Ronald McDonald House of Long Island to get makeover

Designer Elaine Griffin looks over samples at the Designer Elaine Griffin looks over samples at the Ronald McDonald House in New Hyde Park which is about to undergo major renovations. (April 1, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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A group of top-notch decorators has designs on an aging house in New Hyde Park.

In coming months, the 26 will descend on The Ronald McDonald House of Long Island, a respite for seriously ill children undergoing treatment at area hospitals and their families, transforming the center into a fashion statement.

The glitzy makeover follows a tradition where empty rooms in mansions out East and brownstones in TriBeCa temporarily become decorator show houses, drawing visitors who can only gawk from behind a rope. But this time the high-end trimmings that usually vanish in weeks or months will remain.

"This is look, touch, sleep in the room, make it your own," said Eric Cohler, who runs an interior design firm in Manhattan. "It's not frozen anymore."

Over the years, the building's look grew "dated," said Matthew Campo, the house's executive director, pointing out an abundance of teal in the walls and fabric, dropping a "Miami Vice" reference during a tour. "You can tell it was the '90s," he said, of the last time parts of the house were renovated.

For now, 18 of 42 bedrooms will be redone, along with a media center, a playroom, even a "Mets room."

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The designers -- some, competitors -- are embracing the unusual experiment.

"It's like a permanent exhibition," said Jennifer Mabley, who runs a design firm in Water Mill.

Elaine Griffin, a Harlem-based designer, said: "As exciting as regular show houses are, they are temporary creations, they're very ephemeral. They're fluffy concoctions that are there for a fortnight and disappear -- poof -- and all you have is a picture to remember, like a fairy tale date."

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With a magazine spread planned for New York Cottages and Gardens, and a designer showcase gala in October, the finish line, the overhaul will certainly add welcome buzz to the 27-year-old house.

"We're always working on the awareness of the hospital," Campo said. "We can't do our jobs unless families are coming here."

He alluded to a misperception the house has battled for years: "Everyone assumes that McDonald's [fully] funds the house; people don't think to give to this charity because they look at McDonald's as large, with tons and tons of money. They don't realize the house needs help and they need that money."

Each room, he added, costs $130 a night to operate, yet the average guest donation was "$11 and change."

A renovation this large, he said, would ordinarily "take several years of fundraising before we were even able to entertain doing it." But designers are bearing most of the costs, which one estimated at about $10,000 per room, and the rest will come from vendor fees and donations.

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Ann Feldstein, a marketing director for Kravet Inc., which is spearheading the renovation, observed: "I think, what their battle almost is with the hospital is having them remind the families this house is still here; it is here."

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