Interior designers deck the halls of 1930s estate

A Town ' N Country design school helps decorate one room of a historic 20-room estate for a Christmas tour of the home.

Published November 24, 2006

LAKE WALES - When organizers of the Christmas at Pinewood home tour went looking for decorators, they tapped the area's best interior design school.

Students and faculty at the International Academy of Design and Technology in Town 'N Country helped decorate for the annual holiday tour of the 1930 Mediterranean revival estate at the Historic Bok Sanctuary.

"It gives us experience, exposure and showcases our overall talents," said student designer Misty Hess, 31, a junior at the International Academy who is working toward a master's degree in historic preservation.

"As students, we work on projects on paper but don't actually get to see a final finished product," she said. "That's what makes this so special."

The 20-room house - known for its elaborate gardens, carved woodwork and wrought-iron details - is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was the folly of C. Austin Buck, a vice president of Bethlehem Steel who not only hired the best architect for his winter villa, but the best landscape designer as well: the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (Olmsted's father designed Central Park in New York as well as one of America's first planned communities, Riverside, Ill.)

Thousands of visitors from all over Florida go to the annual holiday tour, which kicks off the day after Thanksgiving.

The event features 11 rooms decorated for the holidays by a cadre of designers and decorators from across Central and West Central Florida.

"We really wanted to focus on the novelty of a Florida Christmas by giving our room a very subtropical look," said Phil Bulone, associate chairman of the academy's Department of Interior Design. "The unique part was that other designers have stores and showrooms, but we had to go out and find our stuff on our own."

In the past, Christmas at Pinewood was the handiwork of one designer or decorator. That changed a year ago, when estate officials decided to ask individual designers to volunteer their efforts in different rooms - much the way fundraising show houses are run. Using a dozen or so volunteer designers not only helped trim costs but also turned out to be a hit with the public.

"It also gives the decorators incredible exposure because thousands of people will get to see their work," said Cyndy Turner, marketing director for the Historic Bok Sanctuary. She estimates that 8,000 to 10,000 visitors will flock to the 12th annual tour this holiday season.

The International Academy team was assigned the living room of the house, a dramatic space that features a separate seating area and a large piano as well as alcoves for several Christmas trees. The large space proved overwhelming at first, so the designers decided to treat it as two separate living areas.

Armed with a budget of $1,500, Bulone and a small team of students and faculty combed craft and home stores for fall clearance items because the colors matched their assortment of holiday trees and decorations.

"We were really looking for copper colors, earth tones, teals, oranges and greens - colors that would work well with the rich, dark tones of the house," Bulone said. The team stuck to an Old Florida theme, using citrus, feathers, palm fronds and other items that would have been commonly used at the time.

Students and faculty at the school donated toys, which were wrapped and placed under the 10-foot Christmas tree and will be donated to a Lake Wales charity.

It took the team three days to decorate the living room, using a design concept they had drawn up ahead of time and presented to a committee at Pinewood Estate.

"Because the architecture is so beautiful, we tried to work with the architecture and not overpower it," said Marion Koppes, an adjunct professor of interior design at the International Academy. "This is such a beautiful home and we got such an important room, that we felt it was a real privilege to have even been asked, Koppes said.

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.


If you go

Holiday home tour

Christmas at Pinewood is located on the Pinewood Estate at the Historic Bok Sanctuary in Lake Wales. The event begins the day after Thanksgiving. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays Closed Dec. 24 and 25. Evening tours Dec. 8 and 9 from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Cost is $17 for adults, $8 for children 5 to 12 (children under 5 free) and $6 for members. Group rates $14. (Includes admission to the Bok Sanctuary.)

For directions, go to www.boksanctuary.org.