Corrections or additions?

This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the April 17, 2002

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Junior League Showhouse

Just as there are people who, given a full larder,

still could not put together a notable meal, so too there are those

who, given carte blanche with a potential dream house, could never

rise above the ordinary with interior or exterior design. It’s a

domestic

case of "the vision thing" — and, as in other realms,

only some people have it.

Earlier this month, at 160 Hodge Road, Princeton, the Hilfield House

was frequently surrounded by cars, trucks, and people in motion. With

limited time before their deadline, interior designers, landscape

architects, and skilled workers of all sorts were converting the old

colonial revival-style home into this year’s "Designer Showhouse

XII" of the Junior League of Greater Princeton.

Every two years, once the league has identified its projected

showhouse,

interior and landscape designers submit makeover proposals for the

areas they want to tackle. After a league committee has assigned

spaces

in late January, designers can begin to search, order, build, move

heaven and earth — whatever it takes to amass the ingredients

for the new room or garden area. The house is closed for about a month

while off-site work is underway, then reopened in March for actual

on-site efforts.

This year’s Showhouse officially opens on Sunday, April 21, and from

Tuesday to Sunday, through Saturday, May 18, opens for tours and other

events. Built in the early 1900s as part of the Morven estate, and

occupying two acres of land, the Hilfield House has been home to seven

owners, including a Nobel Prize laureate Wendell Stanley and author

Samuel Shellabarger.

As a showhouse, it will offer 31 decorated interior spaces, including

a garage with studio, and eight landscaped areas. Outside the house

on a chilly day in early April, one group of workers was building

a fountain, while another created gentle green hills around

newly-planted

birch trees. Inside, in the center hall, a man on a ladder removed

wall paper; a couple of painters covered the staircase walls; a woman

hand-painted a fanciful red-toned flower around the ceiling fixture

on the room-sized second-floor landing.

In one room off the landing, a library was under construction; farther

north, a cozy attic space was emerging, complete with a faux fireplace

in one corner, near stair railings that had been hand-painted to match

the finish on a nearby armoire. In the kitchen, a wall-frieze of wild

animals — first painstakingly cut out with tiny scissors, and

then decoupaged in place, with occasional long tails draped over tiles

— created a special setting for coffee and toast. Welcome,

caution,

and reminder signs, as well as schedules showing daily work hours,

were posted, and Junior League members were on hand for questions

or emergencies. No casual undertaking, this.

With designs intended to draw throngs of visitors for house and garden

tours, lectures, and events of all sorts, "people can come back

again and again," says Stacy Ducharme, publicity co-chair. Not

only can visitors look, listen, and party, they can also buy:

"Hilfield’s

Hodgepodge," a boutique to be established in the garage, will

feature furnishings and gifts for the home and garden. And a list

in each of the house’s design areas will itemize what can be purchased

from them. "Little Fish Cafe," a scion of Princeton’s Big

Fish Bistro, will be open during showhouse hours for hungry visitors.

To net $150,000, all of which will go to community projects and grants

benefiting women and children in Mercer and Bucks counties, the

Hilfield

House has a big responsibility — as well as every likelihood of

meeting the goal that the league’s planning committee has set for

it.

One reason for its probable success is Patrick Pescatore, a.k.a. the

dining room-designer. His wife, Debra, and son, Dustin, are the other

two-thirds of the Loch Arbor, New Jersey-based architectural and

interior

design business. Dark-haired, wiry, and animated, Pescatore, like

many of the other designers involved with this project, is a showhouse

regular. He designed the library at Regent’s Mead two years ago, and

has also done rooms in Montclair showhouses, among others.

Successfully redoing a showhouse is a team effort,

Pescatore

says: the smallest design space can make a difference, and every area

contributes to the whole. This time, for instance, he notes an

appealing

color flow from room to room: many of the designers are working with

neutral shades, and the red accents here and there also provide visual

continuity.

In general, he sees the endeavor as "a win-win:" all proceeds

go back to the community; designers get to showcase their talents

to a group of very interested visitors; and the owner of the showhouse

has the first right of refusal on keeping or buying what has been

wrought. Tom Borden, an attorney with the Environmental Law Clinic

of Rutgers Law School, who owns the Hodge Road house with his wife,

Julia, formerly director of development at Planned Parenthood of

Mercer County, can keep the electricity run into the house for added

fixtures, but they can elect to turn down those same fixtures, along

with the new furniture and accessories.

