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Designers bring romantic and traditional touches to big-city living. Elegant townhouse display benefits NYC boys' club

The decorator show houses which crop up each spring in cities across the country are really great showcases of local decorating talent. They are perfect places in which to view decorating trends, and a good way to contribute to a favorite charitable event or project as well. Designers who participate in show houses have no clients to please but themselves, so they can give free rein to their imagination and skill as they convert raw spaces into the most glamorous rooms.

Consequently, visitors can be surprised, delighted, and sometimes put off by what they see. They are free to jot down notes about what they like and can apply to their own homes -- to make sketches of single ideas that appeal and note the prevailing colors and styles. They may mumble about never being able to live with so many decorated surfaces, dramatic effects, and fanciful swags and tassels. But, if much of what they see seems like out-of-reach fantasy, they can still be stimulated by new ideas.

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The Kips Bay Boys' Club Decorator Show House -- open through Sunday at 1 East 94th Street in Manhattan -- is a better place than most to forage for such ideas.

This year 15 leading New York interior designers have been invited to this house to demonstrate their skills in showing how elegantly comfortable big-city living can be. The six-story townhouse, built in 1895 and redesigned by architect Cass Gilbert in 1925, presents a setting that is modest and manage able in scale.

On the whole, the work on view is in the traditional and romantic mood and mode.

The neo-Victorian vogue is expressed, for instance, in a fresh, exuberant way in Tonin MacCallum's pink and green sitting room with adjoining tiny bedroom. Period furnishings include Oriental bamboo and lacquer furniture, a unique hand-carved Burmese recamier, and an ornate French iron and brass bed. ``This kind of romantic, light-scaled Victorian look is very popular right now,'' says Ms. MacCallum, although her clients prefer to call the look ``late 19th century.''

In consonance with this development, floral and botanical prints are the big favorites this year. This is also obviously the year of the innovative decorative finish, whether it be glazed, striated, stippled, stenciled or sponged, painted, or rubbed on. There are air-brushed effects, silk-screened processes, and faux finishes that resemble marble, granite, and malachite.

Several artist-craftsmen demonstrated their skills in producing realistic trompe-l'oeil scenes and objects with paint.

Designer David Anthony Easton says he is now using painted effects in most of his decorating jobs. In his show house bed/sitting room he had the floor painted to look like stone tiles and the woodwork marbleized in shades of gray, beige, and mauve. He used only pure silk taffetas, brocades, and velvets with his mixture of English and French antiques.

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The Directoire daybed and chest in the men's dressing room designed by Albert Pensis reveals a more formal and traditional aspect of 19th-century style, while the English late Regency library table in Gary Hager's stair-landing setting for Parish-Hadley Inc. is a reminder that handsome library tables are back in vogue.

Since Mr. Hager believes that those capacious hallway landings in old houses should serve both decorative and useful purposes, his wood-paneled niche includes a tall bookcase for housing an art reference library and the centerpiece oval library table, with room for a lamp and for displaying current magazines and books.

Nineteenth-century neo-classicism is evident in several rooms, providing a counterpoint to much of the philosophy expressed elsewhere in the house. ``I think people are a bit tired of the English country house look with its over-elaboration of fabrics and objects,'' designer Robert K. Lewis comments. ``So this year I have aimed at a restrained high-style 19th-century look that involves less furniture and fewer objects.''

There is a nod to modern in Florence Perchuk's big, sophisticated cook's kitchen, and in the mixture of antiques and modern furnishings seen in Nicholas A. Calder's ``gentleman's retreat'' and in Michael de Santis's sumptuous living room setting with its plump and overscaled modern sofas and 30-inch pillows covered in rich brown velvet.

The $10 tour of decorated rooms, now in its 14th year, benefits the after-school programs of the Kips Bay Boys' Club, which began in 1914 in Manhattan but is now located in the South Bronx, where it is currently helping 3,200 boys and girls ages 6 through 18.

This year, the Kips Bay Boys' Club volunteer Women's Committee, which sponsors the show house, hopes to raise $500,000 to pour into such ongoing programs as tutoring, remedial reading, computer education, industrial arts, performing arts (including music, drama, and dance), school counseling, and health care. The club also offers drug and alcohol abuse prevention classes, job placement classes, and sports and summer camp programs.

The show house will be open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today and tomorrow, and from noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, closing day.

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