Tour De Force: Near & Far House Tour Benefits Neighbors in Need
- By, Eileen Fisher, Staff Writer
- Connecticut Post
- Sunday, April 19, 2009
The depth of the economy’s downturn is straining local agencies and nonprofit organizations to the hilt. Folks who never have had to use their services before are in need now. Ceci Maher of Person-to-Person in Darien and Cara Miklos, executive director of Operation Hope of Fairfield, said the number of people requesting help continues to grown.
“Person-to-Person has been providing money and food to people who are desperately trying to stretch their budgets. Our main objective is keeping people in their homes, so we are helping with security deposits, rents and utilities,” Maher said in a statement. “In the first six weeks of 2009 we have seen an increase of more than 500.”
While Miklos said Operation Hope is increasing its visibility in the community to let people know the group is there to help. “A lot of people just don’t know how to ask or where to go to get what they need,” she said.
In response, the fundraising organization Near & Far Aid chose to donate the proceeds from its annual house tour to these two groups, as well as Habitat for Humanity, because they directly provide housing and family needs support in a time when so many are being affected by the economy.
Since 2000, Near & Far has raised and granted more than $8 million to more than 100 nonprofit agencies fighting the causes of homelessness, hunger and other social issues. Because all of the more than 300 members are volunteers, more than 96 percent of funds raised go to the charities, said Patsy Devine of Fairfield, vice president of Near & Far’s board of directors.
And the board does its homework, she said, making certain that a member personally visits each agency applying for a grant. “We make sure everywhere you money is going is top drawer,” Devine said.
The house tour is the smallest of Near & Far’s three annual fundraisers that include a spring gala and golf event, she said. Comprised of five extraordinary homes in the Southport and Greenfiield Hill sections of Fairfield and in Westport, the tour attracts thousands of visitor, Devine said. “We try to choose a nice mix of architecture and geography,” she said.
Katia Mead and Joan Panagos, both of Fairfield, are co-chairs of this year’s event. They, along wit a selection committee, started reviewing houses last August, said Mead.
“The homes are very different in scale,” said Panagos. “Some are very large; some are traditional size, but all have very special decorating.”
This year’s theme is Celebration by Design, where each house is decked out for a special occasion, from an engagement brunch to a Southern-style barbecue to a Mother’s Day tea party.
The idea for staging a celebration makes the home come more alive, said the women. “What’s really sweet is [the engagement brunch] is really happening for the owners of that house,” said Mead. “Their son is getting married, so it’s like a sneak preview for them.”
The five designers involved in the show are Eric Cohler, Mar Silver, Margaret Bondy, Lisa Hildebrand and Betsy Allen, who were each involved in the interior design of the house they decorated for the tour.
Bondy, of Wilton, an interior designer for 20 years, redecorated an 1867 house in Southport from top to bottom during the last year. The antique home was built by Mary Wakeman, a widow, for herself and her two daughters and was strongly influenced by French design, said Bondy. There are incredible moldings and details in the house, from its pressed-tin paneling to a carved, monogrammed pediment perched in the exquisite dining room. The living and dining rooms will be showcased on the tour, set for a Mother’s Day tea with the owner’s fine collection of china, donated cakes and petit fours and prettily wrapped presents. The holiday was a natural fit, said Bondy, since the home was designed by a mother for herself and her children. “There is definitely a sense that the house has a woman’s touch,” she said.
On the day of the tour, there will be a house captain at each residence, as well as 15 to 30 hostesses stationed to talk about the house to visitors, said Panagos.
Bondy said she made copious notes describing the fabrics, wallpaper and paint colors she used. “When I go on a house tour, those are the things I want to know,” she said.
The young couple who owns the house wanted to complement the home’s architecture, said Bondy, who used a lively mix of garden elements – such as wrought iron glass-topped tables – and lots of mercury glass and different textures in her design.
“Instead of re-covering everything, I used a lot of pillows…and we’ve gone to HomeGoods to buy vases,” said Bondy, who had never been to the discount retailer before. “The client is young and they don’t have unlimited money.”
This is Bondy’s first time decorating a home for the tour, although she has attended them. “It’s exciting for me to be a part of it and not just an outsider, “ she said.
“One of the good things about [the tour] is it makes people look at their house in a new way,” she said, hoping people will be inspired by her design. “It’s spring and people want to spruce up their houses.”
The Near & Far Aid 2009 house tour is May 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $60 in advance and $75 on the day of the event. Tickets are available for purchase at www.nearandfaraid.org.
Interior designer Victoria Hagan will speak at a Decorating Power Breakfast at the Fairfield County Hunt Club, Westport, from 9:15 to 10:45 a.m. on May 1. Tickets are $65.
A Toast the tour cocktail reception is planned for April 30 at 6:30 p.m., with tickets at $100, $150 and $200 at an elegant estate.Call 259-1710 for more information.