And it’s exciting, Pescatore says, comparing showhouse efforts to

show business: "By Friday [April 12], the upholstered walls will

be up and the rug will be down. The drapes come in on Monday; the

furniture comes in on Tuesday; we accessorize on Wednesday; Tiffany’s

comes on Thursday to do the table with us; Friday [April 19] it’s

fine-tuning, fresh flowers; Saturday, April 20, it’s the Patron’s

Party, then it’s show time! It lasts for a month, then you tear it

all down, and the house is, like, gorgeous."

From an early age, Pescatore says, he was interested in art, color,

proportion, shapes, textures. His wife, Debra, was in design even

before he was. With their business conveniently located at the New

Jersey shore, accessible to New York, Montclair, and Mercer County,

she can readily indulge in her own specialty: Jersey shore houses.

(No, she hasn’t done a beach house for Bruce Springsteen — dashing

our hopes of hearing about lifestyles of the rich, famous, and

musical.)

Their son, Dustin, is the most recent addition to the firm, bringing

to the mix his MFA from Rutgers University, where he studied painting

and photography, and his current studies in architecture. Still making

images on commission and for himself, Dustin concentrates on the

planning

phases of home design, such as 3-D proposals and floor plans. He also

documents projects like this one with "before and after"

photographs.

There’s designing and there’s decorating — and there is a

difference,

Pescatore explains. Designing is a more inclusive, more conceptual

undertaking. It’s likely to involve drawings and have to do with

mood-setting.

Decorating is more about accessorizing, or one aspect of a design,

such as slip covers or window treatments.

Room color was Pescatore’s first design decision for the Hilfield

House dining room.

"Brown’s wonderful this year," he notes, but then,

dissatisfied

with an early ivory and sable combination, he moved on to "cocoa

and champagne." This begins with the fabric wall covering, and

continues through the Chinese carpet with medallions, all in

complementary

tones. The red mahogany furniture was custom-made.

With a butler’s pantry (another of the 31 design spaces)

next door to the dining room, sizable furniture pieces like china

closets weren’t needed, Pescatore says — clearly pleased that

more of the handsome satin-striped walls will be visible. A black

tiered Chinoiserie server occupies one wall near the windows that

he calls "stunning," and deserving of the minimalist treatment

he has accorded them, starting with French voile sheers.

It’s axiomatic with showhouses that not everyone likes everything

they see, Pescatore knows. Even so, he loves being on hand to talk

to visitors, and can usually spot the one likely to grumble, "What

ever happened to white ceilings?" (Please note: Hilfield House’s

dining room ceiling is white, and that’s unusual for Pescatore).

"Another opening, another show" also means for Pescatore

another

page in the firm’s professional portfolio. Designers often hire

photographers

to document their part of a showhouse. Pescatore says his client base

comes in large part from this activity, and the visibility that comes

with it. Not only does a designer’s stock appreciate — but that

also happens with the showhouses. One home featured some years ago

sold during its show period for considerably more than had been

dreamed

of before.

Oh, all right, then. A poster for a wannabe college basketball team

may not be the last word in decoration for that big blank

kitchen

wall. And, sure, maybe all place settings don’t come from catalogs;

nor does "imported furniture" mean you got it at Ikea.

Yet for those of us who now aspire to little more than low-maintenance

floor coverings and working bulbs for all the lights in the house

— as well as for do-it-yourselfers and those with taste and money

but neither time nor talent for interior design — Hilfield House,

the Junior League’s Princeton showhouse, is the right destination

this spring.

— Pat Summers

Patron’s Party, Designer Showhouse XII, Junior League

of Greater Princeton , Hilfield House, 160 Hodge Road, 609-771-0525.

Patron’s Party and Silent Auction. All proceeds go to community

projects

in Mercer, Bucks, and surrounding areas. $125. Saturday, April

20, 5:30 p.m.

Hilfield House is open for self-guided tours beginning

Sunday, April 21. $20 donation at the door; no children under 12.

Tuesday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Friday, noon to 8 p.m.;

Saturday,

10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; closed Monday.

"Meet

the Designers" sessions, Saturday mornings, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.


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