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All-Star Designers: Newsday's class of 2015

Newsday's all-star interior designers of 2015 gathered for

Newsday's all-star interior designers of 2015 gathered for a group portrait on Sept. 21, 2015. They include: top row, left to right, Keith Baltimore, Diane Guariglia, Rachel Florez, Jennifer Mabley; middle row, left to right, Kate Singer, Kim Radovich, Katharine Posillico McGowan; front row, left to right, Keith Mazzei, Elizabeth Holmes and Franco Biscardi. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

From Gold Coast mansions and cozy capes, to Hamptons beach houses and condominiums, Long Island has a wealth of beautiful homes -- and there's no shortage of interior designers who can bring unexpected drama to a foyer or create an inviting great room that works for both entertaining and de-stressing.

After visiting an endless number of designer show houses and poring over dozens of portfolios, we've brought together 10 interior designers (counting a husband-and-wife team as one) who are transforming Long Island's homes. Over the next 10 weeks, we'll go in depth with each one, getting a better idea of their design style, learning how they approach working with clients and finding out what they use to decorate their own abodes.

Members of our Class of 2015 all-star designers have an array of styles, ranging from sleek and contemporary to soothing and serene.

Peaceful spaces that are inspired by nature are Huntington designer Kate Singer's signature. Many of the projects for Singer's firm, Kate Singer Home, have been newly constructed homes. The design process begins with blueprints, allowing her to work with architects and provide input on decorative elements, such as moldings and window styles.

Similarly, Katharine Posillico McGowan of Katharine Jessica Interior Design, also based in Huntington, does much more than select shimmery wall coverings and shag rugs. For one Sands Point client, McGowan custom designed a glass-paneled floating staircase, turning it away from the front door to better show off its striking profile, and a multilevel milk glass chandelier.

Keith Baltimore, who this year is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his Port Washington-based Baltimore Design Group, tends to veer toward the quirky in his show house designs, but considers himself an anthropologist of sorts, making it his job to understand how his clients live and then interpreting their vision. Those clients will still get a bit of Baltimore's playful style. In a recent home, he created his and hers dens: the more masculine space had a plaid wall covering and an uplit onyx bar, while the other room was filled with pink and green floral patterns.

In Southampton, clients look to Franco Biscardi, who has partnered with architect Brian P. Brady of Brady Design, for vacation homes with a clean, modern and slightly rustic country style. The beachy looks generally incorporate only one or two colors -- usually shades of white, with pale blue, navy blue and gray accents -- mixed with antiques and custom furniture, including copies of classic 1940s designs.

Blending styles is what designers do best, and that's Rachel Florez's forte. While the Merrick decorator has a contemporary aesthetic, she has a "soft spot" for antiques, she says. One of her favorite projects put a modern twist on a traditional space: She chose an asymmetrical bookcase made out of interlocking rectangles that arched over the desk of a classic wood-paneled study.

Fashion plays a role in Elizabeth Holmes' designs, with a 2003 "Alice in Wonderland" photo shoot by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue inspiring her recent ideas for a client in Roslyn. But there are some other, more unexpected elements. Holmes -- who started her eponymous Baldwin firm in 2009 after working as a communications director for a New York City Council member and earning her law degree from New York Law School -- has encouraged previous clients to step out of their comfort zones and decorate with unique pieces, including street art. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, people want to play it safe," Holmes says. "I say, 'Push the boundaries.' "

Jennifer Mabley and Austin Handler, a husband-and-wife team who together form Water Mill's Mabley Handler Interior Design, also blend styles in their own way. Working primarily on the East End, they call their combined style "beach chic," and say the team effort has its advantages, especially when working with other couples. "I think the clients appreciate that they get the man's point of view and the woman's point of view," Handler says.

It can be challenging to get clients out of their comfort zone, but Diane Guariglia of Cold Spring Harbor's Dyfari Interiors looks to do that with what she calls her "colorful transitional" style. This means getting them excited about flooring or a light fixture that they might not consider themselves.

That's not to say that DIY doesn't factor in. One of Kim Radovich's prized possessions in her own Huntington Bay home is an antique piano bench that she bought for a few bucks at a church bazaar in upstate Hudson and reupholstered. Radovich, who owns Kim E. Courtney Interiors & Design, also in Huntington, advises others to create their own masterpieces with a can of Rustoleum.

At the end of the day, people use their homes as an escape. East Rockaway-based designer Keith Mazzei has an eclectic style, veering toward the contemporary, but grounded in his clients' preferences. While blue is his favorite color, and a common choice among the designers featured here, Mazzei says he is unafraid of bold hues and big patterns, even on the ceiling of a dining room he recently designed.

If the members of this diverse group have anything in common, it's an aversion to trends -- though most embrace au courant elements, such as grass cloth wall coverings -- and the desire to make their work as timeless as possible, so it can stay with a client as they live their lives in a dream space.

Pricing a home-design project

Pricing out a project for an interior designer is a complicated task that can vary widely based on the scope of the project, which is why some members of this class of All-Star Designers could not quote exact rates for their work.

Many designers have different ways of charging, says Huntington Bay's Kim Radovich. While many charge a flat fee, which includes floor plans and design recommendations, some charge per square foot or per room and others take a retainer they draw from as the project progresses, she says. Some will take a flat fee based on a budget, with specific options offered for the budget selected, she says. There is also an hourly fee for consultations and shopping, and a commission on products, such as furniture or fabric, generally purchased at a trade discount below the retail price, she says.

Southampton's Franco Biscardi, for example, begins each project with a free initial consultation to assess the scope of the project and see if both he and the client are interested in working together. At the start, he asks for a nonrefundable retainer, generally $15,000, which includes the drafting of furniture plans and budgets, and then charges hourly for tasks, including the drafting of custom millwork and built-ins. The rest of his fee includes a 30 percent markup on top of his cost for products.

Some designers will do paint color or floor plan consultations, providing input on what size furniture a client should use, while others only take on a whole house.

Salvatore Campitiello, a national board member of the Interior Design Society and past president of the group's Long Island chapter, who also owns East End Interiors, a trade furniture showroom in St. James, says that hiring a designer to decorate a standard 15-foot-by-20-foot living room, den or formal dining room costs an average of $10,000 to $20,000, including furnishings, or from $20,000 to $30,000 if there are higher-end products and custom finishes.


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