Late change of locale presented an extra challenge to designers
The mark of a brilliant design is when it exceeds the sum of its parts, when it works better than it was originally conceived.
Back in 1996, when HGTV was just a fledgling cable channel years away from having millions tune in to watch Chip and Joanna Gaines or The Property Brothers give people’s homes the Cinderella treatment, a group of designers here in town understood the fascination so many people have with home interior design, and they came up with an idea for a fundraiser that would tap into that fascination.
They would take a house, a good-sized house, divvy it up among as many designers as the floor plan would allow, and let each designer do a room or some section. It would be an interior design exhibition, where the public could come in and see the work of more than a dozen local interior designers. They would charge admission, and the proceeds would then go to a good cause or causes around town.
It sounded like a plan, but would it work?
“This is our 25th year,” says Joyce Hart, who along with husband Jeff Hart are co-chairs of this year’s Jewels on the Bay. The annual showcase has become a fixture of the season calendar. The monthlong event has drawn up to 5,000 visitors each year.
In the first few years, the money went to a handful of organizations, Hart says, but for about the past 15 years, all the proceeds after expenses go to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County.
By every measure, Jewels by the Bay has been a brilliant success. But this year, the silver anniversary of the event no less, it almost didn’t happen, Hart says as she stands in the empty living room of this year’s jewel, still in the rough.
With two weeks before the event’s opening, little has been done except for a fresh coat of blue and white paint in the living room, dining room and a small area near the front door that Hart says was will be turned into a stylish entryway for the exhibition.
Even in this state, the two-story house is a beauty. Built in 1916, it was one of the first houses in the neighborhood, Hart says. “The original owners were a couple by the name of Hatch.”
The Hatches owned the house until the stock market crash of 1929, Hart says. After that, it went through a series of owners. The current owners, Larry and Kathi Hurvitz, have had it since 2001. The house has been impeccably maintained. It’s been updated for the 21st century, but neither the Hurvitzes nor any of the previous owners ever tried to modernize the house. All the original period features are intact — the moldings, the room partitions. Hart shows how hurricane-proof windows were added without disturbing the original panes.
Surrounded by intricate and ornate landscaping, it’s a museum-quality vintage house. A real beauty, truly a Jewel on the Bay. And it was a real stroke of luck.
“This house was not the original choice,” Hart says.
Another house in the same neighborhood had been designated as the 2020 show house back in September, Hart says. But then the owner couldn’t get the needed permits. The Jewels on the Bay committee even pushed the event back two months to give him extra time. Still, no dice. It looked like the 25th edition of Jewels on the Bay would be postponed a year.
But then, while Jeff Hart was helping the Hurvitzes move into a condo downtown, he mentioned what was going on with the project. A day later, they called. They were trying to sell the house. It’s sitting empty; why not use theirs?
There’s an established process for putting together the designer house, Hart says. But the process was going to have to streamlined.
“Typically, we have what’s called a designer walkthrough,” she says. The designers bid on the rooms they want to do. For them, the showcase is a form of marketing. “You can throw this into your advertising budget,” Hart says.
But this year, they’d already had their designer walkthrough at the other house. “We tried to stay with the same group of designers because we were just trying to move them over,” Hart says. “We lost a couple, but we gained a couple. But most of them stayed.”
Brittany Cocozza of Trinity Designs was one of the designers who came in after the new house was attained.
Trinity Designs specializes in residential design, and she was showing her creative flair in one of the bedrooms upstairs.
“I decided to do it because I thought it would be something different, and we would be able to showcase some of our work,” Cocozza says.
Most examples of her work that she uses to show include a lot of client input. With a showcase like this, she gets to show a true example of her style.
With more than a dozen separate creative visions at work, Hart says the thing they want to avoid is ending up with a house that’s like a theme park, where it looks like every room belongs in a different house.
This is especially true on the ground floor, where the dining room, living room and the space near the front entrance are barely delineated. The designers aren’t simply let loose, Hart says. They submit floor plans and color schemes. Prominent, contiguous spaces like these go to designers who have done a few Jewels before and have worked together and can coordinate their visions. The designers communicate and coordinate to a degree that is a demonstration of their professionalism. The final result is a house that you wouldn’t guess was thrown together by 16 designers in about 10 days.
Much like on those HGTV shows, the furnishings won’t stay after the show is over. With the short time frame, sponsor International Designer Source provided much of the trappings. Those who come see the house should note most of what they see is for sale, including the house itself.
When it’s all added up, it’s easy to understand why Jewels on the Bay is marking its 25th year. The designers get a showcase that will be seen by a large audience. The homeowners get essentially a monthlong open house for the home they are trying to sell (not to mention a fresh coat of paint in some rooms), interior design enthusiasts have an annual treat to look forward to, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota get a healthy donation each year.
You couldn’t design an event any better.
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