was the starting point for Richard Ott's design of the living room. The pattern is echoed in the over-scaled ivory damask pattern stenciled on the walls by Carolann Dvorak and in a custom blue-velvet firescreen with a nailhead design. Ott says he also chose softly smocked draperies in ivory and mostly solid upholstery so not to compete with the carpet.

"I went for formality but not stiff," Ott says. "Even though it's a grand home," he also wanted to cater to a younger audience, which is why he arranged the room as though for a book club meeting. Ott also mixed in contemporary artwork and accents, such as a rock crystal candleholder and a sleek stainless ice bucket. A handsome Chinese coromandel screen in ebony and gold separates the French doors and keeps the fireplace at the end of the long room from becoming the room's only focal point.

In the tranquil little library, Christa O'Leary of Home In Harmony Designs wanted to show that an eco-friendly room doesn't need to be "that modern style." Her approach is very French and curvy and feminine — the upholstered pieces all have rounded edges. Walls are in Wedgwood gray. Colors are ivory and a soft chocolate mousse.

Shifting Gears

As one wanders through the house, the decor keeps shifting gears.

The mood is playful in a third-floor children's bathroom, which Tao LaBossiere of Fine Art Painting painted as an underwater scene with tropical fish, an octopus, starfish and a sunken pirate ship using a high-gloss finish that looks wet. And LaBossiere's mural homage in a child's playroom is laugh-out-loud fun: an homage to Maurice Sendak's " Where the Wild Things Are."

More surprises: A girl's bedroom by Frances Sloan of Sloan Design has an unexpected garden swing and a 5-story dollhouse created by Karen Gilston of Karenin Interiors. Look carefully: The bedroom at the top floor of the dollhouse is done just like the bedroom itself, complete with swing and canopied bed, and decorated in the same whimsical toile, in which the figures are cats, rather than shepherds and milkmaids.

Visitors will delight in the inviting French-style dining room by Nancy Green of Design and Antiquities, with its trompe l'oeil architectural painting by Nancy Kramer. They'll want to sink into the cloud-like dream of a guest bedroom by Lauren Zeligson and John Dussault of Labrazel Home.

And they'll feel right at home in the casually chic family room and kitchen by Edith Whitman Interiors; Whitman is the only designer who has participated in all 11 Junior League show houses. The kitchen overlooks a charming breakfast garden designed by the Gilded Garden — a space that wasn't even originally planned to be designed, according to Thomas and Liddy.

Literally, no stone has been left unturned — even the closets have been designed, including some by The Clothes Horse, the Junior League's resale shop in West Hartford.

So much talent and creativity is on display that it is truly a showcase.

And, as Thomas points out, "not only are you seeing a beautiful home decorated by talented designers, but you're also helping the community,"

• The Junior League's 11th Decorator Show House will be open Saturday through May 24 at 219 Kenyon St. Tickets are $25 at the door, $20 in advance. For more information, including details on ticket sale locations, special related events, boutique hours and sales of many of the items on display at the show house, call 860-233-4300 or go to www.jlhartford.org.