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Room to Roam

Soaring, light- filled spaces and a cozy den lend variety to a designer show house.

Designer Mark A. Polo achieves a pleasing fusion of styles in this living room, where he blends transitional furniture, antiques and idiosyncratic artwork for a very contemporary effect.

It’s an understatement to say that designing and furnishing show houses is a lot of work. The designer Mark A. Polo muses, “When I am in the midst of putting together a room in a designer show house in Saddle River, New Jersey, I have continually pondered: ‘Why do I put myself and my craftsmen through this torture?’”

He offers several answers in defense of self-torture. One is camaraderie: “The chance to work alongside other professionals who are at the top of their game is invigorating, fun and challenging.”

In a basement retreat, Judy Schwartz creates a witty vision of the sporting life, with paintings of ski trails, equestrian images, stylized antlers and a brushed metal pool table.

Another reason is to give back to society, as every show house exists to raise money for a charitable cause. There is a creative angle, of course: “I try things and combinations that I have not tested in the field, and it gives me a platform to look at the creative process freely without constraints.” There’s always the chance to show potential clients what the designer can do with a space that he was randomly assigned. And finally, Polo cites the thrill of providing a real-time design experience: “Visitors to the show house are absorbing the atmosphere, feeling the shapes and colors. They feel the textures and the continual elemental tension created by the groupings that they see. It’s impossible to get the same response from a photo in a magazine.”

In Mark Polo’s living room, the highly symmetrical arrangement includes Chinese porcelains and oval sculptures in the manner of Henry Moore. The repetitive use of polished surfaces lends a sense of old Hollywood glamour.

That may be, but the rooms you see here, which were designed for the Designer Showhouse of New Jersey, are still fairly ravishing in only two dimensions. The living room, created by Polo and furnished by Safavieh, is a glamorous space that combines Old World elements, Asian art forms and a vintage Hollywood sheen. By contrast, the basement billiard room, designed by Judy Schwartz Interiors and furnished by Safavieh, is a relaxed and witty den that pays tribute to the fictional owner’s love of skiing.

Created to shine brightly for a few weeks and then be disassembled— the fate of most show houses—these rooms could easily have stood the test of time, providing a real owner with years of pleasurable living. “What a shame it’s only temporary!” a visitor will be heard to say. For designers like Mark Polo, such reactions are a measure of success.

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