A quick course in manors 

You know you've really made it in life when all of the rooms in your house have their own names.

I don't think I had ever dwelled on that simple truth before my visit of last Saturday to Delaney Manor, a three-floor, 5,000-square-foot home in downtown's venerable Cherokee Residential District that serves as this year's Designers' Show House. Standing in the Meditation Room, a second-floor sanctuary done up in cherry wood and set off by silver and gold accents, I listened as water dripped from the copper/slate fountain that hung along the west wall. Who, I wondered, could afford to set aside an entire section of their abode entirely for the purpose of thinking deep thoughts? And how much meditating could they actually do with that water running?

The Designers' Show House isn't meant to reflect reality, at least not as most of us know it. Every year, the Orlando Opera Guild fills its fund-raising coffers by setting a team of local decorators and outfitters loose on a historic residence, allowing each to refashion a room according to a self-generated design scheme. The touring parties that pass through the showcase are exposed to ideas they can incorporate into their own living quarters.

It helps if they're members of the socioeconomic groups -- top-level Disney employees, grandchildren of bootleggers -- who are in the habit of shelling out $2,000 for a leather chair or $2,200 for a rattan sofa (the prices of purchasable pieces on display on the Sleeping Porch, just down the hall from the Meditation Room.)

For me, the tour had an appeal that was more visceral: It was a chance to snoop around someone else's house with full permission. Which way to the medicine cabinets?

Unreal estate

Built in 1921 by Dr. John S. McEwin, a founder of Orlando Regional Hospital, Delaney Manor is an ideal subject for the annual makeover. As I saw on my walk-through, it boasts five bedrooms, five and a half bathrooms and a handful of other habitats that are perfect for recreational purposes. The promotional literature proffered by the various design firms amplifies the leisurely ethos: Many trumpet their spaces as places to "unwind and get away from it all" (or words to that effect). Names like Tax Records Study and Let's-Talk-About-the-Relationship Portico are noticeably unused.

Though the home's columned exterior is of the Greek Revival school (not "Greed Revival," as the Show House program hilariously misprints), few of the decorating choices are hamstrung by tradition. Exotic safari motifs adorn the Guest Bedroom arranged by Winter Park's Diane Hagar Burns, and the Master Bedroom proposed by Longwood's Showplace Inc. makes daring, copious use of deep purple and gold fabrics that a goodfella would adore. In the adjoining bathroom, a velvet curtain parts to reveal a huge, hidden shower.

"A whole group could fit in here," another of the Saturday guests commented as she peered into the tiled expanse. (Thanks for letting us know what your habits are, lady, before you move into the neighborhood.)

Directly below us, Debra Katz of the Winter Park-based Island Corp. showed off the miracles her colleague, Phil Carpenter, had worked with the Screened Porch. A teak armoire imported from Bali stood in the corner; a plastic covering, she said, would be hauled out to protect the wood in case of rain. Moral: No matter how upscale your Florida lifestyle becomes, you're going to have plastic on the furniture sooner or later.

Owning to rent

Watching the paying customers file in and out of his home, Michael Rogier smiled at the borderline lunacy of it all. Rogier and his partner, John Paonessa, had bought the property last year from its previous owner, notorious Parramore land-grabber Al French. The "before" photos Rogier produced showed how much work had gone into the manor's restoration, a process that only ended when the Show House designers moved in at the beginning of March.

Currently, Rogier and Paonessa live in another home near Lake Davis, and are trying not to get too accustomed to the state-of-the-art improvements others have made to their domain. "The worst day is going to be when they bring our furniture back," Rogier jested. He'll have a bit longer to wait, as daily tours continue through Sunday, April 16. (Call Orlando Opera for details, 426-1700.)

Even when the dwelling reverts to his control, he'd better not get too comfortable: The two men have already decided to sell the house for a cool $1.2 million.

"We realized it's a pretty big house!" Rogier guffawed. I laughed too, relieved at the day's first concession to the idea that too much is sometimes too much.

Barring a set of circumstances that happens to include Regis Philbin, neither I nor anyone else in my immediate sphere of acquaintance is likely to ever occupy surroundings like the Delaney Avenue domicile. Still, it was fun to peek behind the velvet curtain for a day. And I sincerely appreciated that no one counted the silverware when I left.


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