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'Trading Spaces' goes to sea

By MARCUS FRANKLIN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 12, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG - Pat Benavides loathes red walls.

"It's a very distracting and aggressive color," the 44-year-old said. "It's something I can do without."

By the end of today, though, Benavides and her fiance, Calvin Tate, might discover the walls in their 70-foot custom houseboat are the very color they dread. Or covered with feathers. Or newspapers. Or even wine labels.

Those are just some of the decorating touches homeowners have found on their walls after appearing on the popular television interior design show Trading Spaces. Benavides, Tate and Tate's 19-year-old son are one of two local families selected to participate in a spinoff of the show, Trading Spaces: Family in which two families swap homes for 48 hours to redesign a room in each house.

It's the first time the home improvement reality show, which airs Sundays on the Learning Channel, selected subjects living aboard boats. Two St. Petersburg families were chosen from a dozen applications the show received for the boat episode, far fewer than the 50 to 300 it normally gets for its traditional home swaps, supervising producer Shawn Visco said.

"We're going to try to make it as fun as possible," Tate, 50, said as he stood near the 56-foot Matthews motor yacht that he, Benavides and son Matthew, all sporting green short-sleeved Trading Spaces shirts, had begun redecorating Thursday. The yacht bobbed gently in Salt Creek at the Harborage at Bayboro, 15th Avenue S and Second Street, portions of which production crews have converted into a television set through today.

"If you don't like something they do, you can always take it down," Tate said.

The show's goal is to inspire those who are afraid of do-it-yourself home improvement by showing an average family dramatically and creatively overhauling a room with a $1,000 budget, some help from one of the show's professional interior designers, and a little enthusiasm.

The Metro family, the other St. Petersburg live-aboards in the show, are hoping to ditch the soft colors in their Matthews motor yacht. Nick, 32, and Angela, 38, and their nephew David Higginbottom, 17, have lived aboard the yacht since Labor Day weekend and would love to see the previous owner's hues of apricot and salmon disappear from the living and dining areas.

"These people have it decorated like a beach condo," said Angela, a stay-at-home mom whose husband is a manager for a software company. "We want a true nautical look - bold colors like navy blue, dark green, burgundy and gold."

Although host Joe Farrell, a Yale medieval literature graduate whose mother is an interior designer, helps propel the show with his humor and enthusiasm, the families turn to designers for direction.

Edward Walker, a 39-year-old Fashion Institute of Technology graduate, is working with Calvin, Pat and Matthew on the Metros' yacht, Lady Enna. Walker describes his style as "Old World meets New World," and "eclectic and traditionalist."

"I like traditional stylings, but I do enjoy mixing in the modern and unusual," Walker said Thursday.

Walker said redecorating homes on water poses challenges not found in homes that rest on soil. "Fabric, carpet and paint are much more expensive for boats. The sun and water are things that need to be considered. With a boat, the big challenge is that everything needs to be water-resistant."

The other designer, Hildi Santo-Tomas, who declined to give her age, is known for her daring papering of walls with materials such as cardboard. Still, she described her style as "simple, elegant and sophisticated." The business graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has no formal design education. "My design experience is an innate gift," said Santo-Tomas, who owns a design business in Atlanta.

Both designers say the smaller spaces on the boats also presented challenges, though Santo-Tomas acknowledged she had more room to work with in Tate and Benavides' custom houseboat.

Tate, who works in computer network installation, and Benavides, who works in customer service, have hinted that they wouldn't mind getting rid of the sand-colored wood paneling in their boat. The couple also wouldn't mind finding a tiki bar in the vessel they've called home for nearly two years.

But Santo-Tomas says that's out. "I'm not one for doing theme rooms," she said. "I'm for rooms that will be around longer than a Jimmy Buffett party."

And the Metros and their nephew David are hoping to find some bold colors on their yacht.

"We are extremely excited," Angela Metro said.

Both families will learn today whether their aesthetic dreams have come true or an interior designing nightmare has begun, but viewers must wait to find out. The tentative air date is March 14.

- Marcus Franklin can be reached at or 727 893-8488.

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